In order to reduce the amount their students have to spend on textbooks, more and more professors are using course material that can be found for free. With the advent of sites such as Google Books, which serve as valuable and easily accessible sources of full-text works that are no longer copyrighted, students can get their course material for free, rather than having to shell out $15 or more for a brand new copy of a book originally published a century ago. I noticed this trend gaining momentum throughout my academic career, especially in courses geared towards graduate students.
This option to access older literature online and save money is nice, but it still leaves students who don't want to spend hours hunched over their computers with the task of tracking down a hard copy of the book on their own, especially since my professors, at least, never seemed to place bookstore orders for texts they knew we could find for free. Buying a copy requires forethought and printing the complete text of a 200-page essay can eat up a student's morning and their on-campus printing budget. This scenario too often leaves students with less than a week to find, read, annotate, and understand a lengthy reading assignment for class.
The University of Michigan has just taken a step to make procuring books for class easier. They have purchased and installed a machine, dubbed the "ATM of Books," that can print and bind a book in a few minutes at a cost to students of around $10 per copy. This isn't much more expensive than buying a used paperback online or in the bookstore and is much faster and more convenient.
The Espresso Book Machine has access to the school's database of pre-1923 books, as well as websites that offer works that are not copyrighted, such as open-source textbooks. Coupled with trends in making more course-related content available online, such as Stanford's recent move to place engineering and computer science course materials online, widespread use of the Espresso Book Machine could revolutionize the way students get textbooks.
This is nothing but good news for students: free digital course material, $10 bound copies of textbooks, and no worries about hunting all over for a book or printing a copy and losing pages. With the prospect of eventually spending as little as $40-100 on textbooks for a semester, students at the University of Michigan will be able to stretch their financial aid dollars further and dip less into their college savings for books. As online libraries of free textbooks continue to expand, hopefully other schools will invest in similar tools, cutting down on students' book expenses and making it a little bit easier to pay for school.