I've spent the last few months looking at marketing textbooks. I'm assuming that they are fairly representative of textbooks in general, and since this is a topic I'm interested in, it seemed like a good area to focus on.
As far as I can tell, assigning a textbook to your college class is academic malpractice.
They are expensive. $50 is the low end, $200 is more typical. A textbook author in Toronto made enough money from his calculus textbook to afford a $20 million house. This is absurd on its face. There's no serious insight or leap in pedagogy involved in writing a standard textbook. That's what makes it standard. It's hard, but it shouldn't make you a millionaire.
They don't make change. Textbooks have very little narrative. They don't take you from a place of ignorance to a place of insight. Instead, even the best marketing textbooks surround you with a fairly non-connected series of vocabulary words, oversimplified problems and random examples.
They're out of date and don't match the course. The 2009-2010 edition of the MKTG textbook, which is the hippest I could find, has no entries in the index for Google, Twitter, or even Permission Marketing.
They don't sell the topic. Textbooks today are a lot more colorful and breezy than they used to be, but they are far from engaging or inspirational. No one puts down a textbook and says, "yes, this is what I want to do!"
They are incredibly impractical. Not just in terms of the lessons taught, but in terms of being a reference book for years down the road.
In a world of wikipedia, where every definition is a click away, it's foolish to give me definitions to memorize. Where is the context? When I want to teach someone marketing (and I do, all the time) I never present the information in the way a textbook does. I've never seen a single blog post that says, "wait until I explain what I learned from a textbook!"
The solution seems simple to me. Professors should be spending their time devising pages or chapterettes or even entire chapters on topics that matter to them, then publishing them for free online. (it's part of their job, remember?) When you have a class to teach, assemble 100 of the best pieces, put them in a pdf or on a kindle or a website (or even in a looseleaf notebook) and there, you're done. You just saved your intro marketing class about $15,000. Every semester. Any professor of intro marketing who is assigning a basic old-school textbook is guilty of theft or laziness.
This industry deserves to die. It has extracted too much time and too much money and wasted too much potential. We can do better. A lot better.
[Update: got more mail about this post than any other post ever. People pointed to Flatworld and to Quirk, and so far, more than 94% of the letters aggressively agree with me. Most of the people are either students, parents of students, former students or other disgruntled customers that are tired of being ripped off by a senseless, broken system. I also heard from a handful of people who said that I was jealous, that the union won't permit the system to change, that textbooks are really good, that professors are underpaid, that professors are too busy or (possibly and) that I'm delusional. I'll note that not one of these letters came from a textbook user.]