1/5/11

Carson: “Publishers Have Us on the Hook”

I know that the Law Librarian Blog gets plenty of traffic all on its own, but I wanted to lead as many 3 Geeks' readers over to the LLB for an excellent post from Bryan Carson called “Time to Reinstate the FTC’s Guidelines for the Law Book Publishing Industry.” Carson lays out some of the details surrounding the 2000 repeal of the FTC's Guidelines for the Law Book Publishing Industry (.doc), and how since the repeal, publishers (not just legal publishers) have fallen back to tactics that the Guidelines were specifically set up to prevent.

Carson points out that the “revocation was taken despite the fact that every single comment received by the public cited the necessity of these guidelines and recommended that they be continued.” He goes on to list some of the abuses that were going on in 1969 (via Raymond Taylor's 1975 article New Protection for Law Book Users) that prompted the need for the Guidelines' creation in 1975. See if any of these look familiar:
  • Putting new titles and new binders on old materials (particularly looseleaf items);
  • Including the same book in two different series;
  • Overpricing supplements and issuing new editions rather than supplementing;
  • Issuing misleading advertisements (particularly in terms of works designated as “new,” “revised,” or “enlarged”);
  • Using unnecessarily expensive bindings and formats;
  • Putting local names on books that are not truly local;
  • Adding remotely related books to established sets to assure their automatic sale;
  • Failing to advertise prices of major items;
  • Failing to issue supplements for books that otherwise will soon be obsolete;
  • Issuing treatises in looseleaf form; and
  • Failing to put correct printing date on republished books.
Carson calls for a couple of actions steps needed to correct these types of abuses in 2011.
  1. Reinstating the FTC Guidelines for Law Book Publishers
  2. Expanding the FTC Guidelines beyond Law Book Publishers to include other specialized fields such as the medical industry and other fields that have limited choices in their selection of necessary publications
  3. Seek antitrust exemptions for all library organizations and allow them to ban together in order to give “teeth” to their existing guidelines (which, ironically because of antitrust laws, prevents them from enforcing those guidelines through boycotts or other collaborative efforts.)
It is a provocative read, and one in which I ask that those of you that buy materials from law book publishers would step out of your comfort zone and comment upon – either here, at the LLB post, on law-lib, or at a minimum, call or email a colleague to discuss the issue and think about what needs the next steps taken in addressing this issue. Inaction does not make any problems go away.


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