Image via Wikipedia"On the one hand, information wants to be expensive because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all of the time. So you have these two fighting against each other." -- Stewart Brand.
I ran across this quote while perusing some funny videos of Daedalus Howell from a while back who was eulogizing the "Ten Things Killed by the Internet." The video is from 2009 and I hope the updated version will one day include "over-priced college textbooks." This was one of those moments of serendipity because I have been reading the debate between David Wiley and Stephen Downes about whether OER should favor commercial use. OERs are "open eduction resources" such as Stephen Downes' book on critical thinking and logical fallacies. My first reaction to the debated question is "no." Why should an open license "favor" the very mechanism that it is trying to subvert? And my second reaction is "So what?" The kind of education that "favors" commercial licenses is going the way of the video store.
I do not envy David Wiley. Going up against Stephen Downes in a debate is no mean feat. Wiley has the credibility gap to over-come with his connection to commercial publishing, and Downes has been a long time OER advocate and contributer who has been writing on this from the beginning.
I personally feel strongly that learning materials should be created by the community that uses them. The publishers just get in the way. We have a number of examples right here at College of the Redwoods of a community of educators getting together to create a textbook and online testing system that works better than anything that a publisher could offer us. Why? Because it is customized and built from the ground up with the needs of the local community in mind. With commercial textbooks, one has to amend, adapt, and supplement. There is nothing wrong with that; it is just not better than community authored. No body ever said "Hey, lets go with the Pearson textbook; they have our students' best interest at heart."
There are good commercial text books, but there are some atrocious ones that cost just as much! And meanwhile, more and more textbooks and learning objects are being created and openly licensed to world. There are companies positioning themselves to facilitate open textbooks and they will be profitable for a while. They are poised to become the Netflix of education. How long will that paradigm last? Who knows. I find it hysterical that with the economy in the shape that it is, with education costs rising faster than inflation and healthcare that commercial publishers feel they have to protect and defend corporate profits in a debate. And it is all available to you for free.