Free, Open-Source Digital Textbook Provider, Boundless, Releases Its Content Under Creative Commons

Since first emerging early last year, Boston-based startup Boundless has been on a mission to give students a free alternative to the financial and physical costs of bulky backpacks brimming with pricey hard-copy textbooks. Co-founders Ariel Diaz, Brian Balfour and Aaron White believe that the incumbents, the old-school textbook publishers (the top four of which still control the market) have been driving up the cost of educational content for years, so Boundless has been fighting the Powers That Be by offering a free, digital alternative culled from existing, open educational resources.

Naturally, with their “open” approach to curating educational content, Boundless has been met with a number of lawsuits from top textbook publishers and is currently trying to resolve these differences in court. But, in the meantime, it’s pressing on and is today officially adding a familiar name — some legitimacy — to its open textbooks through Creative Commons.

The startup has released 18 open textbooks that features content licensed by Creative Commons, under the very same license used by Wikipedia, in fact. The 18 textbooks cover college subjects that range from accounting and biology to sociology and economics, and with content now licensed under Creative Commons, Boundless is assuaging some of the concern that teachers might feel over using open textbooks — as compared to the more “trusted” (or controlled) content from the familiar names.

Co-founder Ariel Diaz says that students at more than half of the colleges in the U.S. have used Boundless’ resources to date and, as a result of Creative Commons’ blessing, he expects this number to grow.

Boundless offers an entire section on its website devoted to explaining how it uses open educational resources and describes best practices for users, but users of its free textbooks will find that, at the end of each chapter, sources are cited as a list of links where students can locate the original material.


The chapter above, for example, references several articles in The Encyclopedia of Earth and, if a reader follows the links, they’ll see that the articles are “OER governed” by Creative Commons “BY-SA” licenses.

It’s easy to see why open education resources and the startups taking advantage of them are frightening the [bleep] out of traditional textbook publishers. Boundless textbooks are completely free and don’t come with the expiration dates one finds on textbook rental platforms and doesn’t require students to deal with bookstore buybacks.

Instead, Boundless continuously updates its content as theories change, additions are made, we discover intelligent life on Mars, etc., and, thanks to the magic of digital technology, it can seamlessly push these changes into its content without the high costs and without forcing students to buy another book. Plus, it makes all of its subjects easily navigable in the footer.

To monetize, Boundless will likely turn this into a freemium model, adding optional preemium features on its own platform and in its textbooks, which will help students study more effectively (get smarter, etc etc.) and will be available for a cost.

Diaz also says that the company will now offer additional features (as seen above), like flashcards, quizzes and study guides, for example, that will include Creative Commons-licensed material and will be available within its textbooks. In this way, Boundless wants to go beyond what the traditional textbook offers, pushing the space ahead, along with startups like Inkling and Kno.

To take advantage of those, students will have to create a user account, however, access to its textbooks will remain free, Diaz says. If you want to know where to find out whether or not Boundless has your book, check out the list of its available textbooks here. The company will be updating as it continues to add more.

You can check out a few examples of Boundless textbooks here and here.