Textbook Alternatives

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Alternatives to Traditional Textbooks

Some EMU faculty have had success using a combination of the following types of materials in lieu of a traditional textbook:

Open Access Textbooks
Open access textbooks allow students to read texts online for free. Higher quality (sometimes peer reviewed) open access texts are becoming available. See the Open Access Texts page.

Alternative Textbooks
Some new entrants to the textbook market offer students the choice of very inexpensive e-texts or low cost print versions of the same. These publishers' low cost models mean that they don't send publisher's reps to your office, so you need to investigate via publisher web sites. See the Alternative Texts page.

Smaller Publishers, University Press, or Trade Books
University Presses publish high quality texts that are often more reasonably priced--the same can be true of scholarly associations and some small academic or technical publishers that specialize in a particular subject area. Trade books are usually less expensive than traditional texts and may work well for some classes. The library may have some scholarly or trade books available as library ebooks. We've created a way to search for these. See the Smaller Publishers page.

Library Ebooks & Chapters from Library Ebooks
Library ebooks can be read via an internet browser with an EMU NetID. It may be feasible to assign chapters from different ebooks. There can be advantages and disadvantages to assigning library ebooks as course readings. See the Library Ebooks page.

Links to Articles in the Library's Collection
When the library has an article in electronic form, you can provide a link to students and save them the cost of course-packs. See the Online Articles page for details on how to do this successfully.

Open Educational Resources - OERs
OERs, are classroom and study materials that are available online that can be reused and modifed for educational purposes by others. See the OER page for more info.

We've also gathered together resources to help you find two specific types of OERs (or other resources that are free for students):  shared syllabi and online videos.

What else can faculty members do?

Sometimes a traditional text is still your best option. In that case, you can still take a few steps to help with the cost issue.

1. Consider small publishers that may be new to the textbook market 
We need more competition in the textbook industry and some small players have more reasonable prices.

2. Use links to articles in place of coursepack articles
You can reduce the expense of course-packs by linking to articles in the library's electronic collections and preparing course-packs only for those not in the library's e-collections. The university is already paying large subscription fees for electronic journals; we don't need to make the students pay again.

3. Submit your required readings info as early as possible
There is high demand for used texts across the country. The earlier the bookstore can place orders, the more likely they will be able to obtain used copies for EMU students.

4. Inform students of viable alternatives
Will a previous edition work for your course? Does the library have an ebook version of the title? Informing students of options can help them to save money, or to obtain the book when the bookstores are out-of-stock.

5. Avoid assigning custom texts and code packaged textbooks
Custom texts may be cheaper than the new hardcover edition of the standard text, but custom editions usually cost more than a used copy of the standard text. Students often can’t resell custom editions after the course (money they often need to buy the next semester’s texts).

Code packaged texts can make it difficult for students to save money with a used text. Although publishers are required by federal law to sell the codes separately, in practice they don’t always provide this option to students or sometimes charge exorbitant prices for the codes. By law publishers must inform instructors of the code cost. If you assign code-required options, ask for price and availability of the access code before you adopt a text.

6. Check the course catalog to see the price listed for your text
Publishers sometimes quote faculty the wholesale price at adoption, but then copies in stock at the bookstore have higher prices. Some faculty have questioned this and gotten price reductions for students. (link below)

7. Don't sell your review copy texts to the book buyers roaming your halls
This phenomenon adds to the spiraling textbook price problem. The Text and Academic Authors Association provides suggestions on what to do with complimentary copies you don't keep (link below).

8. Give students time to obtain the text
Some EMU professors assign an online article from the library or other free reading during the first week--waiting till the 2nd week to use the text. Sometimes a publisher will provide the first chapter on their website or on the Amazon preview of the book.

9. Let students know about tax credits for course material expenses
Course text expenses may qualify for tax credit using IRS form 8863 and documentation, such as receipts and a syllabi listing required texts. (see FAQ linked below)

10. If you author a textbook:
Find a publisher that sells books at reasonable prices. Or, consider publishing an open textbook. Some of the publishers or open text projects described on this guide may be a good match. The EMU Library has a platform that can publish open access books. This platform is well indexed in Google Scholar and provides you with detailed reports on downloads.

11. Place a copy of your text on Reserve at the EMU Library.
This provides an option for low-income students. It also helps when the bookstore runs out of copies. Course Reserves are heavily used at EMU.

Reserves Tips: 
1.) Place your Reserves request early. If you wait till classes begin, staff are less likely to be successful in putting the book on reserve in a timely fashion.
2.) If the library doesn't own the book, it's possible to place a personal copy on Reserves. (see print/media reserves)
3.) If you want the book on Reserves for subsequent semesters, you must resubmit the electronic form (link below).

Resources for Students with Disabilities

Academic Freedom & Disciplinary Diversity

Academic Freedom
It is important that faculty have the freedom to choose the most effective course materials. Sometimes the ability to combine chapters, articles, and OERs from various sources will enhance a faculty member's options to design the best course. Also, healthy competition among numerous publishers will provide more options than a market dominated by a few large textbook publishers.

Disciplinary Diversity
Disciplines often use different types of materials for both scholarship and teaching. The humanities have always relied less on standard texts (and the course materials tend to be less expensive); some disciplines rely heavily on articles for course readings; standard texts work well for some other fields. It's important both to use the type of materials that work best for teaching in a field AND to consider the effects of course material costs on students.

Faculty Authored Texts
It can be appropriate to assign a self-authored text, but assignment of self-authored texts may involve ethical considerations. See AAUP statement below.

Listen to students talk about textbook costs

The Problem with Custom Editions & Code Packaged Textbooks

Students Need Help with Text Costs, EMU Responds

A recent survey of EMU students shows that most students worry about affording required readings—only 10.6% of students were not at all worried.

35.4% of students told us that they frequently do not purchase the required text.

Due to high text costs, 46.5% report earning a poor grade, 16.9% report failing at least one course, 35.5% reported taking fewer courses, and 26.3% dropped at least one course.

The survey also showed that 72.8% of students were dissatisfied with purchasing codes for online homework systems, and even more students (76.6%) were dissatisfied when they were automatically charged a fee for a textbook/homework system.
More survey results.

The EMU Library Textbook Affordability Initiative works with instructors and other campus partners to lower text costs. This Summer the Library is partnering with the Faculty Development Center to offer an online workshop for faculty on text affordability.

Recently EMU Student Government contributed another $20,000 so the library could continue to expand  library ebooks used to support classes.

Library ebook versions of texts make a difference for students. When offered the option of a library ebook for course reading, 89.6% of student respondents said that they used the library ebook and 27.6% of students said “If there was no free library ebook version, I would not have read the book.”

Students responded to the survey with hundreds of thoughtful comments, such as:

"Library ebooks are incredibly helpful, easy and simple to use, and show that EMU does care about its students."

"I would actually do the readings and come to class prepared for the discussion."

"It's a huge relief when the required readings are provided for free. I feel better about the course and the professor because everything I need to succeed was provided."

"This was so helpful. As a single mother, I was unable to purchase all the books on the reading list."

"I'm already going to have  a lot of student debt, so just this small amount that I am able to save makes a huge difference to me."

More student comments

Faculty can use this guide to explore alternative text options. Faculty can also reach out to their Subject Librarian for assistance in finding textbook alternatives to evaluate for adoption.


EMU Library Handouts


Historically, textbooks are NOT purchased by the EMU Library.