The Price of Textbooks

Scott McNealy seems to me to be making good points:

Mr. McNealy, the fiery co-founder and former chief executive of Sun Microsystems, shuns basic math textbooks as bloated monstrosities: their price keeps rising while the core information inside of them stays the same.

“Ten plus 10 has been 20 for a long time,” Mr. McNealy says.

Early this year, Oracle, the database software maker, acquired Sun for $7.4 billion, leaving Mr. McNealy without a job. He has since decided to aim his energy and some money at Curriki, an online hub for free textbooks and other course material that he spearheaded six years ago.


“We are spending $8 billion to $15 billion per year on textbooks” in the United States, Mr. McNealy says. “It seems to me we could put that all online for free.”

I live near the Washington Historical Society building which was originally constructed by Andrew Carnegie as a library. Consequently, stenciled into its stately façade are high-minded slogans extolling the virtues of library construction. It’s “a university for the people” and “dedicated to the dissemination of knowledge.” Of course the technology available at the time — big old buildings full of books that people could borrow — was rather crude. Today we have some much better technology available that in principle could massively accelerate the productivity of our education system. But we haven’t yet seen the equivalent to the wave of library-building that gave this country its array of municipal and university library systems.