When people get into a discussion on how to ensure college students can afford to buy textbooks, inevitably someone suggests that instructors could create the reading materials for their own courses—usually without asking whether instructors are willing to take on that added work, especially if they don’t get compensation or recognition for it.
But two law professors seem to think it’s an idea worth exploring, at least for law classes. In a back-and-forth exchange on their separate blogs, Matt Brodie, a professor at the St. Louis University School of Law, and Christine Hurt, co-director of the Program in Business Law and Policy at the University of Illinois College of Law, talk about work-for-hire and self-publishing arrangements for producing course materials.
In a post about academic publishing on Prawfs Blawg, Brodie questions whether it makes sense for schools to incorporate the authorship of textbooks into their faculty’s contractual work for the institution, with the royalties going to the school in the same way that research grants do.
On The Conglomerate blog, Hurt responds that the small royalties wouldn’t make much difference to the schools’ revenues, but they provide some incentive to professors to spend time creating textbooks. She suggests, however, that some textbooks—law casebooks, in particular, which are mostly public information—could be assembled by faculty (or departments working together) in a reasonable amount of time and given to students at no charge. Hurt says she already puts together casebooks for her own classes.
Brodie, in a follow-up post, says a possible business model would be for schools to pay faculty to write textbooks, with the money coming from a course materials fee included with tuition. The fee would be less than what students now spend on course materials, and the books could be tailored precisely to the needs of each course.
If schools don’t want to get involved with textbook publishing, he adds, they could still institute the fee and buy textbooks at bulk wholesale rates for distribution to students.