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Low-Cost Print-on-Demand Open-Source Textbooks

Lon Mitchell and Richard Hammack
Department of Mathematics
College of Humanities and Sciences

Project Overview

Textbook prices have continued to rise leading faculty and governing bodies to seek ways of decreasing the financial burden placed on our students.  While the internet provides access to many free course materials, using electronic materials in class presents a number of difficulties, both for instructors and students, including vetting, adapting, distributing, and brining these materials to class.  Our project seeks to facilitate the use of “free” course materials in mathematics courses at VCU by identifying and publishing high-quality “free” texts so that instructors may adopt them by name and ISBN just like any commercial text, and students have the option of purchasing a low-cost print-on-demand copy from the bookstore and/or using an electronic edition.        


In the Fall semester of 2008, I identified Linear Algebra by Jim Hefferon (St. Michael’s College), a textbook available online for free download and use under the Gnu Free Documentation License, as a better choice for use in MATH 310 than the $150 book then in use.   Students were asked to use an electronic copy or print their own copy while a printed version was prepared.  In the Spring semester of 2009, students were able to purchase a 450-page paperback edition for less than $14 though Amazon.com.  In the Fall of 2009, two sections of MATH 310 used Linear Algebra, and students were able to purchase a paperback edition (ISBN 0982406215) through the VCU bookstore or many online vendors.  Fall 2009 also saw the publishing of Abstract Algebra: Theory and Applications by Thomas Judson, which students in MATH 501 could purchase as a hardback (ISBN 0982406223) for under $20.  To date, approximately 150 VCU students have taken a class using one of our textbooks, and almost 200 print copies have been sold. 

Future Directions

Our project has four more texts, including The Book of Proof by Richard Hammack (VCU), currently used in MATH 300 in electronic format, already identified for publication.  Thanks to the provisions of the GFDL, each copy sold returns a small amount to the Department of Mathematics & Applied Mathematics, allowing our textbook series to continue to grow, and covering the cost of printer set-up fees and ISBN fees.    We hope that other disciplines will be able to use our model to provide instructors and students greater access and ease of use of “free” course materials.

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Last modified: June 20, 2013
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