images24[1] Textbooks are often upheld as an area where e-books can do a great deal of good, in terms of both saving students money, and saving wear and tear on students’ backs from lugging heavy texts around. TeleRead has covered a number of initiatives related to e-textbooks already.

Now BoingBoing guestblogger Andrea James looks at why the textbook industry is the way it is, summarizing an earlier report to Congress (PDF) on the matter.

James (and the report she cites) compares the situation to doctors’ relationship to prescription pharmaceutical companies, noting that it is one of the only other markets to exist where one party chooses the product but another party pays.

The issue is not a simple one. It turns out that there are a number of factors contributing to the situation on the parts of faculty, institutions, publishers and booksellers, and students.

And e-books may not be the perfect solution some believe. Writes James:

E-books are rapidly emerging as a viable option for reducing costs, but DRM makes reselling a big question mark from the consumer POV. If you buy a hardcopy used textbook for $100 and sell it back for $50, that’s the same final cost as a non-transferable $50 e-book with DRM.

James mentions several possible solutions, including teaching the same editions longer, establishing nonprofit bookstores and text rental systems, and patronizing the Creative Commons. She also links to a number of Creative Commons text sources, such as Wikibooks and Flat World Knowledge (which we have mentioned before).