I remember distinctly lugging a backpack of textbooks across the frozen tundra of Michigan State University in January. On many occasions, the weight of the backpack was enough to send me skidding out of control on the ice. I hated dragging those books around, but my professors all told me that I had to have a copy of the textbook in class every day (still not really sure why on that one!).

Electronic textbooks have been around for a while, and while the technology has improved immensely from the days of simple pdf files to the newer, more interactive, formats, all have required a computer to access, making the portability of these texts still a little of a hassle. The release of the new e-Readers, such as Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader, have created a new interest in downloadable eBooks. For half the price of a printed book, and the ability to download the material without being connected to a computer, these devices have already proven their worth to an increasing audience of book fans. 

The major drawback of these devices has been that they are black and white. This simple fact has inhibited the use of the e-Readers for science textbooks, which rely heavily on the use of color graphics. However, E-Ink, the company that makes the electronic paper that powers the e-Readers, has recently announced that it is preparing to launch a color-version of its e-paper. If so, then the door is finally open for the offering of college science textbooks on the e-Readers.

Despite the fact that professors say that a textbook is invaluable, most educators know that students do not read the book and prefer to get their information from electronic sources. Given the size of some textbooks (400+ pages is the norm for an intro biology text), and its lack of interactivity, there can be little doubt as to why student's overall despise textbooks. This generation of students is looking for alternatives, and E-Ink's improvement of the e-paper may be exactly what spells the final demise of the textbook.
The professors will grumble (they always do), but the reality is that once publishers start offering e-Reader versions of their textbooks, we will finally see the beginning of the end of the printed textbook. As a professor and lifelong student, I for one will be glad to see it happen.