Schools balk at ad-supported textbooks

Initiatives falter as academics find advertising too high a price for free or cheap learning materials.

Textbook publishing is big business. And perhaps the newcomer on the horizon—the electronic textbook - isn't much of a threat. One company attempting to elbow its way into the e-textbook market is fumbling at providing cheap e-textbooks to students funded with ads, reports The New York Times

Freeload Press of St. Paul, MN, seeks to capitalize on the warming trend of schools to trade low- or no-cost media for advertising. Freeload Press wants to gain access to the lucrative higher education market, which often holds its intellectual autonomy in very high regard.

Freeload Press was founded two years ago and has found the going slow. It offers 15 textbook titles, most of them in math and business. Although Freeload boasts that 100 colleges have assigned its books, this number doesn't include those that have tried it once and have not opted for a second trial.

Freeload is having trouble securing top-notch authors because of the insertion of advertising into the e-text books.

They’re closer to Schaum’s notes than to university-level course textbooks,” said Randal E. Bryant, dean of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science.

In a failed attempt to test the waters of print publishing, a subsidiary of McGraw-Hill solicited advertisements for a printed textbook. A slew of objections caught the attention of the home office, which promptly shut down the initiative.

Most faculty members do not wish to have their teaching associated with specific sponsors.

“Faculty want their instruction material to be neutral, ” said Hildebrand, of the Association of American Publishers.

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