How Open Source Changes Business Models

The Paragon Press, 1829 woodcutImage via WikipediaOne great thing that open source does is change how businesses work. Open textbooks are a great example. The publishers are doing a little too late in their attempt to fix the financial issues around textbook costs and the high cost of education. The New York Times reported earlier this year that trade and textbook publisher Macmillan is following the lead of open source publishers like Wikibooks, and is offering lower cost, editable textbooks online through their service DynamicBooks. They have disguised themselves well as an open source publisher. There is nothing on the website that would lead one to believe they are connected with Macmillan. There is the press release section in the “About us” menu item where you will find press releases and stories touting their idea as “ground-breaking” and “innovative” as if following the lead of open source is somehow a new idea. They are not really an open source option, of course: “Ms. Clancy of Macmillan said the publisher reserved the right to ‘remove anything that is considered offensive or plagiarism,’ and would rely on students, parents and other instructors to help monitor changes.” That is really big of them to watch over us like that – in open source texts it is called “peer review” and instructors/authors are pretty good at citing their sources and not being concerned about offending others (that is called “academic freedom” for the instructors and “cognitive dissonance” for the students). On the plus side, Macmillan gets to take advantage of one part of the open source model and that is breaking out of the two year cycle for correcting mistakes in textbooks. In the end, book publishers need to make profits; educators facilitate learning. With the economy in the state that it is in, those are two diametrically opposed goals.

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