On September 28th, California Governor Jerry Brown signed both SB1052 and SB1053 into law, supporting the development of open source textbooks for the 50 most common undergraduate courses and a digital library to store those textbooks. Students, faculty, and textbook affordability advocates across the nation praised the governor’s endorsement of the bills, however there were some people who were upset by the decision: the Association of American Publishers (AAP).

Within a week after the bills were signed, the AAP produced a national press release to challenge the notion that the bills would provide students with free textbooks. They argued that there is no such thing as a free textbook and the 20 Million Minds Foundation (20MM), a non-profit dedicated to lower the cost of textbooks nationally, based its recent SB1052 and S1053 infographic on “voodoo math and trumped-up claims.”  In addition, the AAP modified and released their own version of the 20MM infographic called “A Roadmap to Misleading Infographics.”

After the AAP released their statement and infographic, the 20MM Foundation responded:

  • AAP: These “free” textbooks will, in fact, cost California taxpayers, including college students, tens of millions of dollars to develop, distribute and maintain.

20MM Response: WRONG. Publisher textbooks are already costing huge amounts of taxpayer dollars and offering a free version online will cost students nothing. Consider that the state of California already spends over $200 million dollars in taxpayer financed Cal Grant B funding (used primarily for textbooks) that pays for overpriced publisher textbooks that far exceed the average inflation rate growth in medical care, housing, food and other consumer items. In fact, according to the CA Legislative Analyst Office, total purchases of college textbooks for fiscal year 2013-14 is expected  to be $1.7 billion alone—AND students are taxed on these textbooks –thus $67 million in taxes students are paying alone on top of the costs for these required overpriced textbooks.

  • AAP: The initial funding is not going toward the creation of textbooks for “50 … courses” but the development of some unstated lesser number of “strategically selected textbooks.”

20MM Response: WRONG. The initial funding for the textbooks under the legislation goes directly toward the creation or purchase of open source textbooks that will be provided to students for free on the web or any internet device. The newly established California Open Education Resources Council, which has nine members drawn from the UC, CSU, and community college systems, will create and oversee the book approval process, including choosing the courses, then solicit bids to produce the textbooks in time for the 2013-2014 school year that will be paid directly out of the $10 million dollars allocated under the legislation. Important note for the publishers, they too can participate if they can make their content “cc-by” available and given the Council can also choose to use existing open source textbooks.

  • AAP: No credible report or source supports the inflated, seven-year-old figures for student spending or textbook publishing touted by the infographic.

20MM Response: WRONG.  The AAP wants you to believe that the stats are old and out dated but many of them are within the past three years and all trending reports indicate that textbook prices are getting more expensive.  It is somewhat insulting that the AAP feels the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Student PIRGS and the College Board are all non-credible sources of information. Instead of presenting a bogus claim that our stats are non-credible and outdated, we challenge the AAP to prove that the trends are changing and textbooks are becoming more affordable.  The truth is they are not becoming more affordable.

According to the 20MM Foundation, they will be releasing a new infographic soon to further address point-by-point the accusations issued by the AAP.

If you would like to see the full press release by the 20MM Foundation, you can visit:

4 thoughts on “Association of American Publishers Challenge 20MM Foundation’s Claim of “Free Textbook”

  1. Andrew, I think this blog post misses the point of the dispute with the dueling infographic AAP released in response to 20MM and 20MM’s response. If you cut through the PR spin machines, this appears to be more about the specific claims 20MM has made about the issue of textbook affordability in general and what the law does and does not do and what it potentially may do depending on factors like whether faculty will use the OER content that is available.

    Infographics are wonderful tools to communicate sometimes complex information in basic ways, but even when there is a citation, that doesn’t mean we should take everything in such a nice attractive package from an advocacy organization as gospel. In higher education, we know better. We know that we must be critical consumers of content. Its always worth checking the citations.

    The pie chart in the 20MM infographic citing the GAO is a good example. That graphic is very misleading and factually incorrect in at least three different ways which is impressive considering its a simple pie chart graphic with only two data points.

    If you look at the citation and fully read the Government Accountability Office study you will see they reported US Department of Education data from 2003-2004 from their NCES IPEDS database. That data is submitted by every Title IV eligible school in the country. The “books and supplies” category cost of attendance budget estimate averages are for first time freshmen students (not textbooks as the infographic implies) at community colleges made up 72% of tuition and fees, not “total student costs” as the infographic also implies which is the cost of attendance used for financial aid purposes that includes tuition, fees, room, board, books and supplies, transportation, and other costs. “Books and supplies” is a catch all category for books, supplies, equipment, lab fees, and computer hardware (other than a computer). According to recent student surveys textbooks make up an estimated 60-70% of the books and supplies category, depending on the type of institution.

    So the 20MM pie chart had 1. The percentages GAO reported wrong having 75% versus the correct 72%. 2. It suggested the 75%(72%) was all textbooks, when it wasn’t, and 3. Mislabeled the pie as total student cost instead of only tuition and fees.

    The GAO report may be viewed here: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05806.pdf page 10-11 and footnote 5 and Appendix I, pages 33-34 address the data of the infographic’s pie chart.

  2. Hello Rich,

    Thank you for commenting on my blog post!

    The Textbook Affordability Project’s news section reports on the latest textbook affordability news. The blog post summarized the dispute and it was clear that the AAP had problems with the data 20MM displayed on their infographic. The article showed the initial feud and the responses from 20MM about the AAP’s press release and adversarial infographic. So, I’m not sure how the blog post “misses the point of the dispute.” In addition, your first three paragraphs are heavy with the PR spin you are trying to warn against!

    The GAO study is one of the most cited studies regarding textbook affordability and you are correct — the study uses old data from the IPEDS database. However, the GAO study explained why they used the old data from the IPEDS database, stating that it is the most “complete data available on estimated student spending. As we state in appendix I, we tested IPEDS for reliability and note that other available data sources are not as complete or reliable.”

    “According to recent student surveys textbooks make up an estimated 60-70% of the books and supplies category, depending on the type of institution.”

    I would love to see these surveys; would you happen to have citations so I can view them?

    Concerning the three points you made at the end of your comment:

    1. 75% versus the correct 72%.

    – Agreed. The person who created the 20MM made a 3% error. However, according to a 2007 report by the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, books and supplies can actually cost more than the 72% tuition and fee figure noted in the GAO study. In the report it says, “textbook expenses are often nearly equivalent to the price of tuition.” They even provide a real-world example, saying that a California resident attending the two-year College of the Canyons in 2006-07 would have paid $768 for tuition and fees and $1,332 for books and supplies.*

    * http://www2.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/acsfa/turnthepage.pdf (page 51)

    2. The infographic suggested the 75%(72%) was all textbooks, when it wasn’t.

    – The GAO study, which the infographic cites, acknowledges that “while these figures include the cost of supplies, we cannot disaggregate those cost from the totals.” The infographic could have included a disclaimer, but many studies use the books and supplies category as a representation of “textbooks.”

    3. Mislabeled the pie as total student cost instead of only tuition and fees.

    – Agreed. It is true; the GAO used “tuition and fees” instead of “total student cost,” and 20MM should have labeled it correctly.

    Now I have a few questions to ask you, since you seem to be invested against 20MM:

    Do you think textbook affordability is a problem for students?

    Do you believe publishers are being fair about their textbook practices?

    Would you have preferred for students not to have this free digital option that the California bills will provide?

    -Alexander (NOT Andrew!)

  3. Alexander,

    First off I am sorry I got your name wrong. My bad. I’m also sorry if a misread the post. I don’t think I was spinning this. I simply stated in the first paragraphs of my comments I think we need to better understand the issues, which have some complexity, and the claims made on any side. When I read the infographic I saw issues with its accuracy. I don’t have it in for 20MM as you suggest and I am not a spokesperson for publishers, but I do have issues when groups play loose with data when it’s done in a way to push their advocacy agendas. Throwing some cold water is not a bad thing.

    Let me first answer your direct questions:

    1. Do you think textbook affordability is a problem for students? Yes!

    2. Do you believe publishers are being fair about their textbook practices? There are problems with some of their practices, though publishers are not all the same and even within publishers they are complex organizations.

    3. Would you have preferred for students not to have this free digital option that the California bills will provide? No. I support OER and support the intent of the legislation of expanding availability of OER materials in the marketplace. That said, whether students have such options will depend largely on the quality of the materials developed, their meeting rigorous accessibility requirements in the law, faculty adopting these materials and other OER materials already available, and students finding these materials valuable in their learning.

    As to the specifics of your comments. GAO did not use old data for their 2005 report. They used at that time current NCES IPEDS data that was available. A main reason why GAO used NCES is because GAO has strict internal policies on what data they can use and what they can’t use. They generally rely on government agency statistics. At that time of their study, there were also fewer national surveys that specifically looked at student textbook spending.

    Other research that exists include Student Monitor, Student Watch, UNC system annual textbook average cost survey and reporting, California Student Aid Commission SEARS survey (not conducted in several years, however estimated for inflation adjustments) and several other smaller sample surveys, company surveys, and data from various state level studies.

    On the two points:

    1.) ACSFA study. Yes at low cost tuition institutions, students can spend in some cases as much or even more on course materials than they do on tuition/fees. Though keep in mind a community college sticker tuition rate at many schools does not reflect the actual per student seat cost -it’s already reflecting a discounted cost, even before financial aid is applied.

    College of Canyons is actually a great example on why you can’t cite books and supplies for financial aid as textbook spending. College of the Canyons $1,332 books and supplies at the time of the ACSFA study and today ’12-’13 $1,665 is their cost of attendance budget amount for books and supplies. http://www.canyons.edu/offices/FinAid/financial_need.asp Nearly all of the public institutions in California, including Canyons, use books and supplies data supplied by the California Student Aid Commission, which has not done a student survey in about five years due to budget cuts. They have been using CPI adjustments to estimate budgets. One great thing CSAC did do though is breakdown the cost of books and supplies. See footnote 2 from CSU http://www.calstate.edu/acadAff/codedmemos/AA-2011-27.pdf According to the commission textbooks budget were $774 in 2006-2007 and that would have been the component of books and supplies Canyons likely used in ’06-‘07.

    2.) I don’t understand your point. It’s ok to suggest something that is not accurate because of perception? That is the entire point of federal requirements for net price calculators and giving students better information on college costs and budgeting. Having a broad catch all category called books and supplies without explaining what these cost elements are does not help students understand their college costs and allow certain fees to be hidden.

    I think the TAP is a great resource. Keep up the good work and thanks for the healthy discussion.

  4. Textbook prices are too high; they need to come down; that’s a given. The problem with this bill is that the publishing companies have already begun to outflank the open textbook movement by placing a lower premium on content and substituting the old “content” value proposition with highly-integrated educational services (e.g. tutorials, assessments, certifications, etc). @0 Million Minds is completely behind the curve on what successful solutions mean, and so are many other hard-working open textbook groups. What they are going to do with this money is simply hire the same subcontractors that the publishing companies hire to create content, and that’s it.

    The mistake made by 20 Million Minds here is that they think of the textbook as THE solution – it’s not. The way that most open textbook groups are approaching this problem is with “too little, too late” strategies, and that’s a darned shame, because real harm has been caused to our students and our nation by the unconscionable cost of textbooks.

    I hope this program truly reduces the cost of textbooks, but it remains to be seen whether 20 Million Minds or any other non-profit group can compete in driving costs down with truly integrated educational solutions that effectively compete with what the commercial publishing companies are producing. So far, that’s not the case – and that’s a shame, because 20 Million Minds and the rest of the open textbook movement is missing a great opportunity to make a far more significant difference than it has, to date. It’s not too late.

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