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September 28, 2015


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Orin Kerr

I wonder how the causal arrow runs between casebook prices and the used book market. Did high book prices create the used book market? Or did the used book market create high book prices? Or both? Also, has anyone tried to calculate the average cost of books given the used book market, which will tend to mean lower costs to many students (both buying and selling used books)? I wonder how the average cost of books today compares to the average cost 20 years ago when you factor in the much larger used book market today.


Mark - you hit the head of the nail on this one. Some aspects of keeping law school affordable are difficult, but books should be an area where we can work to keep costs down. ChartaCourse is a great addition to the effort. I hope you make millions while saving students tens of millions!

Derek Tokaz


I think there may be one additional step in the analysis, which is to ask who would benefit by changing the status quo. Of course the answer that comes to mind is students.

But if you look at the automotive industry, and we ask who benefits by changing the status quo, we can see a very different answer. The consumers benefit, but so do the competing auto manufacturers who are now able to either enter the market (for new companies) or gain a larger share (for existing companies). There's a marriage of being able to profit from change and being able to effect change.

Is there any similar alignment in the law school text book market? I'm not sure. Who stands to profit by making a $40 casebook?

Sheldon Bernard Lyke

I am often frustrated by the economics approach that dominates almost every conversation that law professors have about almost any topic. Not because I am anti-economics, but often because much of the general conversation focuses on private actors and rational choice. Mark Edwards, I think that your analogy to the Trabant is spot on. While Derek Tokaz brings up an interesting question i.e., that there are private actors who benefit from competition in the automotive industry, and the same does not exist in the law school world. Your company, Chartacourse, would be the corresponding private entity in the law school text book market.

However, I think that Tokaz's analysis ignores a very important point. Change in the textbook market does not have to come solely from the private sector. Most law schools are nonprofit, and while some are private institutions, many are public institutions. Surely these institutions have an interest to change the textbook market not just to benefit students, but to improve the educational process, and make legal education more accessible. Some schools have done this. I vaguely remember Harvard Law School creating an open source textbook project.

I think it is important to have a broad view of ALL the players in the law textbook market--its not just students and textbook companies.


Tenured profs have to do this first. Students are already suspicious of the VAP and untenured. Even using a popular, but different, casebook from the more senior professor teaching another section invites trouble.

James Grimmelmann

VAP, maybe your experience was different than mine, but in my second year of teaching, I used three casebooks that no one else on the faculty was using, and in my fourth year I used my own materials. The only casebooks students have complained about were the popular, "safe," blue-chip market leaders.

I find that students respond well when professors are up front about why they use a particular casebook. Done right, it's part of demonstrating that we care our students and our teaching and have thought hard about what we do and why.

Derek Tokaz

I don't recall ever even being aware of what text books professors in other sections were using.

Mark Edwards

Good questions, Orin. I think I can say with relative certainty that high book prices (and improved communications technology) created the used book market. I don't know whether the mean price students pay now is higher than it was 20 years ago before the growth of the used book market. Of course, one problem with the casebook is exacerbated rather than solved by the used market -- in some areas (like Crim Pro, as you know better than anyone) the law develops so quickly that casebooks risk being out-of-date before they arrive on shelves. Used books are often earlier editions.

Mark Edwards

Derek -- I doubt that anyone can profitably publish a $40 print casebook. But ChartaCourse, for instance, sells chart subscriptions for $49, and the charts are casebooks and supplements combined in one.

VAP -- interesting point. I haven't heard that perspective before, but it makes some sense to me. Most of our adopters have been tenured faculty.

Anonymous -- thanks Mom.

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