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Thursday, April 18, 2013

The $200 Casebook

Here.  Only $193.85 at Amazon!  Is this the new normal?  I seem to remember them going for around $150 a few years ago, and $100 in the early 2000s.

UPDATE: I didn't mean to imply that only one book and/or publisher has crossed the $200 threshold.  Here is another: same subject, different authors and publisher.

Posted by Matt Bodie on April 18, 2013 at 01:12 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink

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Casebooks from Aspen, Foundation and West all sell for close to $200. Oxford casebooks are cheaper. Semaphore press (www.semaphorepress.com) publishes a handful of excellent casebooks as digital downloads for about $30. Commercial casebook publishers are under a lot of pressure from their corporate owners to make significant profits, so they keep raising prices. I think it may be possible to bring prices down if authors and adopters insist to publishers that it's important to them.

I coauthor a trademarks casebook with Jane Ginsburg and Mary Lou Kevlin. (When we started, 20+years ago, the book sold for $35). 18 months ago, we asked Foundation to lower the price to less than $100. Foundation respectfully refused to have that conversation. We got an amicable divorce and walked the casebook over to LexisNexis, which promised to price the hardbound and ebook versions below market, and promised in the contract to sell the looseleaf edition for no more than $75. Since then, I've told the story to every book rep who comes by my office, and asked the rep if he or she could meet that price for the casebooks for my other courses. If a lot of us start asking, it might help.

Posted by: Jessica Litman | Apr 18, 2013 3:37:11 PM

Are there any open-source casebooks that are freely available online? Or a caselaw wiki that compiles a variety of edited cases and allows professors to essentially create a custom pdf casebook for their classes by selecting individual cases to be compiled into a set that matches their syllabus?

Posted by: anon | Apr 18, 2013 4:00:33 PM

*Please* consider using the prior edition of a casebook. I have done this successfully several times for my various tax classes. A few months after (say) the 8th edition of Name & Name comes out, the 7th edition will generally be available for $10 or so. For my tax class, I calculated the overall savings to students as over $12,000.

Some might argue that the casebooks are old, outdated, or otherwise misleading. This is largely nonsense. No area of the law changes faster than tax, and yet I have had no issues with using prior casebooks. On occasion, I will supplement the casebook with recent cases, but so much of any given course is the same from one year to the next.

I use old editions even for statutory supplements. In my view, even a "current" statutory supplement is rarely up to date to keep up with tax law amendments, so I do not attach any purity to the most recent edition of a statutory supplement over the prior year's.

I think we could literally save our students 10 million dollars or more if we made a collective effort to use prior editions.

Posted by: andy | Apr 18, 2013 4:59:56 PM

*Please* consider using the prior edition of a casebook. I have done this successfully several times for my various tax classes. A few months after (say) the 8th edition of Name & Name comes out, the 7th edition will generally be available for $10 or so. For my tax class, I calculated the overall savings to students as over $12,000.

Some might argue that the casebooks are old, outdated, or otherwise misleading. This is largely nonsense. No area of the law changes faster than tax, and yet I have had no issues with using prior casebooks. On occasion, I will supplement the casebook with recent cases, but so much of any given course is the same from one year to the next.

I use old editions even for statutory supplements. In my view, even a "current" statutory supplement is rarely up to date to keep up with tax law amendments, so I do not attach any purity to the most recent edition of a statutory supplement over the prior year's.

I think we could literally save our students 10 million dollars or more if we made a collective effort to use prior editions.

Posted by: andy | Apr 18, 2013 4:59:56 PM

*Please* consider using the prior edition of a casebook. I have done this successfully several times for my various tax classes. A few months after (say) the 8th edition of Name & Name comes out, the 7th edition will generally be available for $10 or so. For my tax class, I calculated the overall savings to students as over $12,000.

Some might argue that the casebooks are old, outdated, or otherwise misleading. This is largely nonsense. No area of the law changes faster than tax, and yet I have had no issues with using prior casebooks. On occasion, I will supplement the casebook with recent cases, but so much of any given course is the same from one year to the next.

I use old editions even for statutory supplements. In my view, even a "current" statutory supplement is rarely up to date to keep up with tax law amendments, so I do not attach any purity to the most recent edition of a statutory supplement over the prior year's.

I think we could literally save our students 10 million dollars or more if we made a collective effort to use prior editions.

Posted by: andy | Apr 18, 2013 4:59:57 PM

*Please* consider using the prior edition of a casebook. I have done this successfully several times for my various tax classes. A few months after (say) the 8th edition of Name & Name comes out, the 7th edition will generally be available for $10 or so. For my tax class, I calculated the overall savings to students as over $12,000.

Some might argue that the casebooks are old, outdated, or otherwise misleading. This is largely nonsense. No area of the law changes faster than tax, and yet I have had no issues with using prior casebooks. On occasion, I will supplement the casebook with recent cases, but so much of any given course is the same from one year to the next.

I use old editions even for statutory supplements. In my view, even a "current" statutory supplement is rarely up to date to keep up with tax law amendments, so I do not attach any purity to the most recent edition of a statutory supplement over the prior year's.

I think we could literally save our students 10 million dollars or more if we made a collective effort to use prior editions.

Posted by: andy | Apr 18, 2013 4:59:57 PM

Urgh. I posted 4 times not for emphasis, but because of a browser glitch. #!%#.

Posted by: andy | Apr 18, 2013 5:00:53 PM

The quadruple post may have been a mistake, but as a student, I'm not sorry to see the emphasis.

Posted by: John | Apr 18, 2013 6:18:52 PM

Hi, Law-Student here.

Profs, please explain: why do you assign the up to date casebooks (for $150), when the previous edition sells for about under $30?

Is it perhaps because:

1) the publishers hassle you to, and you get your copy for free,

2) you want to support you case-book-author-friends,

3) you never realized,

4) you paid a lot for casebooks so why shouldn't your students.

I have always wondered why prof's are so oblivious to this. Would appreciate if someone could explain.

Posted by: LawStudent | Apr 18, 2013 9:18:43 PM

I was going to clean this up, but given John's comment, I'll just leave it as it was. We've been having some problems with the comments -- sorry for the difficulties.

And as to LawStudent's question, the whole idea of having an up-to-date casebook is having an up-to-date casebook. I want to teach recent cases along with old ones. I want to benefit from pedagogical changes that (in theory) make the work better. Of course, in my ideal world, we'd have open-source electronic casebooks that could be instantly amended to include the latest case, statute, or reg. You can read more about it here:

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=691985

In any event, the $200 casebook is making me consider using an earlier edition. Even though the old is likely inferior to the newer edition, the price difference is enough to make me think twice. But I'd love to go open source -- any takers?

Posted by: Matt Bodie | Apr 18, 2013 9:25:16 PM

To answer the law student's question. I was unaware of the cost of the casebook I assigned. This discussion has opened my eyes.

As for using the previous edition, that works sometimes but sometimes not. Henceforth, when I receive a new edition I'll be chceking the Table of Contents against the old edition to decide whether or not the old edition will suffice.

Posted by: LawProf | Apr 18, 2013 10:16:27 PM

To get over the collective action problem regarding preparing edited cases for open-source electronic casebooks, why not have contributors to open-source casebooks get priority or expedited consideration during law review submission season? Law reviews that adopt this would be encouraging professors to contribute to a worthy endeavor (i.e., the production of free, electronically-available casebooks) and the law professors get something in return for being good citizens (i.e., getting their article reviewed more closely).

Posted by: anon | Apr 19, 2013 12:53:01 AM

There are some online open source casebooks. (See, for example, http://www.cyberspacelaw.org/). They haven't been widely adopted because casebooks are difficult to put together in a modular fashion. Cases are long, and each opinion raises and resolves many issues. When someone decides which parts of a case to excerpt, he or she needs to pay attention to which parts of other cases are part of the book and in what order. The choice of what parts of what cases go into chapter 2 ends up having a lot of influence on what parts of what cases go into chapter 8. Some law professors assign full cases, which solves the money problem for students willing to read the cases online or on-screen, but at the expense of time. Some law professors have developed their own materials and made them freely available to others. (See, for example, Tom Field's administrative law casebook at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1195322.) Others, like the founders of Semaphore press, are trying to figure out ways to publish conventionally authored casebooks affordably.

Posted by: Jessica Litman | Apr 19, 2013 9:42:57 AM

I am not opposed to using new editions of casebooks provided there's genuine updating in the chapters relevant to the materials one teaches. This past semester, however, I used the 5th edition of Dressler's Crim Law because I didn't see too much updating in the chapters I taught (sorry Josh/Steve!), but once next spring comes around, there will at least be a used books market for the sixth edition and so I may assign it then.

I wonder if students care: I recall being somewhat judgmental toward profs at HLS who used antique casebooks when they taught, and I wouldn't want those judgments cast upon me, which is one reason perhaps some prawfs use the newest edition. After all, if you use an old casebook edition, you don't have to do much new prep for your class. Anyway, good discussion!

Posted by: Dan Markel | Apr 19, 2013 10:14:53 AM

The price of casebooks is amaziningly, particularly given the limited investments the company makes (as evident by the fact that publishers typically offer multiple versions of first year books, essentially competing with themselves), but there are also cheaper options. Many publishers now make looseleaf versions available at a much lower cost, the downside being you can't resell them so easily. Using outdated books is really not a viable option -- even when you try to order them, the bookstore frequently ends up with the most recent copy and students are left to the secondary market. Doing one's own update is not as easy as one may think, and not teaching current cases in a dynamic field makes no sense whatsoever, especially to save what is likely to be less than $100. It could work in a class like Contracts but even there I am not sure the savings would be worth it.

Posted by: MS | Apr 19, 2013 10:31:02 AM

I cared. It was a significant expense (~1000 per year), and one I stopped undertaking after my first year. When I went to the library and compared the newest edition of a casebook with the previous edition I was shocked at how little had changed, and the changes made were irrelevant for many of the large survey classes like Torts, CrimLaw, and Property that were testing broad principles as opposed to the application of portions of a doctrine. I could see CivPro and ConLaw requiring updating, but only for the big cases that are public domain.

You also have to understand how casebooks fit into the stress and uncertainty of law school. Students could get away with using an ancient edition or even no casebook at all since most of the cases and statutes are well-known. But there's the fear that on exam day, that law review article on the suggested reading section of the syllabus found in FN 37 of Chapter 7 is going to be the focus of an exam question. And if they blow that exam question they'll get a below median grade, and if they get a below median grade they won't get a job, and if they don't get a job they can't pay back the debt. Hence they not only buy the newest edition of the casebooks but all the suggested supplements too.

One tip- please avoid using exam fact patterns drawn from Page X of the casebook unless you actually supply the fact pattern in the body of the exam. For broke students like me who didn't buy casebooks, the fear was always you were going to ask a question like "on the facts of X case described in the notes at page 305 how would Y question come out."

As for the time, I had full-time lawyer adjunct professors at my school who put together free ad hoc casebooks gleaned from Wexis and public domain sources. It's doable with a bit of effort.

Posted by: BoredJD | Apr 19, 2013 10:41:37 AM

There is a third option between $200 (or $100) casebooks and non-current $35 casebooks. And that is FREE casebooks from The Center for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) eLangdell Press. http://elangdell.cali.org/

At eLangdell, Law Professors write casebooks, which CALI pays them for - just like the other traditional presses. Also like traditional presses, they go through peer evaluation and editing.
Then, unlike a traditional press, CALI places a Creative Commons license on them and publishes them on the Web in multiple formats and has a print on demand service. Students are able to download the books for free (or pay cost of printing - usually abut $30), the books are current and up-to-date, and with the CC license, professors are free to use, adapt, and remix them as they wish.

We estimate if law professors and school committed to writing and adopting CALI's CC licensed casebooks, law students would save about 150 MILLION DOLLARS per year. See: http://www.cali.org/blog/2012/07/18/how-law-schools-could-save-students-150-million for more details.

Posted by: Sarah Glassmeyer | Apr 19, 2013 10:52:15 AM

The next time I teach Property, I'm likely to use the sub-$50 Understanding Property as the main textbook, rather than a casebook. There are also pedagogical reasons, but price is a significant factor.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Apr 19, 2013 10:57:49 AM

I'm also troubled by the cost of casebooks. I used an older edition of a casebook for two years, but finally relented this year because the old one was out of print and the rather obscure subject matter (comparative contract law) meant that the secondary market was thin, or required overseas shipping.
One thing I do consistently is advise the students that they are not required to buy the statutory supplements (also a real rip off!). Each semester I supply them with the links to relevant rules and statutes. The Cornell LII site is terrific, and there are also good places sources like CISG. I also tell them that they are welcome to use and print from Wexis, although this is not as good of an option with first-semester 1Ls who might not have passwords or know how to use the site with ease until later in the semester.

Posted by: Robin Effron | Apr 19, 2013 11:19:44 AM

And also, why aren't kindle formats of casebooks available -- for $200 I should be able to get an electronic copy as a companion to the print one.

Also, absurd.

Posted by: becca | Apr 19, 2013 12:10:43 PM

Books for classes are entirely too expensive. I regularly received a fraction of what I paid when I tried to sell my books back. It’s a cash cow for any bookstore around a campus.

Posted by: Tate | Apr 19, 2013 3:45:16 PM

The prices for new books are high, but in the two books I typically use from year to year, I have always seen updates that improve... and thus I assign the new version. Where we could really see some savings is in the statutory supplements. These are government materials that should be public knowledge, so students should not be paying for them. I put together my own for students off of materials on the Internet. At $30/student, it adds up.

Posted by: Miriam Cherry | Apr 19, 2013 11:01:01 PM

Another option is to consider textbooks published by Carolina Academic Press. They price all of their textbooks under $100, and many in the $75-$80 range. It is actually a considered part of their publishing philosophy.

Posted by: Westie | Apr 20, 2013 12:26:03 PM

I was a little surprised that no one mentioned the initiative at Harvard Law (through the Berkman center) to create free open online coursebooks that can be "remixed" through the "playlist." Here is the current offerings and info http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/research/h2o. Our goal is to create a complete set of H20 casebooks for the entire first year curriculum in the next year or so. I'll spend some of my summer (and I will blog about it when I come back to prawfs in May) authoring a first version of an H20 Civ Pro text book. I'll be piloting it with my own students this fall and hope to share it with the world (for free!) in January.

Posted by: I. Glenn Cohen | Apr 21, 2013 5:21:43 AM

This discussion overlooks the forest for the trees. The textbooks are all expensive for the same reason that tuition is expensive: price inflation due to availability of credit financing. There is too much credit available to students, without consideration of the students' likely post-graduation employment prospects, and this credit has created a bubble that will ultimately burst as student loan defaults crest. Student loan debt now tops credit card debt, at over $1 Trillion dollars. If young people want affordable tuitions, they should be advocating for government to reduce the availability of loans instead of clamoring for increasing government-guaranteed loans!

Posted by: Thisson | Apr 21, 2013 11:26:37 AM

@ James Grimmelmann - I've recently done this (not for property but UCC) and found it to be very effective. Any cases I want them to read I give them the citation and they get them for free off of Lexis/Westlaw. I did this for both pedagogical reasons and cost reasons and the students have been better off as a result of both.

Posted by: The Establishment | Apr 21, 2013 6:26:05 PM

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