Textbook Torrents

Textbook Torrents Permanently Offline

(updates below or see Rapidshare Textbooks or Free Textbooks)

Textbook Torrents

Textbook Torrents is using BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file sharing protocol, to let students download textbooks for free. The site not only allows Torrents for those open textbooks but allows users to scan and upload other textbooks.

Scan as many of your other textbooks as you can, and put them up here for others to benefit from. There aren’t very many scanned texts out there, so let’s change that.

A basic rule of thumb to determine if something is acceptable: if you can find it in the courses section of your local university bookstore, it’s fair game.

Sites like Textbook Torrents are reacting to the increasingly high cost of textbooks. According to a 2004 CALPIRG study, the average textbook costs $102 and students spent almost $900 a school year on textbooks. Many believe these prices are artificially high, creating windfall profit centers for publishers on the backs of students who essentially must purchase these textbooks.

The used textbook marketplace has flourished because of these high prices, though the shelf life of a textbook seems to be decreasing as publishers crank out updates and editions on a more regular basis. The Amazon Kindle is also delivering textbooks via digital download.

It’s no surprise that students are using new technology to defray the cost of their education. Obviously the textbook landscape would collapse if the majority of students sourced their textbooks via Torrents – authors need to be compensated, publishers need to run a business.

But publishers shouldn’t squawk too much about these developments. High textbook prices were the accelerant to the flux in the textbook market. Now they’re scrambling to protect their cash cow in the encroaching digital age.

Textbook Torrents Update (July 14, 2008 – 2:00pm)

As noted by readers, the textbooktorrents.com website is currently offline. The error data (“not found on this server”) makes me believe that the owner took it down or that the host (DreamHost) took it down. Please note that Google still has pages from textbooktorrents.com in their index. Google hasn’t banned the site, it’s simply not ranking high because there’s no longer any relevant content on these pages.

I’m guessing this disappearing act is due to legal pressure brought by publishers. The domain doesn’t expire until January 2011. Perhaps textbooktorrents.com will come back when a new host is secured … or not if the publisher pressure was simply too much to handle.

Textbook Torrents Update (July 14, 2008 – 2:57pm)

I emailed DreamHost in what I thought would be a vain attempt to gain some information on the Textbook Torrents situation. To my pleasant surprise, DreamHost responded to my inquiry within the hour. Below is the text of that email:

We received very long DMCA takedown notices from publishers of the content in question. The site was further closed down due to violations of our Terms of Service due to it’s illegal facilitation of the distribution of copyrighted content without the copyright owners consent.

While I sympathize with students and the cost of textbooks, you can’t fault DreamHost for pulling the plug. Based on the information provided above, I’d be surprised if any major US host would touch Textbook Torrents at this point.

Textbook Torrents Update (July 30, 2008 – 8:22am)

Textbooktorrents.com is still down as we hit the height of textbook season. I’ll continue to look for signs of life and encourage anyone with information to comment or contact me directly. In the interim, students can check out my list of other free textbook sites.

Textbook Torrent Update (July 30, 2008 – 9:02am)

Thank you to xGeNeSisx who tipped us off that Textbook Torrents is up and running but at a different address: http://85.17.226.223/

Textbook Torrent Update (October 13, 2008 – 5:31pm)

Textbook Torrents is now permanently offline. Following is the farewell text:

Textbook Torrents is now permanently offline.

There are a number of reasons for this, but I would be lying if I claimed that the concern of legal action wasn’t a major factor in the decision. However, it was by no means the only reason. Upkeep of a site this size is a lot of work, increasingly so as time progressed. What’s more, two years is a long time to be running a site of this nature.

I am at heart an activist, a crusader for the underdog. When I see something that I believe is wrong, I do what I can to fix it, if only in some small way. I believe this is what Textbook Torrents has stood for, and what we have done. The amount of attention that we have garnered would not have been possible by simply running around with a sandwich board and shouting slogans. We have opened people’s eyes, and gotten them talking. At its true purpose, the site has been successful beyond my wildest dreams.

What we have started here does not stop with one site. It is real, and it is now up to you to continue. Take what you have learned and experienced here and go forth. If you’re able, start new sites. Find new ways to open new eyes. Keep the revolution going. It is not a revolution of one, not even of eight staff members: it is a revolution of 100,000. We have done nothing here but provide you with a venue to voice your discontent, and the ideological sentiment that we all share need not end with Textbook Torrents. Indeed, it must live on.

For my part, I have other causes that need fighting for. There are all kinds of ways to fight all kinds of battles, and it is unlikely that I will find myself running a BitTorrent tracker again. I will step back from this and hope that you will carry on in our place.

Thanks for everything, folks. Thanks for making Textbook Torrents everything that it was, and for adding your voices to mine. Now it’s your turn.

Geekman
(Former) Textbook Torrents administrator

Kindle 2.0 Photos

Kindle 2.0 Photo

Kindle 2.0 photos have been leaked by The Boy Genius Report and reported in BoingBoing. The new photos show a rounder, sleeker model that is a bit larger than the first generation Kindle. The Boy Genius Report does a very good job breaking down the gadgetry and new user interface. The biggest shocker seems to be the removal of the SD slot, yet another way to ensure users are firmly locked into the Amazon sales channel.

Kindle 2.0 versus Kindle 1.0

Recent reports indicated that Kindle 2.0 wasn’t going to be available until early 2009. Does this mean Amazon has moved up the scheduled release in hopes of a holiday season push? Or is this a Kindle 1.5? Or perhaps it’ll simply take that much time to get production up and running on the new version? As with all things Amazon, we don’t know because they don’t say much.

I’d be surprised if Amazon did follow through on a holiday launch. The economy isn’t going to kind to retailers and a pricey gadget may not get the traction it did in prior years. It is notable that this is not the Textbook Kindle. I’m guessing that Amazon is trying to persuade publishers to play ball with them for a July 2009 release just prior to the back-to-school rush.

Initial reaction from innovators and early adopters seems mixed at best. This is bad news if Amazon was hoping for a substantial number of upgrade purchases, and saps the momentum it’s had among this group.

In the end I still believe this is much ado about nothing. The Kindle is a solution without a problem. Sure there are niches which would substantially benefit from the Kindle: researchers, travelers and students. However, the first two are small markets and the third, while large and lucrative, is intrinsically tied to publishers who have little love or trust of Amazon.

Conclusion: gadgetry gone wild.

New Kindle not out until early 2009

No New KindleAmazon spokesperson Craig Berman tells the New York Times that the rumors about a new Kindle are just that … rumors.

“Don’t believe everything you read,” Mr. Berman said. “There’s a lot of rumor and speculation about the Kindle. One thing I can tell you for sure is that there will be no new version of the Kindle this year. A new version is possible sometime next year at the earliest.”

At the earliest? Boy, if that isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room.

Berman went on to say that he could not confirm that a new version of Kindle would target the lucrative textbook market. Nor would he confirm that a new version would have a color screen. Essentially, all Berman did was put the kibosh on any idea that a new Kindle would arrive for the holiday season.

Scott Morrison of Dow Jones spoke to the Association of American Publishers Director of Higher Education, Stacy Skelly.

(She) acknowledged that e-textbook sales accounted for a tiny fraction of overall sales.

“If the Kindle can make things happen, that would be a welcome change,” she said.

However, other AAP sources said they were not aware of any current talks between Amazon and top textbook publishers concerning a new Kindle device.

The textbook market is perfect for Kindle, but it’s clearly not an easy sell to publishers or students. Publishers don’t want to disrupt a very lucrative market and students need a cheaper solution. The device is still expensive and the digital price doesn’t match up well against a used textbook which you might be able to sell back at the end of the semester.

Not to mention that it could be an all or nothing proposition. Will students want Kindle textbooks if only 3 of the 7 required texts can purchased and downloaded?

The drumbeat from Amazon lately is to downplay the Kindle. Kindle might not be a bust, but Amazon seems hell bent on lowering the bar for success.

Don’t believe the Kindle sales numbers … Amazon doesn’t

Kindle OpinionThe Kindle sales numbers reported by TechCrunch on August 1st have been refuted by Amazon officials says Tim Beuneman, analyst from McAdams Wright Ragen. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports the news came from Beuneman via “an e-mailed note based on meetings with management.”

Amazon officials gave McAdams Wright Ragen analysts the impression that high-end estimates on Kindle sales reported by TechCrunch and a Citigroup analyst are not reasonable.

Amazon managers “told us that the Kindle is definitely selling very well, but they also said the analysts and reporters giving out these extremely high estimates ‘did not run them by company,” Bueneman wrote.

Extremely high? Interesting choice of words.

I was suspect of the numbers when they were reported but took them at face value. Now, it seems I should have listened to the nagging voice in my head that said the numbers were too high. If Kindle sales were that good, Amazon would be on the roof crowing about the news to anyone who would listen.

My post on those first numbers was restrained. Let’s face it, TechCrunch had a number from a source while I simply had a gut feeling, back of the envelope calculations and socio-economic theories. I won’t make that same mistake twice.

Kindle sales aren’t anywhere near this figure based on Beuneman’s statement, coupled with the ‘small amount’ of New York Times subscriptions sold on the Kindle, and the fact that Kindle has only been available for sale (by my calculations) just shy of 5 months.

Amazon also reiterated that it would have a student Kindle in the near future. I’ve advocated for a textbook Kindle. The focus on the textbook market is smart, but also an admission of sorts that the Kindle is not finding a mainstream market.

Textbook publishers might not be willing to change their pricing structures, and secondary market players both online and offline, will not want to give up the lucrative used textbook market. I’d feel more confident if Amazon had a positive relationship with publishers, but they don’t.

Finally, will the iPhone 3G problems make consumers more hesitant to try Kindle? I’d surmised that Kindle would benefit from positive experiences with the iPod, but they could face similar negative effects from the latest iPhone launch. Not to mention that little thing called the economy.

It’s all conjecture until Amazon decides to be a bit more transparent.

Free Textbooks

My recent post on Textbook Torrents has been both popular and controversial. Though still off line the latest seems to indicate we haven’t seen the end of Textbook Torrents.

In the interim, I’m compiling a list of sites where students can gain access to free textbooks.

Textbook Revolution

“TBR’s mission is to drive the adoption of free textbooks by teachers and professors. We want to get these books into classrooms. Our approach is to bring all of the free textbooks we can find together in one place, review them, and let the best rise to the top and find their way into the hands of students in classrooms around the world.”

Wikibooks

Wikibooks Logo“Wikibooks is a Wikimedia community for creating a free library of educational textbooks that anyone can edit. Wikibooks began on July 10, 2003, since then Wikibooks has grown to include over 30,398 pages in a multitude of textbooks created by volunteers like you!”

Open Text Book

“Open Text Book is a registry of textbooks (and related materials) which are open — that is free for anyone to use, reuse and redistribute. It is run by the Open Knowledge Foundation”

Scribd

“Through Scribd.com, iPaper, and the Scribd Platform, Scribd is changing the way people view, publish, and monetize documents. Through our vast library of content and our unique document display technology, we hope to unlock the information in the world’s documents and make it readily accessible to everyone.”

Scribd doesn’t specifically aim to provide free textbooks but there seem to be many available. Searches for specific titles or subjects often bring back a substantial list of results. Outside of textbooks, Scribd can be used as a deep source of student contributed notes.

Nearly all of the sites above are not in violation of any copyright laws. Scribd is the exception, but only because they allow users to upload materials. However, they seem responsive to DMCA take down notices.

Scribd Take Down Notice Example

This list is not comprehensive, but I believe represents the largest and best of the bunch. Others are extremely narrow in focus, abandoned or overrun with advertising ploys. Please let me know if I’ve missed any that merit inclusion on this list.

Kindle 2.0 out in October?

RumorsCrunchGear is reporting that Kindle 2.0 could be released as early as October.

The first is an updated version with the same sized screen, a smaller form factor, and an improved interface. The source told us that Amazon has “skipped three or four generations,” comparing the old Kindle to the 1st gen iPod and the new version to something like the sexy iPod Mini.

The second new model, which is shaped like an 8 1/2 x 11-inch piece of paper, is considerably bigger than the current model and should be available next year.

Both models should come in multiple colors and may be aimed at younger readers.

I’m particularly interested in the new model, rumored to be shaped like a standard piece of paper. That, coupled with color, make me believe that Amazon may be targeting textbooks.

As I’ve written previously, the textbook market is perfect for Kindle. The new size and color make it both easy to carry with traditional books and ‘cool’ to boot. (I frankly don’t get the color issue myself, but the demand for pink is tremendous.)

However, the release date of October is a huge miss for this textbook season, which starts just about … now, and gets really big in August until finally petering out in September. So the signals here are a bit mixed.

No doubt Amazon wants the updated first version to be available for the holiday shopping bonanza. That makes complete sense. But if the second model is essentially a Kindle textbook, I just can’t see it being a hot gift. I mean, it’s not socks but getting a digital eTextbook reader isn’t exactly ‘fun’ either.

The drum beat for digital textbooks is getting louder with the closure of Textbook Torrents and Amazon would be wise to aggressively jump into this market as quickly as possible.

Kindle Statistics: Better Not Tell You Now

Magic 8 BallKindle sales have doubled, or so Amazon would like to have you believe. A recent Time story reported the following:

According to a source at Amazon, “on a title-by-title basis, of the 130,000 titles available on Kindle and in physical form, Kindle sales now make up over 12% of sales for those titles.”

In late May at the D: All Things Digital Conference, Tim O’Reilly reported Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos saying that “kindle sales represent 6% of all Amazon sales for the 125,000 titles that are available on kindle.”

The problem is that these percentages are delivered in a vacuum. There is no indication as to true sales figures. Here’s the issue in a nutshell for those who are statistically challenged.

Let’s say the the 6% figure was based on 1,o00,000 unit sales. That means Kindle sales accounted for 60,000 units. The 12% figure could be based on another time period where unit sales were, say, 800,000. 12% of 800,000 is 96,000 unit sales. So while the percentage of sales rose 100% from 6% t0 12%, actual unit sales only rose 60% from 60,000 to 96,000.

For what time period is each percentage based? Is the 12% figure cumulative? (If so, the June percentage would have to be massive!) Are these based on revenue or unit sales? These are just the basic questions. Never mind the more detailed analysis of unit sales per Kindle, repeat Kindle sales and median channel sales percentage.

Better Not Tell You Now Magic 8 Ball Response

It’s hard to believe that investors are willing to take this type of sales obfuscation. We still don’t know how many Kindles were sold! Oh, they were sold out, but it’s a real easy marketing trick to create buzz by selling out a small line of inventory.

You have to ask yourself, why won’t Amazon actually divulge any of the sales data. If it were as great as they make it seem wouldn’t they be shouting it from the rooftops Tarzan style?

Credit Tim O’Reilly and Time’s Josh Quittner for not blindly reporting these ‘figures’ as a success. In particular, I enjoyed Quittner’s opening volley.

Is the Kindle starting to catch fire with consumers? From the Department of Inscrutable Data Points comes word that e-book sales for Amazon’s Kindle — its digital reading device-have doubled during the past two months. Kind of, sort of, maybe.

Others have been less rigorous in their analysis, seeming to trust Amazon on faith and hoping that another iPod like success story is in the making. Convince me Amazon! Just show us the numbers.

University Presses Selling on Kindle

Kindle HacksAccording to Inside Higher Ed, Princeton University Press will join other notable University Presses such as Yale University Press, Oxford University Press and The University of California Press in making portions of their catalogs available on Kindle.

University Presses, even the big ones, have often found it difficult to survive, much less flourish. The Kindle could help these struggling presses to find greener pastures. Details on the nature of these relationships is still unknown.

The university presses participating in Kindle were reluctant to describe the specific financial arrangements they have with Amazon (which also declined to discuss them), but said that they were revenue-sharing deals, and that preparing the books for release on Kindle was not particularly burdensome or expensive.

I’d be very interested to know exactly what the revenue sharing deal is at present. Kindle is certainly working hard to make more and more titles available for download. The question is whether this is a type of introductory offer type of deal, sweet at the beginning and then onerous as it moves forward when you’re essentially addicted to the platform. (I’m looking at you Comcast.)

Barbara Fister has a great comment to the Inside Higher Ed piece:

I don’t have any objection to UPs trying this revenue stream (even self-published authors are doing it), but I doubt the Kindle will revolutionize the textbook market.

First, if illustrations and color and permission-based images are problematic, that’s a hurdle. Second, the publisher sets the price, and they haven’t shown much inclination to price electronic versions at a steep enough discount to tempt students in huge numbers. Third — students object to paying a lot for a book that they can’t share or resell, and they won’t be all that thrilled that they can’t buy a used copy. (I’m skeptical that you can download a Kindle book to your computer — isn’t that a violation of their terms of service?)

Add to that students in Montana and Alaska are outta luck (the wireless network that Amazon uses doesn’t reach there) and students would be forced to spend a lot of money for the a gadget that limits their shopping to a single store.

The price is certainly an issue. The Kindle versions come at what seems like a 10% discount. It would take a substantial number of titles to offset the $300+ cost of the Kindle itself. In addition, you can’t resell these books.

In ‘analog’ form, you can sell a number of these titles back to a University Bookstore or independent bookseller for more than 10% of the purchase price. I recall with great glee the end of the semester when I’d sell back my textbooks to the University Bookstore. Not all were accepted and I probably only got 20% to 50% of the original purchase price but … it was enough for a weekend splurge at the local watering hole.

This one currently lands in the A for effort pile, but incomplete as the grade of record.

Kindle Hacks

Kindle HacksI’ve been getting more email lately which isn’t a bad thing in my book – keep it coming! One from Fiona King caught my attention and will interest readers who find me through a variety of Kindle searches.

I’m not particularly fond of the Kindle overall, but I do see it being useful for students and textbooks in particular. Hack Your Kindle: 100+ Tips, Resources, and Tutorials to Get More Out of the Amazon Kindle is a good list and I feel better promoting it because it’s on a college-themed site. Sure, it’s link bait, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good or useful.

For easy reference, here’s a list of all my posts mentioning Kindle.

Reading Report Says: Books In, Kindle Out

The 2008 Kids and Family Reading Report by Yankelovich and Scholastic contains some interesting statistics that may provide insight about the future of books in the digital age.

  • 75% of kids age 5-17 agree with the statement, “No matter what I can do online, I’ll always want to read books printed on paper”
  • 62% of kids surveyed say they prefer to read books printed on paper rather than on a computer or a handheld device.

Books Aren’t Dead

Those are some pretty shocking(ly good) statistics given the prevalence of online media and handheld devices. I’ve blogged previously that eBooks and the Kindle have an uphill battle because of the passive nature of books and the lack of a motivating agent of change for the medium. Books are already portable, can be printed in color, and don’t get better due to new technology (e.g. – Dolby or HD.)

To be fair, there does seem to be a place for digital books.

  • Two thirds of kids age 9-17 believe that within the next 10 years, most books which are read for fun will be read digitally – either on a computer or on another kind of electronic device. Eighty-seven percent of kids think people will be able to tag and share their favorite parts of books with others.

So perhaps there is room for both eBooks and the musty regular old book. The problem may be whether the digital book market can be a large enough and viable business.

Ready for some more good news?

  • A majority of kids say they like to read books for fun and that reading books for fun is important. Most kids perceive a correlation between reading and success.
  • One in four kids age 5–17 reads books for fun every day (high frequency reader), and more than half of kids read books for fun at least two to three times a week.

A part of me doesn’t believe these statistics given all the doom and gloom you often hear about reading and literacy. But the study was done to a 90% confidence level. It’s gratifying to see books still being linked to success.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS), which tracks the progress of more than 20,000 American schoolchildren from kindergarten through the fifth grade, showed a correlation between the number of books in a child’s home and their test scores. This was referenced in Freakonomics and also cause for some sniping regarding correlation versus causality.

The crux of the report was this finding:

  • A child with at least 50 kids’ books in his home, for instance, scores roughly 5 percentile points higher than a child with no books, and a child with 100 books scores another 5 percentile points higher than a child with 50 books.

Yet, there was no correlation between a parent reading to the child and test scores. This led many to believe that books, and the number of books, in the home wasn’t the primary factor, but instead was linked to the parent’s income and education.

I find that a weak argument for a couple of reasons. The first being the difference in scores between 50 books and 100 books. If you believe this argument, then the parents of the 100 book group are richer and better educated than those in the 50 book group. I’d be surprised if this was the case. It would have been a major finding in the report had this been true.

The second reason is that the environment has so much to do with a child’s growth and development. Akin to the Montessori idea of the prepared environment, it makes sense that having books around greatly increases the chance that they’ll seek them out on their own.

Parents reading to their child might not be correlated to success, but having access to books for children to seek out and explore on their own makes sense. You could be rich and intelligent parents, but if you’re feeding your kids a diet of Halo 3 on a daily basis you might get some odd results.

So how am I linking these two reports together? I know, it seems like a stretch, right? Here’s how.

  • Most kids say there are not enough really good books for boys/girls their age, and they say finding books they like is one of the key reasons they do not read for fun more frequently.

This important statement comes from The Reading Report, making it clear that finding books is a key to reading. The odds of you finding books is far higher if you’ve got them in your home.

The Reading Report goes on to show the dramatic effect Harry Potter had on reading habits and attitudes. Again, I’d offer up the question: would a child be more or less likely to read Harry Potter if the books were in the home?

Yeah … parents, buy more books.