Best Selling College Textbook Will Be Free For The First Time

The long-time best-selling Organic Chemistry textbook will be free for college students for the first time ever this fall.

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner | Published

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organic chemistry textbook

A long-time best-selling college textbook will be free starting in the fall of 2023. John McMurry’s Organic Chemistry textbook has been a favorite among students since 1984. Now, as the 10th edition is being reworked for release, the author has parted ways with his current publisher and made a deal with a Rice University nonprofit focused on open education resources (OER) called OpenStax

This Organic Chemistry textbook often costs around $100, but will be available for free downloads once the new contract takes effect. This is helpful to students who are struggling to balance rising tuition costs, inflation, and transportation costs. McMurry noted that after years of selling his textbook, “I liked the notion of making my work free for anyone.”

OpenStax offered to pay McMurry for the rights, but he will not be receiving royalties. In addition, the author noted that he plans to donate the money from his Organic Chemistry textbook to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. This is linked to his personal life and the story of his son. 

While McMurry may be an accomplished textbook author, with dozens of titles to his name, he is also a father. For decades he watched his son struggle with Cystic Fibrosis. Then, in 2019, his son passed away due to the genetic disorder. This loss has profoundly impacted the new decision to provide his organic chemistry textbook to students through open sourcing.

What makes this situation additionally unique is the fact that OpenStax is not known for acquiring the rights to major textbook titles. The company has been in operation since 2012, but spent most of its timeline creating their own educational materials. These have been focused on serving mainly introductory classes. By now adding the Organic Chemistry textbook, interest in open source materials and companies which provide them is likely to increase. 

The founder of OpenStax, Richard Baraniuk, noted how this partnership with McMurry and his Organic Chemistry textbook will expand open source materials into mainstream markets. It is expected to build more credibility for the company and help low-income students save money on course materials. It may also encourage other authors to follow a similar pattern and release their content for open sourcing once a certain selling period is finished.

organic chemistry textbook

While the Organic Chemistry textbook author is breaking ties with his current publisher, he also noted that it was a natural choice. He admitted to growing frustrated at the high cost of textbooks — including his work — but the current and soon-to-be previous publisher, Cengage, stated that they are “proud of the success,” they have enjoyed while representing McMurry’s popular textbook. In addition, Cengage is still committed to providing study guides and additional learning resources related to the content. 

OER are becoming increasingly popular in the current economic situation. As more college students struggle to afford basic necessities, having free options like the Organic Chemistry textbook provides them with the materials they need to succeed. By releasing the next edition of his best selling textbook for free author John McMurry is paving a new path for the future of higher education.