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Aspen Publishers ticked off a lot of people this week. The casebook publisher sent out an email to professors announcing it's new "CasebookConnect" program, a glorified casebook rental program that provides access to a digital version for life!
It was a terrible plan for many reasons. As Professor Blackman noted when he publicized the email, the license agreement would require students to return the books at the end of the year. Even if they didn't, it would end the used book market, as stores couldn't sell the books legally under such a program. It's basically book leasing. As for the benefits of "CasebookConnect," the digital edition, it's a joke -- nobody looks at their casebook after the class ends, unless they've run out of targets at the rifle range. (Yes, that was coincidentally an Aspen Property casebook.)
Aspen quickly backtracked and made it an either/or proposition (own the paper copy or lease via "CasebookConnect"), but here's a better question: why are we still participating in a $200 casebook market?
Let's Open Source It
We're far from the first party to propose this idea [PDF], but has there ever been a better time for free, open source casebooks?
Let's start with the students' perspective: they now have ready access to tablets on which to read and digitally highlight their books. They are used to reading things online, as many of them have had Internet access for as long as they've been alive. Plus, free casebooks would provide a not-insignificant dent in their debt -- at $200 each (rounded down from the current price of Aspen's textbook at issue), that's up to $1,000 per semester in relief.
As for the professors, the only major benefits are goodwill and reputation, plus the ability to have a book that teaches what you want to teach. An open source casebook would also likely be published under a Creative Commons license, leaving room for customization should the professor wish to add or delete materials.
Finally, an online open sourced casebook would always be up to date -- no more annual supplements, as the book could be changed online whenever a major case is handed down. Professors can talk about the big cases of the day, as well as the past, which would make for a much more interesting class.
Professors Aren't Getting Rich
A common assumption is that professors profit immensely from writing casebooks -- after all, why else would they spend years of their life authoring, and revising, the immense tomes. And if we open source casebooks, they'll lose their royalties.
How much do they really make? A Yale Law professor, in an op-ed for The New York Times, admitted that he earned $10.30 in royalties per book. According to an article by the Daily Illini on college textbooks, only 11.7 percent of revenue went back to the authors. Granted, that figure is (a) from 2008 and (b) for textbooks generally, not for casebooks, but we really doubt that most casebook authors are buying Rolls Royces with their royalties. Besides, there's always the study supplement market to exploit.
Did we make the case for open source casebooks? Let us know on Twitter @FindLawLP.