Driving Awareness, Adoptions, and Affordability
One approach to making affordable textbooks is to have the government fund the development and maintenance of textbooks. Some may raise the semantic arguement that this is not a "business model." But, practically speaking, the real questions are: 1) how much with this cost and 2) is there the political will to sustain government support over the long haul.
Back in 2005, I wrote a few articles that started to explore the question of textbook cost. I've republished one of my articles at:
In this article I look at how much students are currently spending for commercial textbooks (which is around $900/year) and how much it would cost to "buy out" the British Open University.
I selected the OU because they made their cost data available and because their cost data reflect the economy of scale they've attained for developing online course content. In brief, they have around 200 courses in their inventory and they spend around $3 million USD per course to develop the materials and to maintain the course over an eight year period. So, at any given time they have an investment of $600 million dollars in course content that they depreciate over eight years. Therefore, they spend around $75 million a year to maintain their course content inventory ($600 million divided by 8 equals $75 million).
If you divide $75 million over 1000 campuses, this comes to $75,000 per campus per year. (I used the 1000 campus figure because Ira Fuchs - from Mellon - had broached the idea of creating a consortium of 1000 schools to support the cost of software development.) When I wrote the article, I worked at UC Berkeley, which has an undergraduate population of around 23,000 students. That works out to around $3.26 per student per year, which is small compared to the money they spend on commercial textbooks ($900 per year).
The Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grants program (TAACCCT) doesn't call for buying out the British Open University, but it does call for spending the kind of money I was talking about back in 2005 for developing and maintaining Open Educational Resources.
So, the next question will be whether there's the political will to sustain the TAACCCT and programs like it over the long haul.