Last week there was a fierce online discussion about publishing open textbooks. Why is the topic so emotional? Open-access publishing can be viewed from at least two perspectives; having written both commercial and open-learning material, I’m familiar with both. As an active member in the association of Finnish nonfiction writers, I know that many of our members earn their living by writing, and some teachers have become full-time textbook writers. Nonfiction writing is a profession just like journalism, and the work should support the worker. On the other hand writers and teachers are free to do volunteer work, and even donate their royalties to charity. My experience is that commercial textbooks are more polished than open materials composed by teams of volunteers because traditional publishers can help with layout, editing, and similar tasks. Even so, the open-produced material can be good enough for the user’s needs in the same way as Wikipedia or online dictionaries. An elegant example of the new approach is the recent campaign in which researchers freely publish their scientific articles online in honor of the late open access activist Aaron Swartz.
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