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September 11, 2009

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Kim Krawiec

Lounge reader Jeff Lipshaw notes in an e-mail that he writes "a check to the Student Bar Association for the after tax amount of the royalty I get from assigning my own casebook. It's hardly enough money to make much of a difference to anybody - about $250 per class in total."

I've heard from a few others similar stories -- donations to the SBA or other student groups, pizza dinners for smaller classes, etc. So perhaps the times they are a changin' on the rebate/donation of royalties question.

Jeff also had some further observations about his decision to assign his own casebook -- or, rather, to become a co-author on the book he was already using:
"I chose to use the book before I became a co-author. (It was Ribstein's 3d edition of Unincorporated Business Entities.) While I was using it, it occurred to me I could make it better, so I offered to join Larry on the next edition, and learned that you have to be careful what you wish for - next thing I knew I had devoted a year to the book and a complete rewrite of the teacher's manual. During the re-write, I assigned a course pack consisting of a bound version of the manuscript, which only cost the students $30, but also had lots of errors (including my forgetting to insert page numbers). Also, we include the relevant statutes in the casebook, so there's no need for a supplement."

Thanks for the info Jeff!

Eric Fink

There was a professor -- a very prominent Marxian social theorist -- at my undergraduate college (*cough cough* years ago) who did the same as Ayers. He also personally inscribed each book.

Jeff Lipshaw

The other thing to do is write a wildly successful supplement for Legalines, E&E or Emanuel's, in which (I think) the royalties are better, the sales are higher, and the purchase is entirely voluntary.

Ed Swaine

Thanks for the interesting post; a couple of thoughts.

1. In the 2005 snippet you reprint, Ayres says: "That way, we will all know that I assigned the book for the right reason." I think his more recent post acknowledges that we don't know anything of the kind, since there are lots of self-serving and public-serving reasons he could assign his book; we only know that he is reducing one potential cause for conflict of interest.

2. In the post, he also acknowledges the potential legitimacy of a market test, by which one looks to whether other faculty (without their own financial interests) have assigned the same book in some meaningful percentage -- which might mean that it was assigned by its author for reasons that are above reproach, making realizing profits less problematic. I think that's a worthwhile approach, but probably too hard on faculty authors, since there's so many other non-merit-based reasons that go into how others assign (like prior use, etc.).

3. I'd use a presumption that faculty assign their own books because they worked hard on them, believe in them, and understand how to teach effectively from them. They keep the money because they would also like to earn a return that it is within spitting range of minimum hourly wage (and such returns encourage the production of good teaching materials). On this view, we should look askance at those who assign their own books when the books are worse than average. As to those more noble, someone donating profits for an end of semester party or to the SBA should be thanked, but unless they allow individual students to select the donee (including keeping it themselves), it's really not the same thing. For all we know, it simply displaces money the author would otherwise give to the same charity, or provides the author with a different kind of benefit, and we never know whether those who appear to keep the profits really do. The tax implications of the various strategies are beyond me.

P.S. I am not a textbook author, nor do I play one on TV.

Kim Krawiec

Thanks for the comments all. Seems to be quite a bit of variation in the practices revealed so far.

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