OER in Print

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Explain why students might want to access a print copy of an OER.
  • Identify three options for acquiring an OER in print.

Physical copies of course materials are sometimes preferred by both students and instructors. Since OER are typically created as digital objects first, it can be difficult to picture them as physical items, but many OER come in low-cost print versions as well. In this chapter, we’ll review some of the reasons why and how you might offer a print option for your text-based OER.

Why Print?

There are many reasons why your students might want to access an OER in print, even at a price. A few of these are listed below:

  • Students who do not own a laptop might want to have a print copy of their text for use in the classroom.
  • Some students have issues with eye strain when reading on computer screens.
  • Some students find it easier to retain information from print texts.
  • Some students (and instructors!) prefer having physical manuals for use in labs.

Although not all students will want to purchase your materials in print, having the option available might be a worthwhile endeavor for your course.

Purchasing Copies

"The American Yawp" book cover.
The American Yawp: A Massively Collaborative Open US History Textbook, sold by Stanford University Press. 456 pages. $24.95.

One option for accessing OER in print is to purchase publisher-produced copies. For example, OpenStax, a Rice University-based open textbook publisher, provides bulk printing through textbook providers that contract with university bookstores. Campus bookstores can order copies of OpenStax textbooks and other OER which have print copies available for sale.

The American Yawp is a prime example of a university press-distributed open textbook. First released in print in 2018, the massively collaborative United States History textbook is one of the most popular history OER in use today. New editions of the text are released regularly and the book’s update history is provided on its host website.

Even if the publisher of your chosen OER does not sell physical copies of their resource, you can commission copies through third-party platforms such as Lulu.com or Amazon. This can be an excellent option if you plan on rearranging chapters of your chosen text or if you are compiling a reader of various open resources.

Warning: Before ordering print copies of your text, keep in mind how your use of print materials will affect your students’ engagement with your course.

Considerations for courses using OER in print

  • Should students be required to purchase a hard copy?
  • Could you easily print and lend out copies of the OER to your students?
  • How will you explain to students where the OER can be found for free online?

Printing on Campus

If the OER you want isn’t available to purchase in print and you don’t want to commission print copies on a third-party platform, you can also consider printing copies on campus.

University Printing Services

Campus Printing Services is an excellent option for getting a text-based resource ready for print. Keep in mind that the price of your resource will vary depending on the printing specifications you choose (e.g., ring-bound, softcover, black and white, full color). To make things easier for your students, you should work with printing services and your bookstore to get your book in the best possible format for your needs.[1]

Student-Printed Copies

If you aren’t certain whether your course could benefit from using OER in print, you can choose not to offer a print version. In this case, individual students can print personal copies of the text for themselves. Students provided with print credits on campus can print individual chapters or sections of your material or they can print the full text of your book or manual at a store like Staples.

The Non-Commercial Discussion

There is a cost to print any resource, even an open one. Since the Non-Commercial (NC) Creative Commons licenses do not permit reuse for commercial purposes, this might make you think that you cannot access Non-Commercial OER in print; however, that is not the case.  Open educational resources with CC BY NC licenses can be printed and sold at cost or with standard university bookstore markups, but they cannot be sold for a profit.[2] Some quick rules of thumb for using Non-Commercial CC-licensed OER content are outlined below:

  • The CC BY NC license gives the rightsholder of a work complete control over its commercialization. The author can sell copies for a profit, but no one else can unless the author gives express permission.[3]
  • The CC BY NC license allows for copies of a work to be sold at cost. Printing copies of another creator’s work through a third party like Staples or Lulu.com is allowed under the CC BY NC license, as long as you do not sell those copies for a profit.
  • Items licensed CC BY NC can be distributed to students by a for-profit company or private university without breaking the terms of its license: what matters is the characterization of the use, not the user.

  1. Maximizing reuse while also keeping prices low is a necessity. Not all students will choose to purchase the print when the full text of your OER is also free online.
  2. Creative Commons Wiki. "NonCommercial Interpretation," Last modified October 15, 2017. https://wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/NonCommercial_interpretation
  3. If you require that your students buy copies of your work at a profitable price, your resource is technically no longer an OER.


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The OER Starter Kit Copyright © 2019 by Abbey K. Elder is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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