Student starts Web site for free online textbooks

Student starts Web site for free online textbooks

By C. Mae Waugh

Jason Turgeon was fed up with paying too much for overpriced textbooks. But rather than just complain, he started a “revolution.”

Turgeon started a Web site called Textbook Revolution, which offers online copies of books for free online.

The site began a few years ago when Turgeon, now a junior environmental geology major, was looking for cheap textbooks on the Internet and found the content of one of his books online for free. With a little more searching, he discovered more free books online, all with the same text as those in print.

Turgeon said free textbooks began showing up online when professors grew dissatisfied with the quality of the books already in print and began to write their own. Now, other professors and authors have allowed their books to be published online, and books that were once – and still are – in print can be found on the Internet, he said.

“When I found there were free textbooks, I wondered why we were not using them,” Turgeon said. “I realized it was because no one knew about them.”

So Turgeon decided to create a Web site to make the free books more accessible to students and professors.

Turgeon said he would like to start his own business at some point after graduation and thinks of his Web site, www.textbookrevolution.org, as a practice business. With a budget of only $100, he began collecting books and creating a Web site with the help of a Web designer he met online.

“I found I was no good at designing,” he said. “I’m not a Web site designer, I’m a geologist and I didn’t know much.”

The site went live the week before Thanksgiving. The books are predominantly math, science and computer-related, but Turgeon said he takes any books available. The books are entirely online and some print copies can be ordered for a cost of $10 to $100, depending on the specific book. Turgeon said it’s hard to measure the success of the site, but the reaction has been encouraging so far.

“I have no way of knowing whether people are using the books,” Turgeon said. “Since the beginning of the year, we have had 20,000 visitors per month and the e-mail feedback I received has been generally positive.”

Turgeon is now trying to get Northeastern professors to use online books.

“For subjects such as math and science that don’t change that much, there is not such a need to put new editions out so often,” he said.

With online books, authors can add addenda, keeping the information up-to-date and allowing professors to choose text from many different books, Turgeon said.

Northeastern computer and information science professor Matthias Felleisen, co-author of “How to Design Programs,” put his book on the site to help students save money.

“I had two influences,” he said. “I wanted high schools too poor to buy [Advanced Placement] textbooks to be able to have access to a high quality college course [textbook] and, from a poor background myself, I know how difficult it is to have to pay for books.”

Felleisen said he did not write his book to make money, but to share ideas.

While students like the lower cost online book offer, they have mixed feelings about reading from a screen instead of a book.

“I like it because you can access it anytime, anywhere – no need to lug around a heavy textbook,” said John Mulqueen, a freshman information science major. “However, if I need to read for more than 15 minutes at a time, I would prefer a hard copy.”

However, Turgeon said there is a solution for students who would prefer to curl up with a book than sit at a computer, as many online textbooks have fewer pages than the physical copy and can be printed from the student’s computer.

Though he is happy with what he has accomplished so far, Turgeon said he would like to redo the site soon, making it easier to navigate and continue to add books.

“I’d like it to become well-established and get it to a point where people use it often,” he said.

When he graduates, he said he plans to sell the site or give it to a company doing something similar, so it will continue making free books available to students and professors.

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