Buy Now! New and Improved Edition!

Say what you will about Aspen, West, and the rest, but the recent rise of the used textbook market (particularly online) has been tough on publishers seeking profit growth and to keep revenues up they have looked for ways to fight back.

One of the main approaches has been to pump out new editions of casebooks more and more frequently.

I have found this frustrating, not only because I would like my students not have to fork over a hundred and fifty bucks for a book unless it is absolutely necessary, but also because it requires constant updating of teaching materials by professors (or their assistants), which takes away from other academic pursuits. Clearly, some of this revision of teaching notes can be beneficial (e.g., learning about new developments in case law), but a lot of it is tedious make-work (e.g., updating page numbers).

I taught my current Business Organizations textbook exactly one time before it was “updated.” When I asked for a list of changes from the publisher so that I didn’t have to do a comparison myself, I was denied, which struck me as odd at the time, but made some sense after I completed the comparison. There wasn’t much different other than an altered thickness and width of the paper and a few changes to cases toward the end of the book.

It all seems like a waste of money, time, and paper.

Is there a better way forward?

Online enrichment tools? Rapidly disintegrating pages? Kindle copies?

If you have an idea, let’s hear it . . . operators at the major legal publishing houses are standing by.

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5 Responses

  1. SueSimp says:

    Maybe a solution would be for professors to keep using the old editions? Or at least give the option to students to use the old editions, and tell them whatever minor or cosmetic changes their copies don’t have?

    Or is there something in law school policies that would forbid that? I know I did it a couple times in law school, when it just seemed so pointless to spend an extra $100 for a couple little updates.

    … Of course, the publishers had cleverly changed all the page numbers. That was the only downside. Professors don’t seem to believe your excuses when you’re called on in class to read aloud from a certain page, and you’re fumbling around to find it in your edition.

  2. Civ Pro King says:

    I agree with SueSimp. If there are only cosmetic changes, why don’t you just use the old edition until you think there are enough changes in your professional opinion to mandate jumping to a new edition. Law school books are indeed very expensive.

  3. Anon says:

    In response to the two above commenters, my guess is that it’s not feasible to assign an old edition to a large class because the publisher no longer prints it. The students would have to rely on the used book market, which may not have sufficient supply.

    But you could say that either edition could be used in your class, and include both page numbers on the syllabus. Sure, you would still have to do the work of updating–but you’d have to do it anyway, and is it really that onerous? How much time would this really take?

    From the student perspective, I always liked new editions because they were updated. Otherwise, I’d have to buy the supplements with new cases and flip back and forth. I think that the real issue is that publishers feel that they can charge for these–they sell you an outdated casebook and have the gall to charge for updates! Professors should never assign these updates (which generally are poorly edited) and simply post new cases on the course website, or give out the citations for students to print for free with their Lexis or Westlaw printing.

  4. Why not find three or four professors who teach the same subject and create an online “textbook” that you can update as you see fit? That way, you have a) an online source that can be updated without charging the kids anything, b) a source that is available everywhere, c) a website that helps position you as experts in the teaching field?

    And the textbook companies can go take a flying leap.

  5. A number of publishers have recently begun releasing loose-leaf versions of their casebooks which sell for about the price of used editions. The publishers tout the many benefits of loose-leaf texts – particularly that they are friendlier to the students’ wallets and backs – but they don’t mention that these editions likely substantially reduce the used book market. The percentage of complete, intact, and transferable loose-leaf versions must be much smaller than for hard copies, thereby reducing the number of used copies in circulation. And given the price, the publisher is able to capture a larger share of the market. Perhaps the trade-off is worth it.