Casebooks are shockingly expensive. The latest edition of Stone, Seidman, Sunstein, Tushnet, and Karlan’s Constitutional Law has a list price of $242. It’s even more shocking when you consider where the money goes. Not to pay for the cases and other primary materials that make up most of a casebook’s contents: they’re public domain and free to all. Mostly not to cover printing costs: the paperback edition of The Power Broker (to pick a book with the same word count and heft as a casebook) has a list price of $26, and you can buy it on Amazon for $18. Mostly not to authors: royalty rates are typically 10% to 20%. No, most of that money ends up in the pockets of the casebook publishers and other middlemen in the casebook chain. This is a tax on legal education, sucking money from law students and from the taxpayers underwriting their student loans.
In a perceptive and persuasive recent essay, Choosing a Criminal Procedure Casebook: On Lesser Evils and Free Books, Ben Trachtenberg runs through these numbers and reaches the obvious conclusion: law schools shouldn’t be asking students to shell out the big bucks to read public-domain legal materials. Casebooks should be cheap or free.
Trachtenberg’s preferred solution is that law schools, alone or together, fund the creation of “top-quality casebooks” which could then be made available to students for the cost of printing. Here at Law School Cafe, Kyle McEntee endorsed Trachtenberg’s suggestion and added that “it may make more sense to do this through an external organization funded through grants” to save students even more.
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