One of the problems schools have struck in implementing e-textbooks relates to the re-sale model.
While in the "real", entertainment world, most of us don't want to re-sell the books that we buy, we often do hand them on. In schools though the textbook scenario often operates on one of two premises.
- individual students buy the text book, new or used, and then sell it on to the next year's cohort.
- the school purchases the books and then hands copies in various stages of "batterment" to students until they either fall apart or the school decides to invest in the latest version.
So a textbook that originally is quite expensive, say as much as $80 or even more, may be used over a period of 5 years bringing the actual cost per year down to $16. There is no problem in handing the book on as you know, you just hand it over.
The problem with e-text books is that they are not designed to be handed on. Stringent DRM (Digital Rights Management) often prevents an e-book from being shifted from one device to another.
Even when there is no DRM in place, the format of the file (whether it is Kindle-compatible or epub) will often be an effective preventive measure.
However I have discerned what I think is another problem. It seems to me that many publishers of e-textbooks are seeing this format as a bit of a cash cow. The most "generous" offers that I have heard from Australian publishers is where a student will have the right to use the e-text book for 2 years, but that the price will be the same as for a paper version of the book. This flies in the face of what is happening in the entertainment market where e-books are very much lower than the paper euqivalents.
A call by the Washington Post for publishers to make e-books DRM free won't solve the transferability problem, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.