I've finally done it! I've eliminated textbooks in all of my courses. I've been slowly phasing them out in a few classes each semester and beginning in the fall semester of 2015 I will officially be textbook free. Here are the main reasons why I've eliminated them.
They are expensive: Textbooks are outrageously priced and while textbook publishers have many ready made arguments for this, ultimately they are indefensible. Students are being ripped off and I no longer want to be a part of that.
They are boring: No matter what the subject, textbooks seem to do the best job of making it boring. It probably has a lot to do with the effort to write in as objective a voice as possible but in doing so there is no interest, no passion, no emotion to the writing. So, no matter what you're taking about it comes across as boring.
Students don't read them: No surprise given the point above. I read textbooks when I was in school, more in some classes, less in others. But, I know firsthand why students don't read them. Leaving aside the question of whether they should or what you can do to get students to read them, if they don't read them, why require students to buy them. Especially given point number one above.
There are other available options: For any subject you cover in any class there is some superior alternative to the textbook. Often it is a real book and as such it is an engaging, emotion filled, interesting book. Sure, there are few full-color pictures (part of what drives the cost of textbooks up) but so what? Would you prefer better writing and no pictures or full-color pictures with boring writing? Besides, if you want full-color pictures go online!
Many other resources are available online for free: To me, this is what makes textbook prices so unconscionable. The exact same resources, or nearly identical, are available online for free. FREE! Websites abond with useful, interesting, often interactive resources for any course content you are teaching. In this day and age there is no excuse for not knowing about these resources. And, because of that there is no excuse to be requiring students to pay for over-priced textbooks.
Yes, there are arguments against many of these points. There are reasons why textbooks are expensive. They compile resources from a variety of sources which would be difficult to compile on your own. And so on. But, at this point I don't buy it. And, at least for students taking my classes they no longer have to buy it either.