Book Boon is a relatively new, and apparently very successful, textbook company. The deal is you can go to their website and download textbooks, travel books, and books on business for free, without registering. You do have to provide an email address. Hundreds of ebooks on a wide variety of subjects are available; the company provides textbooks, business resources, and travel books, all as PDFs, in five different languages, for free. Sounds very much like a boon, right?
Or, maybe not right.
Book Boon publishes only their own books, which they finance through advertising—that means advertising embedded within the textbooks. The possibilities here are troubling. While Book Boon states that advertisers cannot influence the content of the books, this reassurance is hard to believe. While Book Boon does not approach potential advertisers until after a book is written, surely they have some sense of which topics and which ideas are likely to offend (or just fail to excite) advertisers? And surely a book that could not attract advertisers would not be published, even if it did get written. But maybe it’s true that Book Boon has never once bowed to any advertiser pressure, overt, covert, real, or imagined—yet. The fact that their business model makes them dependent on something other than the judgment of college professors assigning textbooks is already troubling.
There are a few additional concerns. One is that professors generally require specific course readings, meaning that Book Boon cannot rescue students from having to buy expensive traditional texts if that is what their professors have assigned. True, some students can get by reading the wrong book, and if the wrong book is free, so much the better, but not everyone is in a position to get away with that. Another concern is that so far, and at least in English, Book Boon’s selection is impressively broad for a single textbook company, but quite narrow for a book store—and of course Book Boon functions as both. For example, there are no ecology textbooks, no sociology textbooks, and nothing on art or literature. If the existence of free and easy-to-download textbooks is going to impact the affordability of education, it’s only going to do that for some majors.
It seems clear that the textbook industry should not wholly switch over to the Book Boon model, something that could one day become a concern, as the business model seems quite sound and is likely to be competitive. However, that is not necessarily an argument against a professor deciding to use this publisher as a resource.
Individual professors may find certain Book Boon books perfect for their needs, and since download is free, it’s easy to get a copy to check out. Self-taught students may also appreciate being able to get the overview a good textbook provides for free. The concern about Book Boon’s reliance on advertisers is serious, but this would not the first time outside interests have made themselves felt in education—or in the lives of college students. Hopefully, students already know how to identify and correct for traces of advertiser’s agendas.
The issue of advertising is less of a concern for Book Boon’s other two major divisions, business and travel, since foundational knowledge is not an issue. These are also areas where marketing is already an accepted part of the conversation, so ad-supported publications are not a game-changer. So far, the selection in travel books is poor, though.
Of course, the usefulness of Book Boon depends on whether the books they publish are actually good books. We have not reviewed any of their books individually, only their service as a whole. Oddly, no reviews of Book Boon books appear to be available.
The bottom line is that if you can save yourself, or your students, some money by going through Book Boon, then more power to you—but don’t confuse this service with something that it isn’t. Book Boon is not a one-stop shop for free and reliably unbiased educational materials.
Ironically, a one-stop shop for free books already exists; it’s called a library.
Book Boon’s response
Since having published this article, Book Boon has contacted us to clear a few things up. Here is the bulk of their response:
“- our advertisers do not influence our books in any way. We receive new books before we receive new advertisers, who by the way pay for exposure towards a certain target group, not exposure in a book in particular. If a certain book is not relevant to a target group, we still publish it if we accepted it. In that sense, we are loyal to our authors above all.
- it is true, we only offer Engineering, IT and business – but this is because these are fields our employees come from, so we wanted to start by focusing on what we knew. Perhaps Bookboon will one day focus on other fields like literature or history, as you mentioned.”
Book Boon is a free text book publisher, and while it may not have the biggest selection of books just yet, we do appreciate the free service this company provides to students and readers all over the world.
As the company grows we expect to see a larger diversity in the topics of its free ebook offerings.