It seems like a good idea to get agreements between colleges and publishers to provide textbooks at cheaper prices for students, though Joe Esposito is quite frank about the “before this, that, and that, and that” problems it faces. The piece How to reduce the cost of college textbooks is at The Scholarly Kitchen. If textbook publishers can arrange a discounted price with a college ensuring that all the students will buy the digital textbook, rather than the percentage who buy the print book today, they should be able to make more money — a win-win? Not for everyone unfortunately, and probably not for anyone, because such deals are probably unlikely to happen.
The Digital Reader is quite dismissive of the whole thing, pointing out that it was tried a few years ago and didn’t work. As he says the only way to reduce the cost of textbooks for students is OER (open educational resources) where students are given a locally-produced textbook geared to their course. That’d work if it weren’t for the fact that someone has to create the textbook. (See Textbook case.) People being what they are, nobody’s going to agree to anything as simple as using a single standard textbook for all courses throughout the country. The honor of our college demands we do better, at whatever cost to the long-suffering student!
A current example of this sort of thing is provided by OverDrive with shared ebook collections for K thru 12 schools. People are obviously going to keep trying with this sort of sharing of costs. Maybe the day will eventually come when we get to a tipping point where enough material is available to make the idea worthwhile for a sufficient number of colleges to allow it to work. But in a world where so many of the players have an interest in the current situation’s survival, one remains pessimistic about the possibility of that tipping point’s arriving any time soon.