There is much to respond to in a comment left by David Anderson (Executive Director for Higher Education at the Association of American Publishers) on Nicole Allen’s recent HuffPo article College Textbooks: Do You Get What You Pay For, but I’ll focus on one claim. He writes, “While to an OER advocate faculty are mere pawns to their agenda, to publishers, faculty are critical partners in academic success.”
The overwhelming majority of OER advocates are faculty, and they have become OER advocates for two reasons. One reason is the incredibly high prices of the textbooks and other materials produced by commercial publishers, and the deleterious effect on student outcomes created when students cannot afford their course materials. Publishers may eventually respond to this problem by dropping their prices to reasonable rates as he indicates they are beginning to do.
Publishers continue to believe that “free” is the main threat posed to their business models by OER. Perhaps that is because pricing is a threat they understand and know how to counteract. However, the core idea of openness – to generously grant others the broad range of permissions that enables them to innovate in any manner they can imagine – that is the real threat OER pose to commercial publishers. While the prices for commercial materials may eventually approach affordability, publishers are structurally unable to grant faculty the broad set of copyright permissions necessary to truly empower them. Their business models forbid it.
Talk about your scylla and charybdis…