Anyone in college, or who can still remember their days of listening to professors pontificate, knows how annoying college textbooks are -- on pretty much every level. They're overpriced, extremely big and heavy to lug around campus, and often not very aesthetically pleasing. This is one reason why some people are excited about the e-book revolution. Could e-books eventually replace and improve the college textbooks we endured? It depends.
Back when the iPad was released, there was a lot of talk about how it, in particular, might be a great thing for college students. On the Atlantic Business Channel, both Derek Thompson and Menachem Kaiser imagined e-textbooks with cool 3-D diagrams, downloading instant book updates, and other cool advantages that the iPad would bring to students. In particular, I can only dream about not having had to walk up the hills that rolled across my university's campus with a few dozen pounds of books on my back.
The Economics of Textbooks
Of course, none of that matters if colleges and publishers don't embrace e-books. To determine if they will, let's think for a moment about the economics behind textbooks. For starters, they're a rip off for the students, which implies that they're very lucrative for publishers, authors, and universities. It seemed like a book out for 10 years would sometimes have 15 different editions, so to force students taking the course requiring it to buy a new copy each year, rather than used copies. Those new copies also often run into three-digit prices. I definitely had semesters where my book budget exceeded $500.