It's going to happen. It's just a matter of time. Far too many parents and students are up in arms over the cost. I'm talking, of course, about the current state of the textbook industry. Here's a related article I read earlier today from The Christian Science Monitor.
I'm always thrilled to see textbook publishers who are looking to innovate, so I was particularly delighted to see the efforts of my former employer, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., were noted in that article. The free digital textbook program Wiley and the University of Texas have created could produce a great deal of useful information to help shape future initiatives; the article didn't say what sort of monitoring and measurement tools might be used, but I'd like to think the system will provide the metrics required to enable both publisher and university to quickly see what works and what doesn't. It would be even more exciting if the results from this program and others like it were to be shared publicly, so that every publisher and school wouldn't have to work in isolation.
That's a nice segue to the various "open source" textbook model that I keep hearing more and more about. The Christian Science Monitor article refers to one called Connexions, but there's another one called Flat World Knowledge that's been getting a lot of PR too. Can the open source model work here? It won't be easy given all the current textbook ecosystem stakeholders who are so well entrenched and have so much to lose. This is also a sector that tends to move at a glacial pace, so sudden shifts are unlikely. No matter how it plays out I definitely think the open source publishers are worth keeping an eye on and much can probably be learned from their efforts.
P.S. -- I have two kids in college, so I feel the pain on this front as much as anyone!