I read an article on CNET news yesterday, about the new Asus EEE PCs expected to retail for $180. And we've all heard about the push for $100 educational PCs. While these bottom-of-the-line PCs won't play the latest fancy games or dazzle you with 3-D effects, they are fine for displaying web pages and PDF files. When textbooks typically cost in the $100 price range, could we save some money by equipping each student with a cheap loaner computer, and using texts in electronic form?
One obvious way to do this would be to continue using the texts we have now, but purchase them in PDF format. We need to be careful here though-- if textbooks can be reused, but the PDFs are only sold per-student, this method might cost rather than saving money. But why should we be attached to current 'official' textbooks? It's no secret that the past few decades have represented a drive towards blandness, to avoid offending various interest groups.
Why not allow teachers to choose to use texts from Wikibooks (http://wikibooks.org/), a site with collaborative development of free texts, or Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page), which contains free online versions of classic works whose copyright has expired? And these are just scratching the surface of the many online resources available; some quick web searching will probably find a nice e-text on your favorite subject. I bet very few teachers or students would be found who are enthusiastic supporters of their official textbooks, and many would be eager to teach or learn based on these kinds of resources.