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Boundless textbooks get paid study guides, iOS apps

Online-textbook company has a new program that can match a student's assigned textbook with Boundless' "open" version. It's also offering new paid study tools.


Free-textbook service Boundless is delving into paid services this week, all designed to more fiercely compete with textbooks from major publishers.

On Tuesday the Boston-based company rolled out what it considers the second phase of its service: textbooks that can very nearly mirror the titles you'd get from major publishers, but at $20 a piece.

These titles are effectively the same thing the company's offered since last year, but they're specifically reordered to match up with mainstream textbooks. Users can search for the title of the major publisher's book they've been assigned to buy, and get a version from Boundless instead.

Boundless is coupling this with new study tools like built-in quizzes and flashcards, that CEO and co-founder Ariel Diaz says can lock in information, and change dynamically based on how students are doing. That means if you're totally bombing a series of flashcards, you can go back and reread -- or if you're breezing through, it will shorten the quiz altogether.

An example of what a shopper who's looking for a textbook alternative would find on Boundless' site.
An example of what a shopper who's looking for a textbook alternative would find on Boundless' site. CNET

Alongside the launch, the company has also rolled out native applications for iOS (iTunes) for people who want to access books outside of the browser. These apps aren't able to store a title offline, a feature that Diaz told CNET could be added down the line. On the flip side, he said, the company is getting lots of helpful data about sections students are highlighting, and what they're reading at any given time, information Boundless can use to rework its titles.

The backdrop to all this is a lawsuit between Boundless and three major academic book publishers, who sued last March. Those companies, which include Pearson, Cengage, and MacMillan, claim that Boundless is violating copyright law by offering works that are "overwhelmingly similar" to their own textbooks. Boundless, on the other hand, has argued it's created the content.

Diaz said the lawsuit did not deter the company from venturing out into a paid service, adding that study tools seemed like the next logical step to make Boundless' products more useful and competitive.

This brings up the question of whether Boundless will go beyond these entry-level textbooks and into the types of titles students might buy at higher course levels. Diaz maintains that the entry level is the company's sweet spot, and that courses at higher levels tend to be far more diverse in the reading materials they rely on, making it harder to offer something that fits the greatest amount of users.

The new tools came out Tuesday, and the company is still offering its library of 21 "open textbooks" for free -- just without the study guide features.

Here's the company's new pitch: