University Press hopes to offer free textbooks

Students may be able to access free textbooks from the University Press of Florida (UPF) at the beginning of next year.

In an attempt to reduce students’ financial burdens, UPF hopes to make course packs and textbooks available online and free for students. Headed by the Board of Governors, UPF is the official publishing house of the State University System (SUS), according to its Web site.

UPF expects these course materials to be funded by the state at the proposed amount of more than $500,000.

Director Meredith Babb said UPF plans to recover lost costs through students’ use of print-on-demand materials, since the majority of students prefer to have the material physically in front of them. Print on demand is a digital process in which books aren’t printed until the order is placed.

“The University Press had been looking for ways to convert to a digital operation, so this seemed like a natural place for us to head toward,” Babb said. “The idea is, we want to get quality material out there and available to students that has gone through the editing process and is correct — instead of having to go out on the Web and get 2 million pages to sort through on Google and you’re not really sure what’s factually right and what’s not.”

UPF plans to team up with the Orange Grove, a digital repository where course packs and textbooks will be made available to professors, Babb said.

Professors can select material from the Orange Grove’s digital resources to include in their curricula, as well as offer their own material for use by other professors and students, according to

However, with an annual fiscal budget of $1 million and the current economic slump, it is uncertain if UPF will receive the necessary funding from the Legislature.

“There’s little to no chance of the University Press receiving our requested funding this year,” Babb said. “But it’s something that we can look forward to happening very soon — after Florida sees some relief, after this economic distress. And when we do receive the money, I think it’ll have a lot of momentum.”

Local college print shop and bookstore employees seem unconcerned about their futures.

Pro-Copy owner Eric Statham said it is unlikely that UPF will receive any state funding.

Amber Landes, a senior manager at Gray’s College Bookstore, said she does not think free course packs or free textbooks would be a bad idea.

“I think it’s a fair venture for them to try and take,” she said. “It’s astronomical for students some semesters — paying $500-$600 per semester. It’s ridiculous.”

Even if the Legislature approves funding for UPF, Landes said she is not worried that it will threaten the textbook market.

“I think it’d be hard-pressed to take the whole market away,” she said. “Just like e-books, I don’t see it as being a long-term kind of thing. I mean, books are books — everyone likes having the books in their hands. I just think it’ll be hard to get this market to go away.”

Students and professors are also voicing concerns about the ethicality of the project.

“My biggest concern is that if this University Press can have it out there where someone, professor or not, can come in and change the content — it’s totally unethical from an intellectual standpoint,” said David Ortinau, a USF marketing professor.

Babb said digital rights management (DRM) will be used to control what material can be altered and to what extent.

DRM is an access-control technology that prevents the violation of copyrighted materials including music, movies and e-books.

Babb also said UPF plans to hire a “permissions manager” who will regulate the legal use of each textbook and course pack so information will be used properly.

Students like Caludia  Alvarez, a seniorbiomedical science major, hope for the changes.

“I hope for bigger changes,” she said. “The big classes — those are the ones where the books are expensive. So something like what the University Press is trying to achieve would be tremendously helpful.”

Franz Villate, a senior majoring in education, agreed.

“This will be a big step, I think,” he said. “If there’s a possibility for free course packs and free books now, then it’s that much easier to find out how we can also have lower parking and lower tuition. This could just be a start.”

Alvarez said she thinks if a professor creates a book, it should be not only for profit but because they want to share information.

If someone uses a professor’s information or research, she said, that professor should be proud and not concerned about it being altered.