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Working with Preview Textbooks

What Are Preview Books?

Being able to get a free peek inside books is not a new idea. The marketing mantra behind the giant brick-and-mortar bookstores is: browsing sells books. These bookstores are designed to encourage people to hang out (music, coffee, etc.). Hanging out means browsing. Browsing means a potential sale. It's a proven formula.

Amazon's Look Inside feature is an example of an online enterprise taking advantage of the same marketing schemeor at least the part about letting the customer browse the books. Books that are included in the program allow online visitors to page through the table of contents and and a handful of pages from a selected chapter. Considering the millions of titles that Amazon offers, only a microscopic percentage are featured in the Look Inside program. But it sells a lot of books.

Google also has a book-browsing program called Google Books. Selling books, however, is not Google's primary mission. The primary mission of Google Books is to provide free online access to every book that has ever been published. And in a landmark legal case, Google won a compromise that allows the search giant to provide free access to books that are still under copyright—or at least portions of them. So Google Books provides free access to the full content of a huge online librarybooks in the public domain and those having the copyright owner's permission. The truly unique part, however, is providing this kind of access to books that are still in print, including textbooks.

Of course a major textbook publisher is not going to let Google, or anyone else, make their new $180 textbook available online for anyone to use at no cost. That makes no sense. But what about making a large portion of that $180 textbook freely available for students, instructors, and educators who have the power to select the textbooks for the upcoming school year? Unlike getting a peek at a few pages with Amazon's Look Inside program, Google Books shows the book with a few pages missing. The program creates an entirely new paradigm for self education.

Yes, you will find pages missing from the Google preview books. And, alas, it often turns out that the missing pages interrupt the flow of a high-octane learning. To make things even a bit more interesting, the number of missing pages often increases with the number of pages displayed. The more you use a book the smaller it gets. Of course it can be frustrating, especially since Google isn't willing to discuss the algorithm they use for zapping those pages. But as any mature self-learner knows, it is better to have free access to 80% of a really good textbook than 100% of one that is out of date or so poorly written that no one would publish it.

Are you still bothered by the missing-pages thing with Google Books? Then consider the fact that there is usually more than one textbook available for the same course. Let's say there are three of those $180 textbooks, each available in part. Between the three books, you are likely to have most of the subject content available to you. And there is the added bonus of being able to study the same topic from several different viewpoints and styles of presentation.

For a serious learner, the advantages of working with Google Books far outweighs the annoying disadvantage of some missing pages.


Using Preview Books at Free-Ed.Net

When we introduced preview books as a serious learning resource at Free-Ed.Net, we had no idea that it would  catch on so quickly and become the most popular learning gadget on the site.

When you are browsing the learning resources for a particular subject, you will usually find at least one link to Preview Books. The example shown here is found in the list of academic resources for college algebra.

Each of those links leads you to a selection of books you can browse--up to eight books for each link.


Select a free-preview group.
Select one of the free-preview book.
Begin your studies.



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A Word about Today's Textbooks
by David L. Heiserman
This is more of a personal reflection that an academic presentation. Opinions expressed here are not critical to the essential mission of Free-Ed.Net.

Having been a student, teacher, author, and publishing consultant across five decades, I'm privileged to be a first-hand witness to the evolution of today's textbook; and I would like to share a few thoughts about some sticky issues surrounding the current textbook industry.

I am well-acquainted with the widespread complains about the books being too large and heavy, too expensive, and rigged for obsolescence. It appears to be another instance of the altruistic, pristine demeanor of education v. the money-grubbing, down-and-dirty tactics of corporation enterprise. Or some would like to think it is all that clear and simple. Not so. I like to try a more reasonable and realistic approach.

Have you noticed that there is relatively little outcry about the size, cost, and short life of textbooks for primary and secondary schools? This is largely because (in the USA, at least), a number of individual states effectively dictate the content of their textbooks. It's the publishers who are set scrambling whenever a state such as Texas or California announce the time for a revision. So let's set aside the pre-college book business.

When I began my post-secondary teaching career, textbooks were only about an inch thick (certainly less than 2 inches), used only three colors, there was a growing number of paperback textbooks ... and mostly retailed for less than $60.  They were largely plain-vanillano photos, no eye-catching colors, no margin notes, no web links ... .  The textbooks in those days were containers of facts, ideas, and procedures that were essential to a mastery of its subject. In those days, it was the instructor's responsibility to provide the flavor and richness of the subject.

Of course you know that textbooks are much different today. (I'm not going into a discussion of how and why this change had to occur). Today's massive, full-color, $200+ textbooks retain the fundamental content of their predecessorsthe facts, important ideas, and procedures. But now the textbooks reach beyond the scope of their predecessors and into a realm that was once the domain of instructors; namely presenting the meaning and relevance of the subject.  That's what all those full-color photos are for. That's what the countless numbers of margin notes are about. That's why such a large part of the book is occupied with quizzes, exams, web links, and critical thinking assignments. Its doing the job of a good teacher.

Textbook publishers have become the most relevant, accessible, and economical learning resource for popular education. And if the books, themselves, aren't enough, there are the Companion Websites that publishers develop and maintain for their best-selling textbooks.





David L. Heiserman, Editor

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All Rights Reserved

Revised: June 06, 2015