The University of Texas is starting a pilot program to provide free e-textbooks to students (it is not clear whether the university saves of loses money on the idea). There are plenty of pros and cons to the e-textbook idea (read the comments that accompany the Chronicle of Higher Ed article for a sampling).
I don’t think e-textbooks will ever be the whole answer. Not all content will be available in e-books, and for some content and some students, print will always be preferable. Apparently highlighters are still high-selling items at college bookstores.
It is no secret that students are struggling with the spiraling costs of textbooks. Some cost-saving individual tactics include sharing textbooks with a group of classmates, trying to find cheaper used copies online, and hoping the library can help.
Plenty of academic libraries (mine included) don’t collect textbooks as a rule; except when requested to purchase a book for course reserves. But we still get hordes of students at the start of every quarter hoping to find copies of their expensive textbooks available for check-out. And the 2-3 hour reserve copy is not what they want. Understandably, they want a copy they can check out for the quarter.
We have experimented with providing extra copies of reserve books for big courses with expensive books, and use was quite high for some course/books. But libraries generally don’t have the funding to subsidize substantial new purchasing to address the textbook problem, and even e-books aren’t free (even if they are free to UT students; someone is paying). this is a problem that requires collaboration among faculty, students, librarians, and administrators to solve. Which actually makes it sound like a pretty interesting project!
Related posts: 50% of students read E-Books!