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August 9, 2010
Casebook Rentals and Thoughts on E-texts
Over the weekend, Joe H. and I exchanged some notes about West offering to "rent" casebooks. But there was no mention of providing the same to the professor who assigned the casebook. Not only can students rent their print casebook, but they will obtain immediate access to the e-version of the casebook. I will be honest and say I didn't know that TR was renting books, nor did I know TR was making all of its casebooks available in digital form.
Apparently, someone has figured that if you rent your casebook you will save 38% or more than if you buy it. So, for example, Dressler and Thomas' Criminal Procedure: Principles, Policies and Perspectives, 4th retails at (gulp) $178. If you rent it, you pay $22.50 per month until you return it.
I wonder if $22.50 a month is enough to get law students to return a book on time? I'll have to watch that and think about raising overdue fines. So it does seem like it would save a student money - and they get an e-version too. More on that in a minute.
So what does West get out of this? Probably, they are tired of loosing out on the secondary casebook market. I saw my sample title on Amazon available in very good but used condition for $110. So that could really pile up. The rental program could recoup some of that lost revenue.
From the students' perspective, it is an attractive deal. You get an e-version of your casebook. You are allowed to mark up and highlight your print rental (I don't know how that works for West but they claim you can do it.). Access to your e-version terminates when you return your rental print version. And, you don't have the hassle of putting your used, marked up casebook on the market for resale.
What I do find weird is that you have to rent the print version to gain access to the e-version. As far as I can tell, you cannot just rent the e-version. Perhaps they still need to guarantee a market to their authors. Also, the e-version is not kindle, nook, ipad or any other eye friendly e-reader gadget. You just download it to your computer. So, it looks like they haven't really put any extra investment in this product. They just let you download the PDF to your computer.
And, what is even odder is that there does not seem to be any effort to integrate the casebooks with their TWEN pages.
Take a page from Blackboard. Last month, Blackboard announced that it would partner with a major publisher and two major e textbook vendors to make it easier for Blackboard users to access their digital materials directly through the Blackboard interface. The program will allow users to search for and assign readings in e-books directly from the Blackboard course page. It can't be long that Blackboard will partner up with long time partner LexisNexis with the same idea in mind. Ot at least I hope so. Think how much more convenient a web course could be if the readings can be loaded directly into the course web page or attached to other mashed-up content?
So far, I haven't seen any effort by Lexis to rent casebooks or provide e-versions of their texts in e-reader friendly or nonfriendly version. Frankly, e-textbooks have not been terribly successful in universities - though I think this is a temporary situation. Authors have to become more creative and knowledgable about how to synthesize text and other media can work together for a better learning experience. A fully realized e-casebook may even take the place of a course page.
CALI's e-Langdell's crowdsourcing project for e-textbooks for law is a great start. It will be interesting to see how TR and Lexis develop their e-textbook markets. I would like to see them integrate the casebooks into their course management systems, and perhaps provide some author support to help authors take advantage of the technology available. And,it will also be interesting if you are crossing platforms. Let's say you prefer the Blackboard course management system but prefer to use a casebook published by West. I am jumping way ahead, but what will happen in that situation? Or, what if you are using a completely different course management system?
If someone from CALI is reading this, I am wondering if e-Langdell resources can be folded into course management systems like TWEN, Blackboard, Moodle, Sharepoint or whatever might be used at various institutions.
E-casebooks are just beginning to capture attention in the legal publishing market. It is unlikely that it will go away as the primary market for digital materials becomes even more adept at learning in this type of environment. I just hope the major players here put together a good product that can be used in multiple formats. (VS)
After posting, I received a call from a Westlaw representative who provided a bit more information about the e-casebooks from Westlaw. Apparently, you can integrate e-casebooks into TWEN. I was unaware of that because I tend not to use TWEN. The law professor must register for Law School Exchange which is easy to do. Briefly, you go into one of your content pages > select ADD > select Law School Exchange from the pull down menu presented > and select the title (or register first if prompted to do so).
OK, but here is the twist. If you ask a student to buy an e-casebook from Law School Exchange they are not really buying anything. They are licensing the source from TR for a 12 month period (though most classes are less than 5 months). Again, I picked on my example of Dressler's Criminal Procedure 4th to see how this would play out. If a student wants to lease the book through TWEN it costs $125. I was assured that it was the same version that they would get as a complement to the rental program which costs $22.50/month. So if you rent it for five months at a cost of $112.50, you get a free version of the same item you are paying $125 for through TWENs Law School Exchange program. I guess the convenience of reading your casebook in TWEN explains the difference. And, if it is priced out at 22.50/month, getting the e-version for 12 months for $125 is a deal. I guess.
I was also told that the only way to read the e-casebook from Law School Exchange was through the TWEN page for the course. So, if the professor's course is only for one semester, and is then no longer available, I guess the student looses out on their subscription.
I appreciate learning about the Law School Exchange program and I think it is a terrific start to merging e-books with course management platforms. I just find the pricing model a bit sketchy. And a bit confusing.
Posted by: Vicki | Aug 9, 2010 10:30:06 AM
Posted by: Vicki | Aug 9, 2010 9:19:58 AM
Resources from our eLangdell project will be available in a number of formats including PDF for print, EPUB and .mobi for ereaders, and HTML for use on the web. Integration into course management systems will be encouraged through the use of a Web API much as how our Lessons are made available for integration.
Director of Internet Development
Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction
Posted by: Elmer Masters | Aug 9, 2010 5:48:01 AM