David Wiley has a thoughtful posting at The Chronicle of Higher Education about the economics of always-on textbooks. They seem designed to solve many of the problems of modern learning, keeping information current, providing engagement without using instructors’ time and so forth. But they still cost too much, even though each copy is theoretically free. They cannot be resold when the student is finished, nor can they be kept current at zero cost, as research and author time is required.
Nevertheless, there are a variety of business factors that can be recombined in novel ways to make prices conform to the short-term access students are paying to get with an e-book and to spread higher costs for services across many classes and universities. That, of course, means greater standardization of learning which may not be the right solution for education in the information age.