Monday, September 15, 2008

Book promotion...for altruistic reasons.

Here's the scenario: Professor R. Preston McAfee of Cal Tech is lucky enough to be featured as the author of Introduction to Economic Analysis in the New York Times -- and he doesn't stand to make a whole lot of money on the media hit. He could have. Dr. McAfee's textbook is used at enough prestigious colleges around the country that he could have received a $100,000 advance on the book from a major publisher. But he chose instead to offer his book available online, for free, to students who needed it in order to protest the skyrocketing costs of textbooks. For students who want printed versions of the textbook, they can buy one online from Lulu or Flat World for between $11 and $59.95 (I'm going to take a quick guess here that most of the revenue would accrue to the publisher as printing costs rather than provide a profit to the professor).

It turns out that Professor McAfee isn't alone in enjoying the book promotion opportunity that the Times article, "Don’t Buy That Textbook, Download It Free," provided on Sunday. Engineering professor Richard G. Baraniuk of Rice University founded a company called Connexions to allow instructors to make their textbooks and information available for free online, too. Connexions uses Creative Commons license to allow students and their instructors to interact so that students can ask questions about the information in their textbooks -- and they can receive answers.

Ordinarily, an article in the New York Times reflects one of the best imaginable book promotion opportunities for authors. In this case, the Times' article provides an opportunity for giving instructors -- and their grateful students, as well. Spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks? Why not save your money instead...and, hopefully, use it to do something good for the next person in need.

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