Freeload Press Offers Low-Cost Textbooks
New company includes advertisements on pages
September 14, 2006 5:47 PM
With the prices of textbooks being an issue for many students, a Minnesota-based company may have a solution: free digital textbooks with advertisements.
While many SF State faculty and students said they liked the idea, they are wary of commercializing a critical learning tool.
“It's somewhat difficult to just sit down and do all the required reading and assignments as is, more distractions aren't needed,” said chemistry major Kristin Brown, 17. “Most ads are bright and colorful and they take up a bit of room. I just want to be able to find the info I need from a book and not spend too much time flipping through pages.”
But, Brown said cost savings on textbooks is important to her.
Howard Quinlan, chief operating officer of Freeload Press, said advertisers see students as a desirable market, but they also want to give back by sponsoring free books.
The 2-year-old company offers more than 20 titles, mainly business related, with ads from companies like FedEx Kinko’s. The books are downloaded as PDF files. Quinlan said an 800-page book would have about a dozen ads that are placed in natural breaks, like the index or the end of a chapter.
The company also offers hardbound texts at about a 60 percent discount, but Quinlan said only 10 percent of their customers order those. No professors currently use Freeload Press at SF State.
“I honestly don't care where students get their textbooks as long as it has everything in it,” said Connie Anderson, a recreation and leisure studies lecturer. “I'm sad that it's gotten to the point where students would need something like this.”
She said she would use an ad-supported textbook if she were able to review a free copy beforehand, and if there were strict guidelines on the amount and content of the ads. Anderson is opposed to ads promoting alcohol and cigarettes, but wouldn't mind music, food or condom ads.
She also said the ads could double as a resource for the specific field. For example, an ad for an outdoor hiking business could enhance the learning experience of a leisure studies student.
Other faculty members see sizable hurdles with ads in textbooks.
“The worst thing in the world would be if the authors stayed clear of controversial issues to draw sponsors,” said Patrick Tierney, a recreation and leisure studies professor. “You can't shy away from the touchy subjects because college is about discussing issues that don't always make you feel happy.”
Quinlan said the perception of the company's textbooks not being credible has been a barrier, but it is a false one.
“We're very much like a newspaper where there's a solid wall between our sales and editorial department,” he said. “If a sponsor wants a say in the text, we tell them 'thank you very much,' and move on.”
He also said that since most of the company's books cover the hard sciences, there's no real debate about the content. As the company expands to other academic fields, Quinlan said creditability wouldn’t change.
“Advertisers understand that this is a unique arrangement and to disrupt that violates the trust of the students,” Quinlan said. “It's critical that we remain transparent.”
Students at SF State said the idea is intriguing.
“As long as the book will get my work done, then that's all that matters,” said Jennifer Cooley, a 20-year-old business major. “It could be penciled all over, chewed around the edges, or bent completely out of shape for all I care.”
Cooley said she thinks most students are so accustomed to advertisements, having ones in textbooks wouldn’t bother them.
“We all ignore the ads in Cosmo, Vogue and newspapers. It can easily be overlooked in textbooks, especially when you're getting a discount,” she said.
“I don't mind seeing ads in my book because I know I won't be fooled into buying everything I see, and besides, I don't care about the ads,” said 18-year-old Angie Aramayo, a political science major, who said saving money is more important.
Rob Strong, the SFSU Bookstore's general manager and lecturer of marketing, said there has been some chatter about Freeload Press in the publishing industry. After briefly evaluating some of the sample material from the company's Web site, Strong said the company's model is “very interesting.”
From a business perspective, online alternatives like Freeload Press are a threat to the school’s bookstore, Strong said. But he sees digital textbooks as part of the slow evolution the industry is going through.
“Book sellers can bang their head against a wall and fight it or they can figure out how to be a part of it,” he said.
Part of the reason for rising textbook prices is the used book market. Textbook publishers receive no revenue from used books, Strong said, so they have to raise the prices of new ones to remain profitable.
“The textbook industry always talks about change, but they're so big and monolithic that it takes a long time,” he said. “Small, nimble companies can innovate, and do things like this. So, we'll see where it goes.”
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