Last updated: January 10, 2012 - 9:20am
[Commentary] It's time for college textbooks to catch up with the 21st century. Online, open-access textbooks that rely heavily on information in the public domain would not only cost students a fraction as much, but they also could be readily updated and easily customized to individual professors' courses. That's a big deal considering that many of the most commonly used traditional textbooks cost more than $150. Buying used books isn't the option it used to be because professors often demand the latest version even when the changes are minimal.
State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) is on the right track with his proposal for California to lead the way in creating an open-access digital library that would provide free online textbooks for the 50 introductory courses with the highest enrollment. Students could order a print version at cost, about $20. The state would put out requests for proposals for each of these; publishers, professors and others would be welcome to bid. Academics would oversee quality. Though initially expensive to subsidize, the books would be easy to update and the savings for students would add up to billions of dollars over time.