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The Internet The Almighty Buck

New Science Books To Be Available Free Online 95

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the free-as-a-business-model-not-dead dept.
fm6 writes "Bloomsbury Publishing, best known for the Harry Potter books, has announced a new series of science books that will be available for free online. Bloomsbury thinks they can make enough money off of hard-copy sales to turn a 'small profit.' The online version will be covered by a Creative Commons license which allows free non-commercial use. They've already had some success with the one book they've published this way, Larry Lessig's 'Remix: Making Art and Commerce thrive in the Hybrid Economy.' The series, 'Science, Ethics and Innovation,' will be edited by Sir John Sulston, Nobel prize winner and one of the architects of the Human Genome Project."
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New Science Books To Be Available Free Online

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  • Are there any good, free resources for learning Algebra and up?

    • by Hatta (162192) on Friday May 15, 2009 @01:18PM (#27969503) Journal

      Go to any used book store and grab an algebra, calculus, whatever textbook for $5. Basic math hasn't changed in a hundred years, so it's not like you're getting out dated material. In fact, text books have been dumbed down in recent years, so you're probably getting a better education that way.

      This is how I learned calculus in high school, and then totally slept through it in college, making As.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Go to any used book store and grab an algebra, calculus, whatever textbook for $5. Basic math hasn't changed in a hundred years, so it's not like you're getting out dated material.

        Not a bad idea. But watch out for those textbooks made in the 1860s. I heard that some of them will try to tell you that 2+2=goat.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by ben0207 (845105)

          Also I got some book (I think published in the mid 80s or so - at least there was a year in the title) which tried to teach me that 2+2=5.

          Caused me a lot of problems, that did.

          • by algoa456 (716417)
            Thats nothing: I picked up a computer science book and it tried to claim that a hundred and eleven (111) was actually 7 and worse that eleven was actually 3. At first I thought it was a typo, but no, that kind of nonsense was throughout the book.
        • Not a bad idea. But watch out for those textbooks made in the 1860s. I heard that some of them will try to tell you that 2+2=goat.

          I know you're joking, but the Ray's Mathematics books were actually pretty good. You may end up learning some antiquated systems of measurement, but that won't hurt anyone.

        • (RougeNeck)

          "De Bible tells me, that the animals went on the Ark 2 by 2. Then the waters of the ocean would rise up and surround them.
          So, lemme think, I think that makes for Goats at Sea."
          (/RougeNeck)

        • by sadler121 (735320)

          I hear those textbooks from Indiana tell you PI is exactly 3...

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by basementman (1475159)

        You're post was doing okay until your true motives of bragging about how great you are were revealed in the last sentence.

        • He are post? Where's you're grandma?
        • by Hatta (162192)

          Sorry if that bothered you. Honestly I am no math whiz. I was just trying to anticipate objections that teaching oneself from a book would be insufficient, compared to live instruction. If I can do it, anyone can do it.

          • by ebuck (585470)

            The proof is in the tasting of the pudding.

            If you can do the math, and the math is right, then your technique of learning was successful.

      • I had some maths/geometry books (they're probably at my mother's house, somewhere) that belonged to my Grandad. He was an engineering apprentice in the 1950s, but there was stuff in there that wasn't covered on the A-level maths syllabus in the 80s. The way things are dumbed down, the cosine law is probably postgrad material these days.

        Now get off my lawn!

      • A good used bookstore has got to be one of those things that I always look for when I move into a new area. In the 60's there was a great little no name used bookstore in Chicago (on the window it just said "used books") run by a bearded hippie named Lothar and his cat Leo, my friends and I would sit around on folding chairs in the evenings and discuss everything from Communism to Symbolic Logic, drink coffee and eat cheese blintzes. Used bookstores are a necessity and should be patronized and nurtured.

      • Neat trick - when I slept through Calculus, I made Zs. :-)

      • Basic math hasn't changed in a hundred years

        Of course, that's using the "Year counting 2.0" formula invented last month.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 15, 2009 @01:22PM (#27969561)

      A free introductory Calculus book (a CC license):

      http://www.math.wisc.edu/~keisler/calc.html

      There is a free complex analysis book:
      http://www.math.uiuc.edu/~r-ash/CV.html

      A free algebraic topology book:
      http://www.math.cornell.edu/~hatcher/#ATI

      Wikipedia has lots of math articles that are very useful for some purposes. I'd be interested if anybody knows of any other resources.

      If you just need "cheap", Dover publications puts out lots of inexpensive math books ($10-$20 for material that could be $100+ elsewhere). Google for their website or just check Amazon. Note though that these are mostly older books, which means, for the most part, that they are much more rigorous than current books.

      Be aware that if by "algebra" you mean elementary algebra (what you learn in middle/high school), algebra means something different to mathematicians, so a textbook on algebra may not be what you want.

      • Be aware that if by "algebra" you mean elementary algebra (what you learn in middle/high school), algebra means something different to mathematicians, so a textbook on algebra may not be what you want.

        Would you mind explaining the distinction?

      • Just have to say - I went to UW Madison in the 80s, and Kiesler's Calculus textbook was notorious. It was only used by him. Those that were able to take his class, and get through it with a passing grade, ended up with a good understanding of calculus - but the drop and fail rate in his class was significantly higher than in the classes that used the other textbook (don't have it in front of me right now, so I can't tell you whose it was).
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ortholattice (175065)
        Warning: The Keisler calculus book you mention uses what's called "nonstandard analysis", involving "hyperreal numbers", and is very different from what you learn in most calculus courses. This isn't to say that it is a bad book - in fact it is a very good one. But nonstandard analysis, while valid, hasn't really caught on since it was invented by Robinson in the 1960s in spite of some vocal advocates. Just be aware that after this book, some of the things in the ordinary high school or college Calculus-
        • by bcrowell (177657)

          And while rote manipulations with hyperreal numbers aren't too hard to learn, to understand them rigorously involves abstract math and set theory much deeper than that needed for the real numbers and limits of standard calculus (see the Epilogue of the book).

          I disagree. Actually, if you want to understand the plain old real number system deeply, it involves quite a bit of abstract math and set theory. For example, if you look in a freshman calculus book, they never prove things like the intermediate value

          • From a college freshman point of view, yes, the "depth" of abstraction for needed both standard and nonstandard are probably the same, i.e. unapproachably abstract. From a set theorist's point of view, the axioms of ZF set theory are sufficient to construct real numbers, whereas you need a conservative extension of ZFC to be able to model NSA. I mastered the Dedekind construction of reals without difficulty, but am still struggling with the rigorous foundations of NSA - although that's my problem, I just
            • by bcrowell (177657)

              the axioms of ZF set theory are sufficient to construct real numbers, whereas you need a conservative extension of ZFC to be able to model NSA.

              That's incorrect. Standard ZFC is sufficient for NSA. You may be thinking of Internal Set Theory, which is one way of approaching NSA, but postdates NSA by several decades.

              It would be useful to understand just what the difficulty was that the failing or dropped-out students had - was it the teacher, the book, or something more intrinsic to NSA?

              One story I've hea

      • I was just thinking we need a WikiText project that would create textbooks by grade and subject. The elementary school textbook publishers already only grab various prewritten texts and compile them into textbooks and the results are pretty poor but I'm certain Wikipedia contributors could do a better job.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Are there any good, free resources for learning Algebra and up?

      There are plenty of sites and free books online that will get you through calculus. For (elementary, not linear or abstract) algebra, a Google search should net you hundreds of sites. For higher subjects, http://www.theassayer.org/ [theassayer.org] should get you started.

      As Hatta suggested, used bookstores and thrift stores are good for cheap high school-level textbooks. Don't count on finding anything higher than calculus texts, though. If you're looking for texts to study abstract algebra, set theory, game theory, et cete

    • by bzzfzz (1542813)
      Wikibooks [wikibooks.org] has texts covering most of these areas. Quality varies, not unlike Wikipedia in the early days.
    • by Petaris (771874)
      Try here: http://www.hippocampus.org/ [hippocampus.org]
    • by bcrowell (177657)
      Here [theassayer.org] is a catalog of a few hundred free math books.
    • Are there any good, free resources for learning Algebra and up?

      I haven't used any of them, but there are quite a few free (gratis and/or libre) mathematics texts available online. Some are here [opentextbook.org], and you can probably find more by Googling.

  • by telchine (719345) * on Friday May 15, 2009 @01:13PM (#27969417)

    Unless I'm mistaken, the Creative Commons Noncommercial licence allows you to charge a fee for the printing and distribution costs as long as it's not for profit. What's to stop some ant-capitalistic individual from setting up a non-commercial organisation to distribute the texts cheaper than Bloomsbury, thus preventing them making a profit?

    • Short answer - nothing, but if all they're doing is undercutting Bloomsbury by only charging for costs, where's the profit motive? People will take douchebaggery only so far. Once you leave the internet, nobody is going to go that far when no profit is involved.
      • Re:Nothing! (Score:5, Funny)

        by davester666 (731373) on Friday May 15, 2009 @01:33PM (#27969701) Journal

        It is still considered non-commercial use if you use these books to teach kids science, then sell the kids?

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by genghisjahn (1344927)
          In all this talk of who can do what under which license...has anyone stopped to think of the children? You have? Oh...okay. Carry on.
        • It is still considered non-commercial use if you use these books to teach kids science, then sell the kids?

          What remotely developed country still recognizes the sale of kids?

          • > What remotely developed country still recognizes the sale of kids?

            Canada and Norway.

            • [citation needed [slashdot.org]]

              • 2 things.

                1. Whoosh.
                2. Generally laws are written for things you can't do, not things you can. And I'm not doing to dig up some citation indicating what I posted was incorrect :-)

                • by tepples (727027)

                  Generally laws are written for things you can't do, not things you can.

                  And one thing you can't do is trade children like they're young goats. My question was: What developed countries either have not abolished slavery or have reinstated it?

          • by rts008 (812749)

            I don't know what a 'remotely developed country' is, but selling young goats is pretty much lawful about anywhere in the world, IIRC.

            Now if you are selling/transporting them across state or country borders, you may have some paperwork and regulations to follow.

            He may be onto something though.
            Judging by my stepdaughter's friends, it may be easier to teach algebra to young goats than to teach human children/teens...

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Where are they going to find customers? If all they want is cheap reading material, it's all on the web for free. The only reason to pay is to support the project; Bloomsbury is banking on good will here. Bootleggers won't have any good will to capitalize on.

      • They might be counting on some people buying the hardcopies just for the sake of having them in printed form. I don't understand it myself, but apparently not everyone is comfortable reading long articles or books on a computer screen.

        If you only want to support the project you'd be far better off just donating to it, thus saving the cost (in money and resources) of printing up an unwanted book. On the other hand, if you actually want the printed book, the legal copies provided by the "bootleggers" offer a

      • Perhaps they are counting on Schools to buy 30 copies per class - still cheeper than providing each kid with a computer.
      • by jonnat (1168035)

        I don't believe that the only people willing to pay for the textbooks will do so simply for altruism. There is a value in the printed edition apart from the content.

        Moreover, distributing free digital copies may generate enough visibility that their sales could surpass those of less publicized titles.

      • Well, people buying the books out of goodwill, but also there are a lot of situations where a book is more convenient than a computer.

        Like, if you've got an hour commute in public transport or a car pool. Or you think a great way to study a subject is while sitting in a rowboat in the middle of a lake with a fishing pole propped beside you.

        I don't think there's any question that eventually most instruction will be by ebooks. But I'm pretty sure there will always be a market for deadtree books, too.

    • by JesseMcDonald (536341) on Friday May 15, 2009 @01:25PM (#27969613) Homepage

      What's to stop some ant-capitalistic [sic] individual from setting up a non-commercial organisation to distribute the texts cheaper than Bloomsbury...?

      What about this do you consider "anti-capitalistic"? Actions need not be motivated by currency to be compatible with capitalism; rational self-interest includes such factors as goodwill and self-esteem in addition to the direct and indirect exchange of material goods and services.

      • by pnewhook (788591)

        What's to stop some ant-capitalistic [sic] individual from setting up a non-commercial organisation to distribute the texts cheaper than Bloomsbury...?

        What about this do you consider "anti-capitalistic"? Actions need not be motivated by currency to be compatible with capitalism; rational self-interest includes such factors as goodwill and self-esteem in addition to the direct and indirect exchange of material goods and services.

        I'm not even sure why anyone would call that anti-capitalism - it's actually model capitalism. To make a business for profit that stimulates competition is one of the definitions of capitalism. And if they are so good at that to charge for a product which then drives someone else out of business that is providing that same product for free is the gold star achievement of capitalism.

        In fact providing stuff for free so that everyone has access to it without competition is really socialism, so setting up a co

      • by timeOday (582209)

        Actions need not be motivated by currency to be compatible with capitalism; rational self-interest includes such factors as goodwill and self-esteem in addition to the direct and indirect exchange of material goods and services.

        Maybe it's capitalism and rational self interest that aren't fully compatible. Capitalism means capital. If bootlicking raises more capital than guitar playing, the pure capitalist licks boots. Self-esteem and such doesn't enter into it.

      • by Moe1975 (885721)

        Absolutely!

        Wish your comment could be modded to +10.

        MOW

    • The profit margin on this would be razor thin, as opposed to their usual titles while hogging as much materials, manpower and distribution ressources as a full-profit title... so lack of profit would kill that idea as soon as the numbers get crunched.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fm6 (162816)

      Nothing, I suppose. But why would they bother? To punish Bloomsbury for making free copies available?

      Besides, it's not as easy as your making it sound. Bloomsbury does this stuff on a huge scale, so their costs are lower. And that's assuming the other version is printed using traditional methods. Unless your hypothetical economic terrorist was willing to spend a lot of money up front for a print run, they'd have to rely on a print-on-demand system, which has pretty high unit costs. Not break-the-bank high

    • In principle, nothing. In practice, how many "anti-capitalist individuals" are there who possess superior logistical capabilities compared to an experienced publisher, and aren't out gunning for any of the (numerous) far more exploitative players?

      While media companies, especially in the music and video business, have gotten the reputation for being extremely easy to undercut, this is only because they have clung to outdated distribution methods and very high prices for "IP" which has a marginal cost of ne
  • Quality? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mc1138 (718275) on Friday May 15, 2009 @01:15PM (#27969469) Homepage
    I really like this, and shows that this company has a better understanding of the big picture when it comes to the dissemination of ideas. My question though is to the quality of these books. I've found often times text books to be poor presentations of science, either making it boring, inaccurate, or just a poor presentation in general. Though quality aside, I still applaud their efforts to make knowledge more freely available.
    • My question though is to the quality of these books.

      Not your intended meaning, but whenever the subject of electronic versions of books comes up, at least those of a non-fiction type, I'm left wondering why the "quality" of bound book is considered the same as its electronic version. It's the same, but different, right?

      There's a lot to be said for making available free versions, but my own opinion is that an electronic version of any book should be free, or at least offered as a promotion of the real thin

    • by jonoton (804262)
      If they're being edited by John then they will be of the highest quality.

      I work in the institute that he founded and know the high regard that he is held in the scientific community.

    • Re:Quality? (Score:4, Informative)

      by fm6 (162816) on Friday May 15, 2009 @03:07PM (#27971067) Homepage Journal

      RTFA. These aren't textbooks. They're a series of books on science and ethics edited by a Nobel Prize winner.

      • by mc1138 (718275)
        You're right, they're not explicitly textbooks but rather science books aimed towards an intelligent audience. This doesn't rule them out for being used in a class room in a text book based fashion. The fact that they're written by a Nobel Prize winner still doesn't invalidate the point that they might be dull or poorly presented take Stephen Hawkings early books for example.
  • by bzzfzz (1542813) on Friday May 15, 2009 @01:26PM (#27969619)

    I expect that Bloomsbury will indeed make a small profit.

    There are many books that are sold profitably even though their contents is available in its entirety online and is redistributable. Project Gutenberg [gutenberg.org] has the complete works of Shakespeare [gutenberg.org] online, a text in the public domain that anyone can print. Yet thousands of print copies of these works are sold through bookstores every month. The same can be said of other classic works now in the public domain, as well as some editions of the Bible, and most classical music scores.

    I believe this situation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Unlike audio and video recordings, which by their nature require some type of playback device, books are self-contained and offer certain advantages over even the most advanced and unrestricted reading device.

    • by linzeal (197905)
      I will send them 50 bucks in check form. This is one of the greatest 'outbreaks of common sense' in any publishing industry in the past 20 years. Some of these fields I keep abreast in can easily cost over 2000 dollars a year just in books because they have such a limited mostly 'well-funded' academic audience. This will allow theoretical work to reach a far greater amount and variety of people and hopefully engage in a more robust and full discourse as some fields have become 10 people yelling at each o
    • by fm6 (162816)

      Shakespeare? A minor part of this market. Go into a bookstore, and anything you see that was written in English more than a century ago is very likely available on Gutenberg. Because if a book is at all popular, somebody's bound to scan it in.

      And in many cases, even if the book isn't popular. Which, from my point of view, is Gutenberg's main (make that only) virtue: a lot of their content isn't available any other way. And I, for one, never bother with the Gutenberg version if I can afford another version.

      W

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by tepples (727027)

        When are they going to figure out that there are rich text formats that are more accessible to more users than plain text files?

        They already did. Search this edition [gutenberg.org] for "How can I have done that".

        • by fm6 (162816)
          OK, they've finally recognized the problem. But instead of dealing with it, they're trying to kludge around it — and failing miserably. For example, here's the way they render the mailing label at the opening to chapter 2:

          ALICE'S RIGHT FOOT, ESQ.

          HEARTHRUG,

          NEAR THE FENDER,

          (WITH ALICE'S LOVE).

          For the way it's supposed to look, check out this page [sabian.org] Notice that the Gutenberg version is in all caps, even though the original is in mixed case. The ASCII version spaces out the lines correctly, but

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by shaitand (626655)

            You are aware that usage of italics, bold, and all caps is a question of style and not consistent from book to book in the first place?

            Seriously, who cares? Once you can distinguish between narrative, dialog, thoughts, and inner monologue then what difference does it make?

            • by fm6 (162816)

              Who cares? Somebody who wants to read the book the way the author wrote it.

              All is convention. Doesn't mean communicating one way rather than another doesn't matter, you very nice person.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by brasselv (1471265)

      Project Gutenberg [gutenberg.org] has the complete works of Shakespeare [gutenberg.org] online, a text in the public domain that anyone can print. Yet thousands of print copies of these works are sold through bookstores every month.

      This is indeed true as of now, because many DO see some value in having a printed copy of Shakespeare (myself included).

      Think of a different scenario.

      You have two buttons on your Kindle. One buys a copy of The Tempest from Amazon or iBooks, for 2$. The other button downloads The Tempest from Gutemberg - for free.

      Assuming that you don't own Amazon stock, and that everything else is equal (format, download speed, etc.), which button would you press?

      Any work put on a Creative Commons license today, won't make

  • Is Education able to be classified as, 'non-commercial use'?

    My property taxes and student loan payments suggest otherwise...

  • by CharlieD (162102) on Friday May 15, 2009 @01:49PM (#27969939)

    If you go to the National Academy Press web site, http://www.nap.edu/about.html [nap.edu], you will find that many of their books are available in PDF format, and that many of those can be downloaded for free. To find what you are interested in, use the search box in the upper left hand side of their about page. Since we taxpayers paid for most, if not all, of the work being presented, perhaps they all should be free.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by WillAdams (45638)

      Interesting.

      Only five books from that site are listed as free at the Online Books Page though:

      http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupname?key=National%20Academy%20of%20Sciences [upenn.edu]

      Do you have a list of free books there beyond that? If so, you should send it to John Mark Ockerbloom so that he can add them.

      William

    • by fm6 (162816)

      Since we taxpayers paid for most, if not all, of the work being presented, perhaps they all should be free.

      Maybe we paid for the work, but we don't pay the money used to operate the web server, which is not owned by the government. As they explain in their FAQs, they need some revenue to cover their costs.

  • What format? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Thaelon (250687) on Friday May 15, 2009 @02:15PM (#27970351)

    If it's not .epub [openebook.org], they're not very good. Why? It's industry accepted, prevalent open-standard for ebooks. Even Adobe uses it over .pdf.

    • by shaitand (626655)

      I'm a geek, who reads ebooks, and I've never heard of it. What are the benefits of your epub vs html, txt, and pdf?

      Does it successfully block all forms of DRM and all forms of execution?

    • by skeeto (1138903)

      I never heard of it, but it seems interesting. The spec [hxa.name] is straightforward, royalty-free, non-proprietary, and is basically a bunch of standards put together. The content of .epub books is just XHTML and CSS. However, I can't find any free software that can specifically work with epub.

      The dark side to it is that it uses the OEBPS Container Format [openebook.org] (OCF) for metadata. OCF reserves a "rights.xml" ("restrictions.xml" would be more apt) for storing DRM information. That means when you see a .epub file you won

      • by Thaelon (250687)

        However, I can't find any free software that can specifically work with epub.

        There are at least two. Adobe Digital Editions [adobe.com] which is reputed to be a pretty thorough implementation of the .epub standard by a lot of people who wrote .epub creation tutorials, though I haven't tried it myself. And FBReader [fbreader.org] which is an open source multi platform program that is well suited for portable devices like the Illiad, smartphones, Nokia Internet tablets (770, 800, 810 tc.), and android, but also runs in Windows, and L

  • As our dissociative nature with science and logic becomes entrenched in our Psyche a offering like this only fuels my quest for ignorance and misunderstanding. Why should I shell out good $$$ for "learning" through conventional schooling when I can just read these and interpret them however I want and argue loudly and incorrectly when drunk? Thank you Bloomsbury...thank you.
  • It'd be nice if next Bloomsbury could convince JK Rowling to release her Harry Potter books in an e-format, even PDF.
    Not for free, necessarily, but at least eBooks are great for searchable reference. She has a serious hangup about releasing her work in electronic format.
  • Buy these books (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shaitand (626655) on Friday May 15, 2009 @06:05PM (#27973241) Journal

    If you really and truly support open access to books and information then buy these books.

    This is the content industry finally hearing those of us who have protested to the industry attempting to lock down content and refuse to update their business models to embrace modern copying technology instead of fighting it.

    If you don't recognize this as a pilot project to test the waters you are a fool. Everyone buy at book in this series, even if you don't really want the thing. Consider it a donation to the principle and vote with your dollars.

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