Update (5/8/13): Aspen has updated their policy. Now, students now have a choice: they can buy a physical book to keep, or buy a digital version and print version, and return the latter. I’m not happy with the second option, but I’ll declare a partial victory and withdraw my petition. See more here.
Update: If you are a professor, please consider signing this petition to oppose Aspen’s policy.
I recently received a bizarre email from Aspen, the publisher of the Dukeminier/Krier/Alexander/Schill/Strahilevitz Property casebook I use. In short, the next edition of the book will be have to be returned at the end of the semester, and cannot be resold. This temporary usage comes with a permanent digital version. In effect, buying the textbook gives the student a license to use the book for a single class, as well as a digital version. And it’s the same price! Of course, students are not going to actually return the book (BarBri offers a payment to incentivize that), but the book stores will not be able to legally resell it. This will instantly dry up the reused market for casebooks.
This has shades of Amazon Kindle or iTunes. You do not actually own the title, and cannot resell it, and only use it at the discretion of the publisher.
What is bizarre, is that here, we are talking about an actual, physical book, rather than anything electronic. I suspect many (most) students will be entirely unaware of this until they attempt to resell the book. Adding to this irony is that this is a Property casebook! This would make for a fascinating case study by itself.
I was planning on switching to the new edition of Dukeminier, but I may stay with the previous edition (which is excellent!) for another year.
Here is the entire email:
Thank you for adopting Dukeminier/Krier/Alexander/Schill/Strahilevitz, Property text. We are pleased to announce that this title will be part of our new Connected Casebook program. The Connected Casebook program is intended to provide students access to a greater wealth of learning tools than offered previously, with no change in price. Under the Connected casebook program, your students will receive:
• A new, bound version of the casebook, which can be marked-up, highlighted, and kept through the length of the course, but which must be returned to us at the conclusion of the class.
• Lifetime access to CasebookConnect, a rich digital companion to the casebook, containing a full digital version of the casebook as well as selected proven learning accelerators, such as examples, explanations, and a collection of issue-spotting and hypothetical exercises.
The primary way that students will be able to purchase the Connected Casebook is through our website at www.aspenlaw.com/connected. Please place this URL on your syllabus to notify your students of where to purchase the casebook. We are also connecting with your bookstore in the coming weeks to let them know how they can participate in the program. The ISBN for your title is 9781454837602.
To better support you, here are answers to some questions you may have. Please contact your sales representative with any additional questions.
1. Do I need to do anything different because this title is a Connected Casebook?
No, you do not need to do anything different as an instructor. Your students will have the same print casebook they have always had; they will just have additional online study resources they may choose to utilize.
2. Can students mark up the print books?
Yes, students can highlight or otherwise mark up the print books as much as they like. They simply need to return them at the end of the class. Students can also annotate and highlight the digital version of the book. These annotations will be available to them through the digital platform permanently.
3. Is the print edition of the Connected Casebook different from other print casebooks I’ve used?
No, the print casebook you and your students receive will be the same as print casebooks you have used in the past.
4. Can the students sell their books back at the end of the semester?
The students will receive lifetime access to CasebookConnect, including the full digital version of their casebook, but they will need to return the print casebook to us at the end of the class.
5. Can my students purchase Connected Casebooks through our campus bookstore?
Your bookstore can participate in the program if they choose. We will be reaching out to your bookstore shortly to provide them with details.
We are confident you will find the new Connected Casebook version of your title to be easy to use and extremely helpful to your students as they seek to master the material in your class. If you have any questions, please contact your sales representative, or email our support team at ***. Thank you.
Update: James Grimmelman offers these thoughts:
There are serious questions about the binding legal force of the promise to return the casebook, serious questions about extending the licensed-not-sold cases to traditional books, and serious questions about the practical enforcement of these rules against thousands of individual law students and resellers. But whether Aspen intends to enforce these new terms vigorously or not, they are deeply troubling in two ways.
First, this is an obvious attempt to undermine the longstanding and firmly established first sale rights of book owners. Traditional online casebooks like West’s Interactive Casebook Series, at least, respected first sale for printed books: students retained their rights in the bound version, even when the digital companion went away at the end of the year. This new approach, by flipping the model and demanding that the physical book be returned, gives students first sale rights over neither version. Aspen promises “lifetime access” to the electronic versions, but we know from sad experience that gerbils have better life expectancy than DRM platforms.
Second, Aspen’s policy literally results in the destruction of knowledge. It seems most likely that the returned books will be pulped. (I suppose it is possible that Aspen itself could inject the returned books into the used book market, but since Aspen encourages students to mark them up freely, they aren’t going to be in good condition.) True, Amazon and B&N have been offering textbook rentals that require students to return books at the end of the semester. But those are built on first sale, and they promote the continued circulation of copies among the public: the books are rented so that they can be resold.
Casebooks are a noticeable part of the cost of a legal education. Aspen casebooks now frequently cost upwards of $200. A student who used one in each of four classes a semester for three years of law school would spend nearly $5000 on casebooks alone. Students have quite understandably responded by turning to used copies—a practice Aspen now appears to be trying to stamp out. If it succeeds, the added cost will hurt students, schools, professors, and the legal profession. I hope that Aspen will reconsider this ill-advised move.