Textbook Torrents Closes

Image of textbooks and debtTorrentFreak’s at it again (my new, favorite EduBlog) and this time an article by Enigmax, Textbook Torrents has closed shop just three months after it found itself in the spotlight thanks in part to Jeffrey Young’s Chronicle article “Textbook Piracy Grows Online, Prompting a Counterattack From Publishers.” In fact, the site immediately was taken offline by its web host (Dreamhost) on July 5th (four days after the article was written), but re-emerged a month later. This time it seems this particular site is done for good.

But, it’s closing begs the question of whether or not the hydra effect will come into play. This site has been shut down, but will three more re-emerge in its stead? The demand for a “service” like Torrent Textbooks is undeniable:

January 2007 saw the birth of TextBook Torrents, a relatively small site initially, offering a BitTorrent tracker dedicated to the indexing of textbooks. In 6 months the site had accumulated 10,000 members. Just 3 months later, the number of users had doubled to 20,000 and by January 2008 the membership doubled again to an impressive 40,000. By the end of June 2008, almost 70,000 members were registered at TextBook Torrents and more and more people were becoming aware of its existence.

And all of this based on a technology that for many is still considered “technically difficult” (which it is ever increasingly simple), and these numbers represent the amount of users a month before the site was picked up by The Chronicle, SlashDot, and several other mainstream media outlets. So, in little over a year and a half a relatively unknown site sees exponential growth with 70,000 members. What might this forecast for the future of textbooks? All too often we have focused the P2P conversations around the music and movie industries, but I think this recent development frames a huge question to the textbook publishing industry: Do you follow the lead of the MPAA and RIAA (read Dodo Bird) and persecute your consumer? Or do you start to re-think your product on some fundamental levels? Moreover, do you finally start to take the Open Content movement seriously? For there can be no question that its audience is growing exponentially given that people are finally getting fed up with being robbed by the exorbitant prices of textbooks (and the economic climate will only expedite this process). And, finally, what would it mean for the publishers to consider the implications of open content?

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14 Responses to Textbook Torrents Closes

  1. Andre Malan says:

    I’m going to miss that site. I seriously doubt that this will prompt publishers to go in a different direction to RIAA though. From what I have seen, the publishers are like RIAA’s little cousin… even more vicious about protecting its traditional revenue stream. I could be wrong (and I hope I am) but I think we are going to see the same silly back and forth that we are seeing in the music industry. Sigh.

  2. Reverend says:


    I’m afraid you’re gonna be right about this one. For lack of imagination, they will cannibalize their own business, which in my mind means they deserve what they’ll get.

  3. Steven Egan says:

    I have two words for you, “Textbook Revolution”, and no I’m not talking about a new movement name. It’s the name of a website, now a wiki of legally free books. ( http://textbookrevolution.org/index.php/Main_Page )

    Wikibooks is a generally good idea, but it would be better to have official book projects by teachers and experts to provide free textbooks. A free textbook publication set-up is a part of my goals, but there are a few things I’m not sure about.

  4. Reverend says:


    textbook Revolution is a great site, thanks for that link, I hadn’t seen it before. Have you seen the Wikieducator project? They are doing something similar, with a pretty sharp focus on open and free resources for educators, it may be of some interest: http://www.wikieducator.org/Main_Page

  5. Steven Egan says:

    I hadn’t, thanks. I guess I should start making more pages on the Wikia wiki I made for this kind of stuff. http://edupunk.wikia.com

  6. Jon Mott says:

    Interesting developments here . . . As publishers treat these sites like “spiders” instead of the “starfish” that they really are, they’ll find (much like the hydra effect you refer to) that cutting starfish in half or into pieces, far from killing them, only makes more starfish.

    The challenge is creating a new sustainable future for open textbooks without traditional publishers as brokers. BYU’s Bookstore just bought one of these: Espresso Book Machine.

    Maybe the point of transaction isn’t access / use, but printing? This is sort of like what Magnatune does, no?

  7. Steven Egan says:

    That kind of transaction model is something I’m hoping for. Then you aren’t paying for access, but rather the printing of the book. I’m curious how it works with the legal stuff, but it would be interesting to have a place that offers printed versions of e-books and online resources that are freely accessible online.

  8. billso says:

    I’m not surprised that TextbookTorrents has shut down. The stakes are a bit high for him, after all.

    That Espresso Book Machine does look like a nice idea. It’s easier to ship reams of paper to Honolulu than boxes of books.

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  10. Regardless, the textbook publishers are in cahoots with most colleges and if you read up on the system..you will see just how deeply corrupt it is…all at the cost of a college student’s education. Some kids have to work an extra job JUST to buy books that they might not need!

  11. Geekman says:

    Just to update your numbers, by the time it went offline, Textbook Torrents had over 100,000 users after 20 months of operation.

    I do hope that Textbook Torrents will lead to more emphasis on free, open, and legal learning material. Illegal downloading is not sustainable, and appeals only to the limited group of students (supposedly) without morals.

    I believe the word you’re technically looking for is “prosecute”, although “persecuted” may be closer to the truth in the case of the RIAA.

    Textbook Torrents admin

  12. Reverend says:


    Wow, that’s amazing, 100,000 users?!

    Also, I really like the idea that Textbook torrents are more about free and open learning online, than “criminal” minds hard at work to bring down publishers. Like you say, the vast majority of people do not want to steal music, movies, or books, they just want an easy way to get them delivered in a digital format. And given the media/publishing companies have been loathe to come up with solutions, pirates have. In fact, they are leading the way to innovation. Within a year or two their will be a large and popular Textbook torrent site that people pay to use—but they should pay much less and the possibility for only getting portions of a book, and mixing in free and open content should be there as well. The strangle hold of the text book industry over education is a nightmare, and it is actually refreshing to see “pirates” challenge that model–because it needs to be. And let’s face it, there can be no question given the numbers above that there is a huge market there.

  13. I think that a torrent would be a great thing for college students who can’t afford the expensive books but really bad for publishers.

  14. Education is now free again.

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