Houston, July 13, 2006 - Rice University's innovative Connexions today announced an on-demand printing agreement with QOOP Inc. that will allow students and instructors anywhere in the world to order high-quality, hardbound textbooks from Connexions - in most cases for less than $25.
The deal positions Connexions to take the lead in open-source textbook publishing as soon as it completes software needed to feed each of its titles to QOOP's on-demand publishing platform. Connexions plans to offer more than 100 titles for online purchase by year's end.
"From its inception, Connexions has used the Web to go beyond print," said Connexions founder Richard Baraniuk. "Connexions lets pupils and instructors make cross-disciplinary intellectual leaps with a simple mouse click, following knowledge wherever learning takes them.
"But being Web-based is also about access, and because our materials are freely available to everyone, we needed an easy, low-cost way to let people use a book if that's the medium they are most comfortable learning from," said Baraniuk, the Victor C. Cameron Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering.
QOOP's on-demand service will allow Connexions users to order customized course guides and a variety of fully developed Connexions textbooks. Standard paperbacks will take just 3-5 days to produce and ship, and traditional hardbacks will take about a week to produce. QOOP ships directly to customers.
No other publisher of open-source educational content can match Connexions offerings. This is partly due to Connexions early adoption of Creative Commons open licenses. Because all content on the site is authored under these licenses, there are no copyright conflicts to negotiate.
"Today, college textbooks often cost more than $100 each, so more and more students are fleeing the market for new books in favor of used or borrowed books," Baraniuk said. "Publishers have responded to this trend by raising prices, which has only created a downward spiral."
Baraniuk said one downside to the increased use of used books is that some technical fields are advancing so rapidly that used books are often dangerously out-of-date, and students leave the class unprepared for what awaits them in the job market.
"Our combination of open content and print-on-demand technology will change the paradigm, both economically and academically," Baraniuk said. "We're going to give students access to the latest, up-to-date material, and we're going to do it at used-book prices."
Moreover, each student will be able to use Connexions to build their own customized textbook.
"Let's say a student's in an engineering course, and they're a little weak in math, so they want to weave in more fundamental calculus," Baraniuk said. "Connexions allows them create their own customized version of the course. They can do that right now for free on the web, and if they want that version in book form, then the QOOP deal will allow them to have it delivered to their home within a matter of days."
"Our collaboration with Connexions is an excellent example of how new technology solutions can dramatically impact a marketplace," said QOOP President Phil Wessells. "Textbooks and course guides have grown so prohibitively expensive that systemic change is needed. By combining our on-demand production network with Connexions' course-creation software platform, we hope to make textbooks much more affordable for the students."
Connexions has experienced rapid growth over the past year, both in terms of site visitors and in terms of authorship. This year, the site has attracted more than 500,000 unique visitors each month.
Connexions adapts the open-source software concept to scholarly academic content, allowing anyone to freely publish course materials in a single place online. Connexions is organized around the "Content Commons," an online repository that contains thousands of scholarly modules - manuscripts roughly equivalent to two or three pages from a textbook. Connexions provides free software that allows anyone to reuse, revise and recombine the modules to suit their needs. This feature gives people the option of creating customized courses, custom textbooks and personalized study guides.
Connexions is funded primarily by Rice and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which has awarded $2.25 million to the program.