GAO Report: Tim O'Reilly's Letter to Congressman Wu


Editor's note: In March of 2004, Congressman David Wu of Oregon made a request to the General Accounting Office (GAO) for a report on the high cost of college textbooks. The GAO report was recently released, and confirmed the shocking fact that the price of college textbooks has nearly tripled from 1986 to 2004. Tim O'Reilly wrote this letter to Congressman Wu referencing O'Reilly's solution: SafariU. With SafariU, professors can create and publish their own textbooks, selecting exactly the book chapters, sections, or articles they need from the impressive Safari database. SafariU costs professors nothing to use and offers their students more focused course content at less cost.

August 19, 2005

Congressman David Wu
1023 Longworth House Office
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Congressman Wu,

We support your fight for fair college textbook pricing, especially your request that the Government Accountability Office investigate the cost of college textbooks and the textbook publishing industry. The GAO report [PDF] released this week, and the media coverage it has generated, is bringing the issue the attention it deserves.

The textbook has historically been produced by a publisher who makes all the decisions about who and what gets published, and when. They set the page count and decide how a book will be bound and bundled, all of which helps determine (or inflate) the price. Everything is controlled from the top down, unlike the production and sale of other goods.

O'Reilly Media is the largest independent publisher of technology books. We work at empowering our customers and expanding the boundaries of publishing by creating web-based user communities, sponsoring conferences and publishing open content from our readers. Lately, Computer Science and Information Technology instructors have been turning to us for up-to-the-minute course material because their textbook needs are not being met through traditional academic publishing channels.

So we developed SafariU, a web-based co-publishing tool that lets instructors build their own books out of the wealth of material we've collected for them. SafariU users are free to search and select the content they want from our huge database of top-tier technology resources, creating bound textbooks and online syllabi tailored precisely to their teaching needs and their students' budgetary constraints. And the SafariU Learning Object Exchange gives instructors a forum for peer review and exchange of online syllabi and textbooks. I'm enclosing an interview with SafariU user Charles Anderson, professor at Western Oregon University.

By transferring the publisher's authority to the instructor, allowing content to be mixed and matched from multiple sources, facilitating sharing in the academic community and changing the pricing model, SafariU is turning textbook publishing on its head.

We'd like to learn more about your ongoing campaign to make college textbooks affordable and how O'Reilly can help in that effort.

Kindest regards,

Timothy F. O'Reilly
Founder & CEO
O'Reilly Media, Inc.

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