As the semester starts, 1Ls face a shock as their basic required textbooks cost over $200 apiece. Publishers have realized how the used textbook market cuts into profits and have decreased the number of years between editions.
These prices are not sustainable, especially for those law students who are already squeezed to the limit. As a librarian, I have seen more and more students relying on the textbooks on Course Reserve, even going so far as to using them in open book exams. We fear the day when we have 5 students who want the text for their open book exam and we only have 3 copies.
At the same time, as a library, becoming a textbook supplier helps our students, but it also means there are other materials that we cannot acquire or license. With this bundle of challenges, there should be an easy solution, but most faculty who assign textbooks are removed from the cost of the assigned text.
Intellectual property textbook authors are at the forefront of this wave of change with several free and low cost alternatives. For examples, see Semaphore Press and Clause 8 Publishing, but there is also quite a bit going on beyond IP, notably e-Langdell (CALI). At that site, you can find texts on torts, sales, contracts, etc. It is no longer an excuse that there are no alternatives to traditional legal textbooks.
Some faculty have started creating their own textbooks, and many of those have matured and are now distributed, but some live primarily on Canvas or TWEN pages. For those of you who have done this, why not make your materials more widely available? Yes, they might not be as perfect as you would like, but what is? Help students around the country by freeing your course materials. If you are not sure how to do it, contact your AALS section or contribute to H2O, a legal crowdsourcing site associated with top names in the field. If you are looking for edited cases and course structures, it should be a first stop if you would rather not edit a new case when someone else already has.
In short, the time to embrace alternatives to traditional textbooks, even for traditional subjects has arrived. Imagine if you could give each of your students $200 . . . well, you can.
For more on this topic, see James Grimmelman, Alternative Publishing Models for Cost-Conscious Professors, and Ben Trachtenberg, Choosing a Criminal Procedure Casebook: On Lesser Evils and Free Books