Students are tired of being strong-armed at the bookstore, and plenty of companies are helping to do something about it. The unnecessary rise in costs for textbooks and the traditionally slow- moving textbook industry are being tested by alternative models for textbook distribution and consumption. No one is totally sure what method will stick, but the ones that do are likely to make wheelbarrows full of money and relieve a lot of pressure for students and parents.
Here are some companies that are experimenting with new ways to deliver textbook and other educational content and helping to lower the cost of higher education:
Chegg (www.chegg.com): Allows students to rent their book for class at a discount of more that 50% and have it delivered to their door. Students can rent books for the semester and ship them back for free when they are done. There is also an option for students to extend their rental period or buy the book should they choose to do so. Oh, and Chegg plants a tree for every book rented.
CourseSmart (www.coursesmart.com): Offers digital versions of traditional textbooks from some of the major publishers in the industry such as: McGraw Hill, Pearson, and Wiley. These materials are viewable online or can be downloaded. The book prices are reduced significantly from the printed versions found in the campus bookstore. Students using this service tout the joy of not having to lug around heavy books for class anymore.
Textbook Media (www.textbookmedia.com): Works directly with publishers and authors to offer their textbooks and study guides online through a web-based book reader. The books are adopted by professors and assigned to their students for the semester. The books are offered free to students through sponsorships (think PBS underwriting) from national brands that want to help lower the cost of education. Paid upgrades with no advertising are also available. (In full disclosure, Campus Media works closely with this company to create custom sponsorships for national brands.)
Aplia (www.aplia.com): A software brand owned by one of the country's largest textbook publishers (Cengage) has put its money behind engaging students through online homework assignments, problem sets, tutorials, and interactive market experiences to complement textbook content. Paid access (about $60) to these online exercises provides instant feedback to the student and professors to better understand what is resonating with students and what isn't. The real-world applications help students deepen their understanding of concepts covered in the textbook.
Flat World Knowledge (www.flatworldknowledge.com): An open-source textbook provider that provides online textbooks in a reader to students free of charge. Professors are able to customize the book by rearranging chapters, removing or adding text, and other customization. Students pay for premium PDF upgrades for printing, audio files and interactive web quizzes. Earlier this year, Flat World Knowledge received $8 million in Series A funding to help grow its offerings.