OER, Publishers, and a True Market (That Might Not Happen)

It’s widely understood that while faculty select the textbooks their students use, faculty neither pay for nor use textbooks. The fact that faculty don’t have to pay for the books they select is reflected by the data in the recent Babson survey showing that less than 3% of faculty feel that cost is an important factor to consider when selecting instructional materials. The fact that faculty don’t use (or even read) the textbooks they assign students is reflected in the countless student comments on end of course review forms each year complaining that the content of faculty lectures are frequently unrelated to the content of assigned textbook readings. But – while faculty frequently don’t use the textbooks, they almost always use the materials that publishers give them (for free) when they adopt a textbook – test item banks, presentation slides, video clips, etc.

Although I’m not yet persuaded that this will happen, there is an interesting future possibility here. As more and more faculty adopt OER, publishers will lose their ability to subsidize the creation of free faculty materials (like test item banks) through profits from textbook sales to students. This creates the interesting possibility that, as increasing proportions of students use OER, publishers might scale back their creation of textbooks and scale up their production of supplementary materials which they sell directly to faculty. This would create a true “market” in materials where the people who are choosing the product are also the ones who are paying for and using the product. There would be competition, and market forces, and a reason for publishers to innovate. Imagine if publishers had to change from persuading faculty to make a choice, to convincing faculty to make a purchase. Ah yes, an actual market. That would be interesting indeed.

It probably won’t happen, but it’s interesting to think about.

3 thoughts on “OER, Publishers, and a True Market (That Might Not Happen)”

  1. Our ethics requirement as staff is that we cannot accept gifts from anyone we do business with. Why are faculty exempt?

    • Faculty are covered in most cases by the same state ethics rules as other college staff and state employees. However, under nearly all state textbook laws that address faculty textbook adoption ethics they provide some exemptions in their effort to block any potential kickback situation. Here is the language of a typical state textbook law provision:

      § 724. Policies addressing course material adoptions and sample materials.

      No employee at an institution of higher education shall demand or receive any payment, loan, advance, goods, or deposit of money, present or promised, for adopting specific course materials required for coursework or instruction; with the exception that the employee may receive:

      1. sample copies, instructor’s copies, or instructional material, that are not to be sold;

      2. royalties or other compensation from sales of textbooks that include such instructor’s own writing or work;

      3. honoraria for academic peer review of course materials; or

      4. training in the use of course materials and learning technologies.

  2. David, I agree that this would be a better model than what we have now and that things would possibly be different if instructors had to buy the textbook. I am curious if you heard about the test-bank sprint that several psychology instructors did to create an open test-bank of questions to go along with an open textbook for first-year psychology. There’s a blog post about it (see the link below). I think that this model has some potential.


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