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Unpublished Paper
The Viability of the $30 Casebook: Intellectual Property, Voluntary Payment, Open Distribution, and Author Incentives
ExpressO (2013)
  • Lydia P Loren

It is not uncommon for a new hardbound copy of today’s law school casebooks to exceed $200. And, each year, the prices inch ever higher. After exploring the various dynamics in the traditional publishing market that have led to the current prices for casebooks, this article describes the experiences of Semaphore Press, a publisher of law school casebooks that offers a very different approach to providing law school casebooks. Semaphore Press offers digital copies of required textbooks for law school classes (in pdf format with no digital rights management (DRM) restrictions) at a suggested price of $30. In addition, students can alter the price they pay, paying less or more than the suggested price, or they even download a copy of a required casebook for free. Semaphore Press’s commitment, embodied in this design, is that—whatever else happens—the student obtains access the course materials.

This article explores the viability of this model, sharing data gathered over past semesters. Approximately 83% of students enrolled in courses in which a Semaphore Press book was assigned paid for the book. The article details the amounts of student payments and explores why students may be paying for digital books that they can obtain for free. The Semaphore Press experience with digital casebooks containing no DRM suggests that under current market conditions a voluntary payment distribution model with a suggested $30 price is not only a model welcomed by law students, but it is a viable option both for authors and adopting professors.

Digital distribution of works embodying intellectual property presents risks, but it can also create rewards. Data on voluntary payment models is notoriously difficult to obtain yet the changing distribution and revenue dynamics in the global information economy demand consideration of alternatives. By sharing the data gathered through this alternative publishing model, this article provides valuable insight into the possibilities of voluntary payment models.

  • intellectual property,
  • voluntary payment,
  • author incentives,
  • legal education,
  • publishing industry
Publication Date
August 28, 2013
Citation Information
Lydia P Loren. "The Viability of the $30 Casebook: Intellectual Property, Voluntary Payment, Open Distribution, and Author Incentives" ExpressO (2013)
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