It is clear that Open Educational Resources (OER) will continue to flourish, especially since the money and influence of the Lumina Foundation are now behind the movement in a big way. Please see this previous post for the most recent development.
There is no arguing over the financial benefits of free texts and other course materials for students, given the high cost of traditional textbooks. Community college students sometimes pay as much or more for books as for tuition, according to many reports.
However, online texts are not popular with everyone. Students often say in surveys that they prefer traditional books, but this could be due to habituation, according to an opinion piece in the San Antonio Express-News by Gloria Padilla, a member of the editorial board at the newspaper.
In just as many cases you can see students taking phone photos of assigned hard copy pages, borrowed from classmates or a book on library reserve. You can even spot them surreptitiously sneaking shots in the college bookstore. It is doubtful most students know or care about copyrights. These are hard times for the publishing industry, and there is no putting toothpaste back in the tube.
Another important question raised in the piece reflects the view of faculty representatives concerned about fewer options for teachers if online materials are mandatory. Effective pedagogy typically involves such choices by instructors. It could be that a particular teacher possesses expertise in a certain area of study, or perhaps wants to assign material to compensate for a deficiency.
These are all problems to be sorted out—presumably including faculty in the deliberations. This is crucial.
We must also keep in mind that adjunct faculty, who teach the majority of sections at many colleges, almost never get to choose materials they assign. To do so would fill up bookstore shelves immediately. Online resources can open up unprecedented choices for part-timers. If it's free, why not? Of course we must contend with common syllabi, mandatory learning outcomes and such, but there needs to be room for individual expertise and preferences.