I was happy to see my old school Temple (I did a post-doc there) has followed the University of Massachusetts to create digital online (and free) textbooks. It’s a little baby step but I think that these sorts of projects are going to eventually– against the gravitation pull of textbook publishers–end the reign of the textbook gougers. We need to start being more ambitious about making textbooks free for students.
What we need, if I can dream a little, is a chain of websites/textbooks in all sorts of subjects, starting with general education, open to the public, and maintained by professors as well as students. The technology isn’t complicated– they could be based in wiki software– and students could, if they wanted, download and use whatever sections they wish onto any number of devices, from the Kindle to Android phones.
I can imagine these wikis working something like online peer-reviewed journals run by editorial boards and funded by institutional subscription; they’d great places for graduate students, for example, to get their first publication credits. It need not be particularly rigid, either, since the textbooks could be written in components and sections and professors could build up their own versions out of the approved modules.