The Last Nail in the Coffin?

There has been some discussion recently in the blogosphere regarding whether or not print is finally and completely dead. I think we’ve been talking about this since the “paperless office” made its debut in in 1975 (yes…it’s been that long).

A new threat to print, in my opinion, has just made its debut. West recently announced its new casebook rental service for law students. It works like this:

Notice that the student receives instant access to an eBook, while the print book is sent. The student then ships back the print volume at the end of the rental term, and eBook access ends.

As Jason Wilson points out in his impressive post, “I’m going to speculate that 80% continue marking up the eCasebook.” I think Jason is correct in thinking that the print copy will not be used much, and will ship back to West in a virtually (no pun intended) unused condition, which allows West to rent the volume over and over again.

Jason believes that this is a win-win for West, and I have to agree, it is a brilliant strategy. However, one of my main concerns is the complete devaluation of the print book. I am sure we will arrive a point where students will actually tell West not to send the print copy. Why not? They have their eBook, why hassle with receiving and returning the print book? In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if an option in the very near future is to select whether or not you want to receive the print copy.

As West starts to “print” fewer and fewer copies, what happens to the availability of these products? Is this the start of a whole new paradigm of book selling? I have to say I’m intrigued and a bit scared…

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