The progress of Open Educational Resources (OER) should probably be followed carefully by faculty members. If educational materials such as textbooks should become free to all students, it would be tantamount to a seismic boost in financial aid for many. Depending upon the disciplinary subjects taken, a student enrolled in a full load can spend over $1,000 per semester, just on books.
Now Amazon is entering the field, as reported by Matt Reed, in Inside Higher Ed. Please have a look.
Dr. Reed wonders what the company has in mind in terms of its business model, but Amazon has been a game-changer in so many ways that we should probably take heed. Open source material is hardly new, but, as Dr. Reed points out, a stubborn problem has been a paucity of quality choices. One of the more interesting developments is OpenStax College, from Rice University. It's a non-profit, and obviously carries a lot of academic prestige.
Amazon understandably has a different approach. But why would the company do this? One thought that comes to mind is the Kindle—an Amazon product— which many public schools are now providing to students. (Apple's Ipads are part of the same strategy.) It makes sense: more free material, more compatible devices sold to schools.
So far Amazon is mainly involved in the K-12 sector but, as Dr. Reed speculates, higher education would be a logical expansion.
If you visit with sales reps in the publishing field these days, fear is in the air. Consolidation and downsizing prevail, with fewer companies involved. This means less competition, which presumably serves to increase costs. However, books can now be rented or purchased in cheaper, digital formats. There is a lot going on, as the infrastructure adapts. But paper texts are clearly circling the drain.
It would be great to report that it's all blue skies ahead, with free educational material of high quality swamping the market. But authors want to be compensated for their labor, and the costs of production for other companies besides behemoths Apple and Amazon must be absorbed somewhere.