Scott McNealy puts it very succinctly:

“Ten plus 10 has been 20 for a long time

Textbooks are a multi-billion dollar market, for information that really doesn’t change. The internet and the world of open-source are forcing publishers to realize that things are changing though:

The nonprofit Curriki fits into an ever-expanding list of organizations that seek to bring the blunt force of Internet economics to bear on the education market. Even the traditional textbook publishers agree that the days of tweaking a few pages in a book just to sell a new edition are coming to an end.

I’ve often heard the comment that students are forced to deal with 20 year old textbooks. So what? Math hasn’t changed substantially since I was in school. And I doubt that English classes have kept up with modern literature either.

But why can’t we have free and open source textbooks?

They could have editors who assure that information is correct, and we could allow virtually anyone who wants to contribute. Wikipedia has grown exactly that way. And there is absolutely no reason college students should be forced to pay for this year’s brand new edition when the information is the same.

Open-source textbooks could include video and other media, and could keep up with the current state of each subject.

It is ridiculous to have to pay $200 for a printed copy – therefore obsolete by definition – of information that hasn’t changed in decades.