Professor starts eText company to electrify textbook field

Professors are gravitating toward digital textbooks.

M. Ryan Haley, a University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh economics professor, has started a company he hopes will undercut the academic textbook publishing industry and help college students save a lot of money.

CoreTxt Plus Inc. is distributing a free digital statistics textbook to UW-Oshkosh students.

“We bypassed the middleman, which is the people making all the money off our students,” Haley said. “They’re putting new editions out every few years now, and it’s absurd. Statistics hasn’t changed in 150 years.”

Haley estimates the eText has saved UW-Oshkosh students taking the economics and business statistics class $100,000 to $150,000 during the four semesters it has been used.

The textbook was written by Haley and three other professors under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. It includes study questions written by business professors across the campus who will be teaching the students in future semesters.

The book was reviewed by academics at other schools, the same way publishing houses review texts, Haley said.

Professors who use the book can customize about 15 percent of it to their teaching style and needs.

Students who are more comfortable with a paper textbook can go to the university’s copy center and have one made for about $15, he said.

“I know I’m very unpopular with publishing houses, but I choose to side with students on this one,” Haley said.

CoreTxt has copyrighted the content of the book with help from WiSys Technology Foundation Inc., the tech transfer agent for the UW System, said Maliyakal E. John, WiSys managing director.

“The opportunity we see is that we can turn around these types of expert books in a shorter time frame, and the students are tremendously served,” John said.

CoreTxt is looking to sell the book at other schools at a very low cost and to create digital textbooks for other large-enrollment, introductory-level classes, Haley said.

Big academic publishing houses have been worrying for more than a decade about how electronic texts might disrupt their business models, said Teresa Esser, managing director of the Silicon Pastures angel investing group. Esser was previously an acquisitions editor for Kluwer Academic Publishers, now Springer-Verlag.

Big publishers’ business models involve persuading academics to write books, then selling those books back to schools, Esser said.

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