Friday, May 9, 2014

How NOT to Roll Out a New Textbook, Ctd.

By now, most of you have probably already seen that Aspen has adjusted its stance on the Dukeminier property casebook.  To briefly recap, Aspen sent out a rather vague email, indicating that students would need to return their books after the conclusion of their property course.  This would effectively kill the market for used casebooks.  Justified outrage ensued. 

In the last twenty hours, Aspen has adjusted course.  In short, students will have a choice to either buy the paper textbook and keep it, or they can choose to rent a digital version and the paper version (and send the paper book back at semester's end).

I found it really surprising that Aspen seemed so unprepared for the blowback.  We're property professors, after all.  Take sticks out of our bundle at your own risk.  Yesterday, Vikram Savkar, the Vice-President of Wolters Kluwer's Legal Education Division, was kind enough to talk with me about the roll-out.  Here are my general impressions from that conversation:

--  I think Aspen is really working hard to figure out how digital technologies can to improve casebooks and student learning.  One goal of the connected casebook series is to integrate Aspen's casebooks with its popular supplemental materials, like the Examples and Explanation series.  If a student is having trouble with Rule Against Perpetuities, they can click on a link in their digital casebook and it will take them to additional problems and hypotheticals.  These extra materials could be curated by textbook authors.  I can see the value in that - especially if students don't have to shell out extra money for a random & crappy hornbook (which many of them feel the need to do).

--  Aspen understands the rollout has been "clumsy" and that they did not provide enough information about the planned changes upfront.

--  I think Aspen might have overestimated both the quality of its product and the general laziness of the professoriate.  Dukeminier is a very good book.  I think it's the best-selling legal textbook in the country.  But there are other terrific books out there.  It's a lot of work to switch books and I'd rather not do it, but I will if it's going to cost my students a lot of money every semester.

--  A big part of the problem is that Aspen hasn't announced any pricing information.  I'm actually ok with a leased textbook if Aspen is going to charge my students at a much lower price.  Most students sell their books back anyway.  If Aspen wants to capture that money instead of it going to the campus bookstore, I don't really care.  However, I won't make every class of students purchase a new book at full price.  Property law just doesn't change that much.  It already feels a little ridiculous that we get a "new" edition (that has all the same cases) every three or four years.

For now, I'm happy enough with the compromise that Aspen has articulated.  And I'm really thrilled that so may property folks took the time to express their concerns for student welfare.

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