How to download your textbooks for free

New websites allow you to download — and even edit — your textbooks

Perhaps the worst post-secondary education scam of all time is the price of textbooks.

Students spend upwards of $200 for a hardcover textbook — only to find that they can’t sell it used the next year because a new edition has been issued, with extensive changes like a new cover or slightly different page numbers. Professors often pad their paycheques with textbook sales while also requiring their own students to buy the book.

Well, it seems that the online world is finally responding. A new U.S. website called Connextions uses the Creative Common license to allow students and professors to add and edit material as long as the original author is credited. Instead of organizing material in a linear manner, like textbooks that list topic after topic, the site presents content in smaller “modules” that are connected to larger courses or collections. This allows students and professors to access information according to topic.

Other tips on how to avoid financial pitfalls as a student

According to its website, “Connexions is an environment for collaboratively developing, freely sharing, and rapidly publishing scholarly content on the Web.” Professors can also build reading packages by selecting material from various sources and adding their own, creating a custom-made, downloadable textbook for their students — for free!

The website was launched by Richard G. Baraniuk, an engineering professor at Rice University. It has received $6 million from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, according to an article in the New York Times. “We are changing textbook publishing from a pipeline to an ecosystem,” Baranuik told the Times. “If I had finished my own book, I would have finished a couple years ago,” he said. “It would have taken five years. It would have spent five years in print and sold 2,000 copies.” Since posting it online there have been 2.8 million page views and has been translated into Spanish.

Other online options include CourseSmart, a collaboration between six leading textbook publishers, and the Massachusett Institute of Technology’s OpenCourseWare. CourseSmart is a website where students can purchase digital copies of their textbooks straight from the publishers (ensuring the latest edition) at a discount of up to 50 per cent, which can still cost a student in the $100 range. 4,325 books are available in 741 courses and 109 disciplines. Students are given the option of downloading the book or reading online and are able to print sections. The website boasts that, so far, almost 95,000 trees have been saved.

OpenCourseWare is a site where virtually all of MIT’s course material is published. Anyone can download course outlines, assignments, reading material, lecture notes, exams, and videos of lectures, all for free.

Another great source of lectures is iTunes U, where users can download lectures from hundreds of colleges and universities, including top schools like Yale and Columbia. Listeners can learn about everything from philosophy 101 to material on yesterday’s economic strife on Wall Street, from high-level mathematics courses to a discussion of Harry Potter and the Holocaust.

When looking for good old fashioned paper version of textbooks, students are wise to think beyond the university bookstore. Amazon.ca and Chapters often offer new books for prices cheaper than used copies elsewhere, although shipping costs are extra. Abebook.com offers great prices on used books, but be sure to check the shipping costs.

For more useful tips and tricks that can save you money, visit Student Finance 101. Photo courtesy of Wohnai.




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How to download your textbooks for free

  1. Thanks for this, Erin. It’s always nice to actually have the textbook in your hands, but the luxury isn’t always necessarily worth $200. I’m definitely going to check that site out.

    Scott

  2. Also worth mentioning is Wikibooks – the Wikipedia project extended into textbooks. (http://en.wikibooks.org) Unfortunately, I haven’t had to explore either site thoroughly enough to properly compare them, but it seems that there’s quite a bit of redundant information on Connexion, as each professor, an ‘expert’ in his or her field sees the need to write his or her OWN version of each subject – a search for ‘entropy’ brings up 5-6 relevant and rather similar articles, all of which are rather brief.

  3. Definitely worth bookmarking. Textbooks cost a ridiculous amount of money, and when you might not even end up needing a book for a class, it can end up being a gargantuan waste of money.

  4. been looking for this kind of thing for a long time

  5. Thank you for making this resource available to students. Many of my colleagues–everyone in my college, in fact–deplore anything that diminishes accessibility of higher education, including unnecessarily escalation in textbook prices. In an era of outrageously priced textbooks, it’s important to explore and support alternative means of making reliable information available and accessible. Indeed, I do not use textbooks in my classes, and instead assign selected readings from a variety of sources to augment my lectures.

    It was therefore a bit jarring to read that “Professors often pad their paycheques with textbook sales while also requiring their own students to buy the book.” It’s true that some do, but a quick reality check would reveal that they are by far in the minority. First, we get very little career advancement from publishing a textbook. Indeed, our careers are advanced far more by publishing original research in peer-reviewed journals, which actually costs money (albeit generally not from us personally). Second, to be profitable, a textbook must be used by many more than one professor’s class. In other words, for every professor who publishes a textbook, tens or hundreds of others (depending on the field and class size) must adopt it instead of publishing their own.

    If we are guilty of anything, it is being less aware than we should be that the publishers that sweet-talk us into using their textbooks–by providing us with free copies and with promises of lots of online resources for students–are extracting such prohibitive sums from students. I would suggest that instead of demonizing us as profiteers, you should focus instead on ensuring that your faculty are aware of the financial hardships associated with their textbook assignments and ask that they consider less expensive alternatives. I believe many will.

  6. Excellent and very informative. I will have to bookmark this and keep it in mind next semster. Thank you so much!

  7. I understand that writers should have royalties over the hard work that is put into writing and detailing textbooks or books in general. However, I think it would be great to be able to download the books and use them as needed for classes. To save our trees would be another reason to have books available online or by computer. Wouldn’t it be great if, authors could get their pay and save a tree or two; help students without costing the student an arm an leg to learn.

  8. I do wonder though how we came to be persuaded that purchasing a text rather than borrowing one was the way to go. Hard copy text do get updated regularly, as they need to do to maintain currency. But that is a reason for borrowing rather than buying, so can we steer students to libraries more and can libraries stock more textbooks (either online or physically). Added benefit would be more browsing through alternative sources if one is in the vicinity of other virtual or physical text. Consider a booklist rather than a set text as well – a strategy followed in non US educational establishments.

  9. I’m in a medium-sized community college, and we have an adequate library, but we can’t afford to buy textbooks – not even one copy – of all the courses offered on campus. It would easily eat up our entire library materials budget to do so.

    Our nursing department supplies us with a copy that is placed on reserve. Most departments don’t have the wherewithall – or the insight – to do the same.

  10. I truly think that downloadable text books are going to make a big impact on the future. There are several things to consider though. One good one is the environment, I don’t think anyone can deny that it’s important to find alternatives to help our forests. Another item would be cost. I think it’s important for student to save money on books, that is what my website is all about. However, managing and finding the information will be a huge task once companies like ours who are encouraging this change find themselves losing money. I say that not out of greed, but lets face it. We don’t want to have writers stop providing quality information, because the market does not pay. We also don’t want students paying the same amount searching for what they need, or paying monthly fees to many different online sources. I think that the effort needs to come from all of us. The writer, professor, student and provider. We need to keep our eye on the value of quality, affordable information to make this process happen quickly while providing a good experience for all.

    Linda

  11. sir i want to download electrical department books so please kindly help me

  12. sir i want to download the textbook of software testing techniques written by boris beizer please help me

  13. If you want to buy books. i would advise you to go online and search the prices for these books using services like http://www.thecollegetextbooks.net. It is better than going for standalone stores. As you can save on lot of money using them.

  14. Hey there! I’ve been reading your web site for a while now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Austin Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the excellent work!

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