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Self-Publishing A Legal Casebook: An Ebook Success Story

30 September 2013

Explanatory preface: Casebooks are the most common type of textbook used in US law schools. They’re called casebooks because the bulk of the material is heavily-edited court case opinions illustrating various aspects of a legal topic.

From Forbes blogs:

I co-authored a casebook on Advertising and Marketing Law with Prof. Rebecca Tushnet of Georgetown Law. Last July, we self-published the casebook as an ebook via Scribd and Gumroad. Drawing on the past 14 months of data, this post explains why I consider the self-publishing experiment a success.

. . . .

The casebook supports Advertising & Marketing Law courses in U.S. law schools. In 2011, about a dozen of these courses were offered around the country. Before our book, no published casebooks was designed for those courses; instead, each professor individually compiled his/her own materials.

. . . .

It is a hefty piece of work by any standards: 870 pages, almost 400,000 words, nearly 40 megabytes. . . . Rebecca’s law school has an on-staff book manuscript editor who cleaned up the book’s formatting and typos and helped convert the book into the ePub format. Without her help, we might have paid a freelancer a few hundred bucks to provide those services.

We decided to self-publish the book as a DRM-free PDF. We deliberately chose a low price of $10. For comparison, the typical traditionally-published casebook run $150-$200 and some other legal casebook ebooks are trying to establish a $30 price point.

. . . .

Some advantages of self-publishing the casebook:

Ebooks are more useful to readers. Unlike physical books, ebook readers can conduct keyword searches in the PDF, can cut-and-paste material, can see graphics and photos in color without paying a premium for color printing, can increase the size of photos if they want, and can install the PDF on multiple devices. The traditional law school publishers are now offering DRMed ebooks for “rent” that expire after a period of time; without DRM, our buyers can enjoy the PDF forever.

We set our own deadlines. Nothing sucks the joy out of writing more thoroughly than writing on someone else’s deadlines. Without a publisher, we don’t have someone anxious to goose their revenues haranguing us for the next edition. We do have to satisfy the expectations of our casebook adopters; that provides ample motivation.

We retain the copyright. We own the copyright, so we control every aspect of the work. For example, we can give the PDFs free to our students instead of making them spend $150+ to buy our casebook from our publisher.

Some disadvantages:

No marketing support. Most casebook authors gripe about the publisher’s marketing support, but usually the publisher takes some efforts. In contrast, we have zero marketing support from anyone. Nevertheless, we already personally knew many of the actual or potential professors for the course, so we figured we could do most of the marketing ourselves. As it’s turned out, word of mouth has generated a number of potential professors we didn’t otherwise know.

No peer credit for a “publication.” I don’t think my colleagues view a self-published ebook with the same respect that they would afford a traditional casebook publication. Rebecca and I are both tenured, so this consideration really doesn’t matter to us.

Piracy risks. We don’t have any way to prevent piracy of the PDF. Instead, we hope the book price is so low that most people will choose to buy it rather than go look for the free version. We have no reason to believe that piracy has noticeably affected our sales.

Link to the rest at Forbes blogs

Non-Fiction, Self-Publishing

7 Comments to “Self-Publishing A Legal Casebook: An Ebook Success Story”

  1. I read the rest of this to see how well they profited. I was pleasantly surprised, but not unduly so, with their results. It’ll be interesting too when they move to Gumroad; I experimented with that service a few times and I think it’s really good, it just needs to be used the right way (and I think theirs is a perfect case for that).

  2. I suspect Eric Goldman underestimates the value of the contribution made by Prof. Tushnet’s University with respect to preparation of the 870-page manuscript, “Rebecca’s law school has an on-staff book manuscript editor who cleaned up the book’s formatting and typos and helped convert the book into the ePub format. Without her help, we might have paid a freelancer a few hundred bucks to provide those services.”

  3. I used to love casebooks, much easier than scouring law reports, and you get a précis of each case plus reference to other cases dealing with similar situations or question of law, which helped a lot if you’re lazy or pressed for time. *sigh* I almost miss law school.

  4. I’ve been thinking about publishing writing “workbooks” which really are more suited to letter-size pdfs than to your classic Kindle or ePub format. (People can print them out and fill them in.)

    I never thought of looking at distribution via Scribd.

    I suspect there are a lot of publishing opportunities that aren’t quite covered in the classic Amazon-Nook-Apple-Smashwords model.

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