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Coursera Partners With Chegg To Offer Gratis, DRMed Textbooks for Courses 91

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the first-hit-free dept.
An anonymous reader writes with news on Coursera partnering with publishers to give students access to more textbooks. From the article: "Online learning startup Coursera on Wednesday announced a partnership with Chegg, a student hub for various educational tools and materials, as well as five publishers to offer students free textbooks during their courses. Professors teaching courses on Coursera have previously only been able to assign content freely available on the Web, but as of today they will also be able to provide an even wider variety of curated teaching and learning materials at no cost to the student." Zero cost, but not without cost: "Starting today, publishers Cengage Learning, Macmillan Higher Education,Oxford University Press SAGE, and Wiley will experiment with offering versions of their e-textbooks, delivered via Chegg’s DRM-protected e-Reader, to Coursera students. We are also actively discussing pilot agreements and related alliances with Springer and other publishers. ... The publisher content will be free and available for enrolled students for the duration of the class. If you wish to use the e-textbook before or after the course, they will be available for purchase."
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Coursera Partners With Chegg To Offer Gratis, DRMed Textbooks for Courses

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  • by Casandro (751346) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @11:04AM (#43665167)

    Since DRM costs me money I would pay more for the DRM-free version.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      These are free books during the class. You have the option of buying them for the class, but I'm curious where you're going to be able to buy them for less than $0.

      • They're also college students. I'm absolutely sure the DRM will last when they start charging for it.
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        The same place kids got free etext books when I was in college. The DRM will be stripped and the books will be available from the usual suspects.

        • Free is not "less than $0"

          • by h4rr4r (612664)

            Fine gratis.
            FREE(libre) text books are not going anywhere the publishers will fight them on every front.

            • by hedwards (940851)

              Which is completely missing the point. Do you have any idea how expensive it would be for them to give away books with no time limits attached to them? I'm as opposed to DRM as anybody else, but this is one of the few instances where it makes any sense.

              I'm not really sure where coursera would get the money to buy all those books or why the publishers should have to give them out for free.

              • by h4rr4r (612664)

                It would cost upwards of $0.
                Making copies of files on a computer is generally free.

                Texbook publishers should for the most part go die in the gutter. There is no reason why a new calculus book has any value more than one long out of copyright. Schools should move to those works whenever possible. Textbook publishers have too long made their money on a captive audience recycling the same material into new versions every year.

                I doubt the voters or those who run universities will ever push for this simple cost

                • by hedwards (940851)

                  And under this scenario, who precisely pays to create these textbooks?

                  This kind of attitude is why people don't take geeks seriously. Somebody has to pay for the cost of writing these books. And yes, you could probably use a book from 80 or so odd years ago, but the way that it's presented is archaic and is going to lack the progress that we've made in terms of teaching math. It's unlikely to represent the practical applications that have become much more important in recent years.

                  But, ultimately, somebody

                  • by h4rr4r (612664)

                    The taxpayer. Once every couple decades, if you want to keep it up to date in terms of language.
                    People don't take geeks seriously for many reasons. A well thought out way to reduce textbook costs 100 fold or more is not one.

                    The publisher barely pays the author now, that is not a big cost for them. Look at how text books are created, the authors work for peanuts.

                    Almost all subject below the graduate level are that settled. None of them need to be updated yearly.
                    Publishers only do that to kill off used book s

                    • by hedwards (940851)

                      Yeah right, we can't even get the government to maintain the bridges, and you think they're going to convince the tax payers to fund something like this? Especially seeing as most of them are not going to directly benefit.

                      It was hard enough convincing people that we needed health care reform, and that's something that ultimately affects everybody who hasn't aged into medicare.

                    • by Wookact (2804191)
                      Yes, that would be great until people who believe things contrary to science were elected to the board that writes the science books.
                    • by h4rr4r (612664)

                      I think a single school board could do it.
                      A reasonable size school district can fund such a thing for 1 book at a time as they replace them.

                      I think we all directly benefit from an educated society, but that is probably me being geeky again.

                      The problem with health care reform is that it was another bullshit half measure.

                    • by h4rr4r (612664)

                      That changes nothing.
                      Those folks now pay big money for text books that fit their worldview. This would only mean they could have their insanity cheaper.

                    • by HiThere (15173)

                      I don't know how it's going, but the last I heard California was in the process of creating a large number of free (libre) college texts.

                  • by morgauxo (974071)

                    Anybody have a link for a pdf of an out-of copyright calculus book? I'd like to compare it to my old (but not THAT old) text book that I kept. Is the difference worth paying $100-$200 per semester? I'll reserve judgement until I see it for myself.

              • Fuck you.
                Fuck you. Education is a benefit to all of society which gets paid back by advances in technology and the industry creation which results. This is so basic it's not even worth arguing about. Education should be 100% free paid for in full by the government who should exert cost controls and force universities to live with them.

                This is how other nations do it. The cost of the crippling debt imposed on students is a drag on the economy. The resulting student loan debt is NOTHING but the next

          • by HiThere (15173)

            Depends. Free (Creative Commons, FDL, etc.) is considerably cheaper then $0. Free (gratis) can be a LOT more expensive.

      • These are free books during the class. You have the option of buying them for the class, but I'm curious where you're going to be able to buy them for less than $0.

        Are they really 'free', or are they actually subsidized via licencing agreements between the school and the publisher, and just being included in the tuition costs as a result of being part of the school's general budget expenses? I'd bet the latter, and they are just then charging you more if you want a permanent copy.

  • Can throw a chegger.

  • I'm curious as to why in the article they didn't mention exactly what model of e-reader is used. Such as is it a modified Kindle, Kobo, Sony, or other brand ereader?
    And also why do they think no one will break the DRM and keep the books for themselves on their own personal ereader? Far as I know DRM has already been broken on e-books so that they can be converted to other formats as need be depending on e-reader support.

    • Re:I'm curious (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MindStalker (22827) <mindstalker.gmail@com> on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @11:16AM (#43665283) Journal

      DRM enforces licensing, it doesn't and can't stop you from stealing. It allows a middleman (like iTunes, Amazon, etc) to say "Ok, we've rented your title XYZ to buyer for 2 days, so we will pay you X under our agreement." Without it Amazon is left with "Ok we gave your title to XYZ he promised to erase it in 2 days, but we all know that won't happen." Amazon doesn't really care if you steal it, the publisher slightly cares, but in reality they are happy that people are renting it and they are getting a steady stream of money. The rental model of digital content would be non existent without DRM, even if it is fundamentally flawed.

      • DRM enforces licensing, it doesn't and can't stop you from stealing.

        Of course it can't. How could DRM stop you from physically stealing an item? That doesn't seem likely.

    • by Gutboy (587531)
      I'm curious as to why in the article they didn't mention exactly what model of e-reader is used.

      It does, and I quote " ... delivered via Chegg’s DRM-protected e-Reader ...", which is, according to this [chegg.com] page, just an HTML 5 web page.
      • Loaded up their sample and had a look at the traffic logged in my proxy when I changed a page, loads up hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of json-delivered images to assemble one page.

        The DRM might work until you get an OCD hacker on it who will focus on how to reassemble the thing.

        And each page spikes my CPUs to 50% for a minute or two as it switches.

        • Doesn't need reassembly -- your web browser already does that. On Macs, the display sent from the application to the graphics processor goes through DisplayPDF... which converts whatever's in the window to PDF. Doesn't take much to script taking window contents and buffering to disk, then changing the page. The result is a PDF with the actual original contents (text, images, etc) which beats screenshots.

          Just saying.

  • ...is not gratis at all, just course materials included. Slashvertisement much?

    • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @11:32AM (#43665431) Homepage

      Meh.

      I guess all those articles and comments talking about how Linux is also gratis are really just advertisements, too. You still need to buy a computer to do anything with it.

      Students signing up for a course generally expect that there will be overpriced textbooks required. An arrangement that promotes a wider array of textbooks free of charge is notable.

    • by Kalriath (849904)

      Purchase of a FREE course - Coursera never charges for anything. I'm a little confused by your assertion.

  • Support? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Murdoch5 (1563847) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @11:15AM (#43665271)
    I once rented an online book from some company for a statistic's course. Much like this company I had to download an e-reader which was released by the company itself to read my DRM enabled book. The problem was the e-reader app was horrible and only worked on Windows and Mac. Now I can accept the fact a Linux version wasn't available and I'm okay with that but even with in Windows large portions of the book just wouldn't render correctly, I was left with incomplete formulas and totally unreadable paragraphs. Not to mention if my date wasn't set PERFECTLY I couldn't even open the stupid reader in the first place.

    If this company can pull it off and manage to release ebooks that have good readers attached, that render perfectly and are supported on Window, Mac and possible Linux then I'm totally on board with it. Other wise it really is more of a hassle then buying the book in the first place.

    As much as I complained about buying books when I was in school, I usually use them for reference now. I find myself opening old Micro-controller books to get over a weird glitch or I open the calculus book to figure out a small issue. So well I did hate textbooks initially, I'm rather glad I kept most them now, 8 years later.
    • But do you really need to use the textbooks for that sort of info - seems like precisely the stuff you could find on the Internet.

      I've kept exactly one textbook from many years of buying the stupid things - my intro Chemistry course book written by David Brooks at Texas A&M. For some reason it's been the best refresher for that subject that I've come across - quite possibly because I learned it from the book.,

      But I guess the point I'm making is that textbooks these days, even for special, obtuse bits o

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        "But do you really need to use the textbooks for that sort of info"

        Yes I do. Try finding the full and detailed rebuilding documentation for a GM 60 degree V6 including all the technical details on what you do to upgrade the blocks defects to match all the corrections that were put in place by 1995 when they discontinued it.

        How about the superior house building techniques from the 50's and 60's in full detail? (Yes a home designed in the 60's is 800X better than one designed today for a lot of reasons) O

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          No, homes built in the 50s and 60s were often worse. The most egregious examples of this have already been knocked down or fixed. I say this as the owner of a 1955 built home that falls into the latter category.

          When built the insulation was a total joke, fuel was so cheap they put in basically none. The windows were a single pane of glass, its r value is probably 0.

      • by Murdoch5 (1563847)
        For me it's the odd nuggets you can find in them that is worth more then hours of searching on the net. For instance in one of my circuits I was designing I had to calculate a drop on a transistor, except that the drop you calculate is always wrong for the application. If I didn't keep my one textbook about transistor design networks and didn't happen to have this one circuit in it, I would of been lost, spending hours trying to hunt down the issue, not the mention the math would of told me I was right.
  • exists to generate private profit off public institutions like UC irvine the University of Pennsylvania. in July 2012 they floated the idea of selling student data to potential employers, and to date havent really turned much of a profit. interesting statement from John Doerr, Any revenue stream will be divided, with schools receiving a small percentage of revenue and 20% of gross profits according to wikipedia.

    The advertiser supported model in my opinion is a terrible idea. Studies like citizenship an
  • by tqk (413719)

    Methinks Steppenwolf's classic [youtube.com] has gone mainstream.

  • Long past due (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Karmashock (2415832) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @11:35AM (#43665459)

    The college text book business has been a racket for generations. The vast majority of information has been public domain and lets not pretend the text books are superbly written or edited. They have the study material students pour over as quickly as possible so they can pass the next round of tests... rinse and repeat.

    Shifting to ebooks that will increasingly be public domain is the future.

    The only reason I could see to remain with copyrighted books is if they offered something the open source books didn't.

    Write them better so the students actually learn more or are less bored by them. Or offer novel insights, methods of approaching problems, or research. Something you're just not going to see anywhere else.

    If you have nothing in your text book that isn't in the free text book... what exactly is its purpose for existing at all?

    And why would students spend their limited resources on your book?

    It needs to stop. The worst are the science and liberal arts books. In the science books you get science knowledge from 100 to 200 years ago sold for 400 dollars a book. And in the literature books you get compilations of public domain books sold for 80 dollars a pop.

    Why exactly are we doing that?

    Hopefully this and a few other innovations will suck the fat out of education budgets.

    • by mark-t (151149)

      The only reason I could see to remain with copyrighted books is if they offer something open source books didn't.

      They do. Mass appeal.

      Now you're welcome to believe that the mass market is mistaken or misguided, but in the end they are still the most qualified to say what it is that they want. If you don't want to give that to them because you want to further your own agenda, pushing open source content, no matter how benevolent and altruistic such an agenda might be, I'm afraid you're not likely to win

      • Le sigh, sir.

        Okay... first let me acknowledge your hostility. I don't understand why you're so worked up but possibly I gave some offense.

        Getting past that, lets go through your argument point by point.

        1. The market is not really given a choice here since students don't really have a choice and professors aren't really buying the books. Therefore conventional market forces do not operate. Here you're going to tell me students could always choose to leave a class but that's a big hassle. Often students can't

        • by mark-t (151149)

          First of all, I took no offense at what was said previously, nor was I trying to be particularly hostile. I was merely attempting to point out what I believe is a factual error in judgement, however, which is the notion that copyrighted content does not offer anything that open source content does not.

          Leaving aside the notion that open source content itself is often copyrighted anyways, my point is that the public, as a general rule, consumes vastly more conventional content than open source. Whether t

          • by FatAlb3rt (533682)
            I don't think that the public has any beliefs as to what it wants - it simply doesn't know any better.

            Seriously - why is anyone paying for Algebra books? Kahn, Coursera, Udacity, MITx and others are changing the landscape, albeit slowly. Freely available text books for core subjects are inevitable. The movement just needs some momentum.
            • by mark-t (151149)

              Whether people don't know any better or not is entirely independent to whether or not they *believe* that they they do.

              People don't always want what's in their best interests...they usually want whatever they *believe* will be best for them. You aren't going to convince anyone that you know better than them what they themselves are supposed to actually want. The only way you'll be able to convince them is by showing them content that they *do* want.

              But so far, any such efforts at showing people the

          • As to offense, then I misread your post. We'll leave it at that.

            As to open source content offering everything... That isn't really what I was saying. I was talking about university textbooks. Especially books covering well trodden subjects that haven't really changed remarkably in a long time... especially at the undergraduate level.

            Now I see that your argument was largely a reaction to the term "open source" that you feel with some legitimacy is treated as a panacea for all things wrong in the universe. I'

            • by mark-t (151149)

              My original point remains, however.... the conventionally copyrighted content has more mass appeal than public domain content.

              Whether or not the latter would be of more benefit to the public is irrelevant... what people believe that they want for themselves is what matters, and it's being provided to them by an industry that is all too happy to take money from them in exchange for it. But making money isn't unethical. The only sin the conventional industry is even remotely guilty of is that they are n

              • As to appeal, you have no way to know that when people aren't being given a choice. Students do not choose their textbooks.

                As to making money being or not being ethical... Again you've confused me with someone else. Your argument is a straw man. You think I'm someone I'm not and have started arguing robotically against me never mind that you lack the information to make such judgements. I have no problem with people making profit. I have a problem with having no choice over who serves me when I pay for some

                • by mark-t (151149)

                  As to appeal, you have no way to know that when people aren't being given a choice. Students do not choose their textbooks.

                  I trust you can see how these two statements are contradictory. If you do not know when people aren't being given a choice, then you would have no way to confidently assert that students do not choose their textbooks. If you can confidently assert that students do not choose their textbooks, then clearly you know that they aren't being given a choice.

                  But really, my point still revol

                  • They literally cannot offer mass appeal since the students are not given any choice in the matter.

                    Its an absurd argument. Please make a less silly one.

                    • by mark-t (151149)

                      I don't know why you see choice as relevant.

                      The public voraciously consumes the content is irrefutable evidence that the public at least believes that the available content actually reflects what they really want... even if it is not in their best interests, they still believe that they want it.

                      Hence, mass appeal.

                      Now I can appreciate if you don't particularly want to personally cater to that particular business model, but that doesn't change the reality that conventional copyrighted works still offer

                    • By that genius logic you could conclude that people in North Korea are happy with everything they get because they consume it.

                      Its an extreme example but it hammers the point home. Choice is essential to make arguments about preference. If people are given no choice they cannot be said to prefer one thing or another due to what they consume.

                      If I stick you in a box with nothing but popcorn, could I conclude you prefer popcorn to all other types of food because you don't eat anything else? By your argument...

                    • by mark-t (151149)

                      The opening statement to which I disagreed is that conventional copyright does not offer anything that publicly available content does not offer also. This is provably false, since publicly available content is not actually consumed to the same degree as conventional copyrighted content, so conventional copyrighted content offers the advantage over publicly available content of practical mass appeal (even if the public does not actually have any choice in the matter... they voraciously consume it as if th

                    • I didn't say anything what so ever. That's a straw man on your part. I limited my comment.

                      If you're not going to argue the point honestly then you forfeit your point and I can disregard your comment entirely.

                      Either argue honestly or you've no case.

                    • by mark-t (151149)

                      I didn't say anything what so ever. That's a straw man on your part. I limited my comment.

                      Ahem [slashdot.org]:

                      The only reason I could see to remain with copyrighted books is if they offered something the open source books didn't.

                      That's what I was disputing.... note that the point above is being made in present tense, not a hyothetical future ideal, and why I felt I could take factual exception to its position. Conventional copyrighted books *DO* currently offer something that alternatives don't. *YOU* may not place a

                    • As to copyrighted books that do offer something that public domain books do not... I am fine with that. And I did say that there were cases where there were such books. However, not in all cases. And if you're dealing with undergradutate subjects it would not be surprising if you could very easily teach the class using such materials. Furthermore, the whole point of this online education push is to increase the avaliability of free education materials. Look around. Everything from the Khan Academy to the on

                    • by mark-t (151149)

                      All I've been doing is pointing out how the notion that public domain and alternative works can offer everything conventional copyrighted works does is an idealist perspective, and arguably even an admirable goal for the future, but there's absolutely no possible way that you can assert that it's reflective of the reality in which we live in here, and now.

                      Time won't prove me wrong on this point because I'm not trying to speculate about how things might be someday, or what people will really want in the f

                    • Then you can't object to anything I'm saying because I'm talking about the immediately future.

                      Since you don't address the future you are not commenting on anything I've said.

                      You literally cannot criticize my position without speculating.

                      So which is it? Are you speculating and therefore vulnerable to being proven wrong? Or do you have no point what so ever?

                      Choose.

                      You will not weasel around this point. I am not stupid. Silly semantic arguments will not stand.

                    • by mark-t (151149)

                      Actually, you appear to be addressing a future that is *not* immediate, unless by immediate, you actually mean some period of time that is simply not infinitely far away, but not necessarily soon enough that it is liable to matter to most people today.

                      Because frankly, if you see more than 2 decades away as "immediate future", you have a very different perception of time from most.

                    • I mean something happening in the year or so. The ground work is being laid now. It is already happening.

                      Whether I am right or you are right will be proven in the next couple years.

                      Till then.

                    • by mark-t (151149)

                      Oh, really?

                      Yeah... two years from now is something that'd probably qualify as immediate future for something of that scope.

                      However, one is compelled to wonder what you expect is going to produce such a huge change in mind-share. It's certainly not something most people would predict to be on the horizon anytime soon.

                    • I need not claim total an absolute transformation to claim a turning of the tide.

                      Its the difference between the beginning of the end and the end of the beginning.

    • > Why exactly are we doing that?

      Because most problems can be summed up in 2 reasons:

      - Greed,
      - People are idiots. (i.e. Where there is no vision the people perish. )

      If professors would actually WORK TOGETHER to produce ONE FREE textbook then students wouldn't actually be getting ripped off. It is not like the rules of Physics, Math, etc., have changed in the last few thousand years.

      This is precisely why Wikpedia is shit. It had the potential to be WHOLISTIC:

      * Layman's introduction
      * Advanced discussion
      *

      • I'm sure there already are free textbooks in pretty much all the undergraduate courses which are the real issue. Once you get into masters programs I can see some point to the proprietary books. But for undergraduate courses or high school courses? Its absurd.

  • Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.
    — Commissioner Pravin Lal (Alpha Centauri)

    Fuck you and your DRMmed knowledge. I only rely on reference material that I know I can always reference.

  • The Right To Read (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mr. Slippery (47854) <tms@infa[ ]s.net ['mou' in gap]> on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @12:15PM (#43665809) Homepage
    DRM'ed textbooks...more and more it looks like we're headed for the world RMS envisioned in The Right To Read [gnu.org].
  • oooooh yeah. That's right. CheggPost was a great tool to not get screwed by ISU's bookstore. Because Craigslist hadn't gotten to Ames yet.

    Yeah, no, I witnessed the jump from CheggPost, a free tool to help fellow students to "Chegg" the business trying to make money. It wasn't a good change.

  • by cellocgw (617879) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <wgcollec>> on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @12:54PM (#43666203) Journal

    Just a couple examples.
    1) A student is out sick and plans a make-up final exam 2 weeks later. Oops, his textbook access died the day of the scheduled exam.
    2) The ebook vendor accidentally kills off access on the last day of classes instead of the last day of finals.

    Any time you let someone else control your access to information, you're headed for trouble. Or for world-wide distribution of python de-DRM scripts, I suppose.

  • by chrism238 (657741) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @01:00PM (#43666269)
    Free for students to use means that the students' page-by-page use of the textbook will be tracked by Coursera, with the analytics flowing back to course instructor and the book's author. "If something is free, you're not the customer, you're the product."
  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Wednesday May 08, 2013 @01:21PM (#43666543)
    I am waiting for some MBA's penny loafer to drop and for Coursera to really start screwing the people taking their courses out of money. I am not against them making money and the product they are producing is generally quite good. (A bit more editorial screening would be nice) But certain lines can be crossed that would have me cross them off my list. If suddenly every course needed a paid for textbook in order to complete the assignments is one. But installing some DRM riddled reader is another. I don't even use the site's crappy web video-player.

    Years ago someone showed that a local university's worst rated professors were the ones that made you buy a textbook that they wrote. In theory they should have rocked in that "Well he did write the book on it" kind of way. But it was just a selfish money grab and showed in their teaching and screw the students attitude.

    One place that Coursera might lose if they were to become too greedy is to turn off the top professors. If you are a top professor at a top ranked university you aren't there for the money. I'm not saying that the professors would not want the money but that as an incentive it would be poor and they might not like the idea of cutting off a huge number of students. I would think that reaching 20,000 students instead of 200 would be fairly cool for someone who loves their subject.
  • MOOCs make me lazy. 9 weeks into my first two Coursera courses, simply archiving the course e-mail, and now it's final exam week. . .oh my! To think I'd actually have to read a textbook too? So what if it's free. . .MOOCs are lame.
  • They need to kill anything that provides textbooks for free or they wont survive. We don't even have to wonder about this goal, we just have to wonder how they'll try to execute on it. . My best guess is embrace ,extend then murder- like \Microsoft tried to do with Java when it started out.

    They'll offer their *versions* then their *versions* will be (all but) mandatory.

    We can defeat this. We can defeat anything they try to do. We can take down textbooks, then course credit, then finally the whole degree gra

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