Brian Mosher, managing editor of Chemeketa Press, poses next to algebra textbooks on sale in the college bookstore. The books cost $36.50. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Brian Mosher has tried to expand the reach of affordable textbooks through word-of-mouth for years.

As the managing editor of Chemeketa Press, that often means cold calling faculty at other colleges trying to convince them to try out one of their titles.

“We’ll get one faculty member to be interested in a book and that will expand to their colleagues,” Mosher said.

Now, he’s hoping a new website will help spread the word faster.

Founded in 2015, the press is an effort by Chemeketa Community College to make textbooks that work better for college students. That means affordable - generally under $40 - and written in a way that’s clear and accessible.

It was created to help community college students save money, swapping out commercially published titles, which can easily run $200, for less costly alternatives written by Chemeketa faculty.

The press also publishes anthologies and edited versions of material in the public domain, like a collection of articles by journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells, published last September.

Mosher estimates the press has saved students nearly $5 million through the start of 2021 over what they would have paid for comparable textbooks.

Its operations have been subsidized by the college, but Mosher said the goal has always been sustaining itself by expanding the reach of the books beyond Salem.

The other pressures of the pandemic delayed plans to do more outreach over the past 18 months, but Mosher said he’s getting back into it and hoping a revamped website will help spread the word.

The site makes the press’ textbooks available to faculty across the U.S., listing all 34 titles in one place so college educators can easily browse and order copies to try out. Some titles are currently being tested by Chemeketa faculty to see how they work in courses before a wider launch.

Included are several titles launched during the pandemic. Mosher said the shift to remote classes and working from home delayed some planned titles faculty had been working on, but also afforded others more time to work on projects as they looked for distractions from being home all the time.

Newer titles include lab manuals for three general science courses: physics, chemistry and earth sciences. Previously, students had to buy one book with material for all three classes, paying for material most never used.

“They’d purchase three classes worth of lab manual and only use a third of it. Our faculty said this is wild,” he said. That inspired them to develop their own versions.

Also new is a collection of writing for medical humanities courses called “The Art is Long,” including selections from Hippocrates to Sigmund Freud.

Medical humanities is a growing discipline that applies literature, ethics, philosophy and other humanities to the study of medicine. Mosher said there are currently 102 medical humanities college programs in the country. He plans to reach out to all of them.

“We’re hoping to harness the interest in this discipline,” he said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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