Make textbooks free

Cut out the middleman and make textbooks affordable

Textbook costs can run a thousand dollars a year per student, and thus are a big drag on education — not just at MIT but around the world.

Oddly, the professors who write the books usually don’t get much money from writing the textbook. Instead, nearly all of the money you spend on a textbook goes to people who review, edit, print and distribute the book (90 percent for new textbook sales according to the National Association of College Stores).

Why, then, do professors bother writing college textbooks? Because getting a textbook published gives them recognition.

We need a textbook revolution. We need to eliminate the middlemen, and make textbooks a transaction between professors and students.

Professors should write textbooks that are free, and institutions should give them appropriate recognition. Professors could also get a reward from their college for writing the book, which wouldn’t make college more expensive, as it would pale in comparison to what students currently spend buying books. After all, a professor’s job is to educate his or her students.

Nobody loses (except, of course, the obsolete publishers). And students win enormously. Textbook sharing ends, as textbooks become available to anyone online.

Want a physical copy? Print it out and put it in a binder. Does the textbook have an error? Just correct it, and send out a new version of the textbook. Want to learn, even if you don’t go to MIT? Download the book. And instructors can more easily tailor the textbook for their course. Freeing textbooks in college education is essential — our generation needs to wake up and tackle this problem.

Nils Molina is a member of the Class of 2014.