Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Rising Cost of International Law Text Books ---- More than $174 for a Casebook?

When law professors assign textbooks, we seldom know the exact price that our students will end up paying for the books we assign.

I will be teaching Public International Law this fall at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.  I've assigned only one book for the course -- it's a new edition of one of the standard international law texts that is probably sitting on your shelves right now (if you are another international law professor, that is!).  I stopped into the bookstore to see if the book had arrived.  It had.  And then I saw the price tag!  It was more than US$174.00!  And that's WITHOUT the document supplement!

I remember (or at least I think I remember!) when these books were priced at about $60 or thereabouts.  That's probably the price from when I went to law school (back in the last millennium).  At this rate it will not be long until we see a $200 textbook.  Perhaps this book is already $200 with the document supplement.

I do not know if publishers are making more money now by having raised book prices to these extraordinary levels.  I think they succeeded in creating a resale market for textbooks.  (Previously, many students hung on to their textbooks because they might need them later in practice.)

When books are so expensive, I wonder whether some professors will instead start creating their own course materials and posting them on-line for students to access at no charge.

I do not think that publishers think that their books are too expensive.  Medical textbooks, I understand, are often even more expensive.  Is there any hope here?  And what does this mean for the future of legal education?

May we have your thoughts and comments here about the prices you pay (and are willing to pay) for textbooks, and international law textbooks in particular?   (Thank you to those who have commented already, including blog readers in Israel and Cambodia.)


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I can say that in Israeli faculties students are not reuired to buy a textbook for any course. The faculty does prepare its own textbooks, but students are not obliged to buy them. The prices vary: you can pay $15 for a 500 page textbook and up to $30 for a 1000 page textbook. And of course, course material is often available online, free of charge, in a designated website which requires you to login.

Posted by: G | Aug 9, 2009 12:35:39 PM

The cause behind the soaring price of case book, I think, is the issue of the publisher and not the writer/author. Publishers always think of ways to raise profit and never think of public-interests for the student.

The author should talk to the publisher about this. If the book is less expensive, it would be intellectually beneficial for the author, because more people would have access to their book.

Best regards,

Vicheka Lay,
Legal Consultant, Cambodia

Posted by: Vicheka Lay | Aug 9, 2009 11:35:33 PM

The ironic thing is that (assuming your textbooks are similar to ours here in Canada) the $174 text will be about half publicly available material (international case law, treaties, etc) and about 1/4 secondary sources to which the students have free access via their school library (articles they can access through on-line journal collections).

Posted by: Sarah | Aug 10, 2009 4:34:54 AM

If you are looking for ways to help your students, you could allow an outdated textbook and then point the students in the direction of the necessary updates -- either online or, if you are at a law school, via the student's Lexis subscription, if they have it.

I used to buy all of my textbooks used (and then sell them again) on and saved a bundle doing so. The thing is that once the texts are even one version old, even if there are no substantial changes to the underlying texts, the price can drop to 0.01! Shocking! Using the older texts is a good way to get the core older cases and dated materials...and then go to first hand sources for the more current info.

And as a recent former student, thanks to you for caring about textbooks costs. I thought professors NEVER took that into consideration. :)

Posted by: Christy | Aug 10, 2009 9:14:45 AM

When my co-author and I wrote our paralegal textbook on legal writing, we specifically told our publisher that we wanted to keep the price of the textbook as low as possible. We wanted it to be affordable as a textbook and a reference book. When the cost of the book goes up, it is not the author's decision. I do not know what factors a publisher considers when pricing a book or deciding to charge more for it. Authors are not involved in those decisions.

As paralegal adjunct faculty, we paid very close attention to the cost of the textbooks we chose -- our own book and others -- for the classes we taught. Yes, professors do take that into consideration, as well as the quality of the text.

One last point. Authors do not make a lot in royalties, especially compared to the time and work that goes into writing and completing a textook. It is incredibly hard work. Of course, you hope the book will do well, but don't quit your day job.

Posted by: Celia | Aug 11, 2009 7:50:17 AM

I teach investment treaty arbitration and if I would be using a casebook, the only good casebook on the topic, students would have to pay over $200. Instead, I asked the Library to make it available at the reference desk and I developed my own teaching materials. I also use UNCTAD courses for required readings. They are available online, are free and quite good. In addition, I called and obtained several booklets from international institutions relevant to the subject I am teaching. I was a student in this millenium and I remember how much I was cringing when I walked into the bookstore. I instantly loved the professor who did not make me spend $200 for a book which I will never use again (and yes, I am one of those students who kept all her books, but never once opened them again). In this economy, being aware of the price of the required books seems to be more important than ever.

Posted by: Violeta | Aug 12, 2009 9:54:58 AM

I used a casebook the first year I taught public international law. Since then, I have put together my own materials. I have not found a casebook that I like, cost issues aside. I recommend that my students buy a hornbook or use copies available from our library, and I put together a 700-800 page reader that costs the students $30. I include more extended passages from cases than I have found in casebooks. Downside: it's a lot of work putting together the reader, as I change it each year.

Posted by: Jeremy Telman | Aug 23, 2009 10:48:30 AM

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