This project is looking for ways to make open textbooks sustainable. That's a tall order. The process of publishing a textbook is not an easy one. AFTER you've got your hands on the content there is a tiny army of professionals who put that content through multiple iterations and procedures, none of which are quick or simple. That costs time, money and expertise. How do you take that process and modify it so that the product you have at the end is the same level of quality and value, but allows you to offer it to the consumer without cost? The short answer is there is no direct way to do it. So what can you do instead?
Well, you look at the pieces and see what you have to work with.
Writing content = cost is the subject matter expert
Editing content = cost is fact checkers and editors
Graphics and visual aids = cost is creation and processing
Layout = cost is graphic designers and layout artists
Revisions = cost is proof readers
Printing & Binding = cost is production
Digital supplements = web development, CMS integration
Distribution = cost is shipping, mailing, stocking
Open textbooks make the argument that we can save huge costs on writing, editing, graphics, layout, digital supplements and revisions by having instructors and other subject matter experts contribute their skills and intellectual property without charging anyone. This clearly begs the question what, other than altruism, would motivate authors to do that? Barbara Illowsky, author of Collaborative Statistics, had a few words to say about that. She explained that the book had already been published traditionally, that she was getting great feedback on how to make the book better, she enjoys seeing the changes that other instructors implement in their derived copies, she feels that open textbooks is a movement she has passion for.
Another model, proposed by the project participant Flatworld Knowledge, suggests that you can pay the authors and editors, and charge students nominal fees for the digital supplements on an as needed basis to support the costs of production.
A third model proposes institutional underwriting in various scenarios where the educational organization took responsibility for funding open textbooks. Institutional subscriptions is one idea.
Other people have proposed the use of advertising to underwrite the textbooks. This has sprouted a couple of discussions questioning the notion of providing a captive audience to for-profit companies through students' educational materials.
All of these ideas have merit and we want to examine both the theory and reality they might lead to. What I hope will happen is that someone out there will come up with some hybrid or completely new way of looking at this.