Is the Textbook Dead?

In a comment to a posting over at Out of the Jungle, I made this bold assertion about Canadian legal textbooks:

I fear the textbook’s life in Canada may be coming to its end. The publishers, notably West’s sister company Thomson Carswell, have now started publishing new editions of our prime authority texts in loose leaf format. My feeling is this dilutes the authority of the publication since we can no longer fix in place a specific text; it is difficult to quote to something if it is in constant flux. As well, fewer and fewer new key texts are being published, in favour of smaller publications on more focused topics.

I’d be interested in other opinions. Obviously the textbook isn’t going to die overnight, but I think the publishers are making a big mistake by moving to looseleaf. If there are that frequent changes to the law, I would have preferred to see annual supplements such as pocket parts.

Is anyone else as disturbed about this as I am?


  1. For some of the same reasons I articulated in my post on Halsbury’s Laws of Canada, we may be seeing shifts in the production of doctrine.
    The looseleaf / permanent distinction doesn’t trouble me that much, although economically it’s the same as the ink-jet printer rip-off. They make all their money selling you cartridges (or updates or inserts) afterwards, knowing that you have to keep coming back unless your product is going to be less than useless.
    But law requires regular new editions every few years.
    I posted a while back about using web-publication to cut out intermediaries that don’t add value.
    We decide on renewals to the major English texts on a case by case basis. How a single volume can end up over $1000 Cdn is a mystery to me.

  2. This sounds horribly pedantic, but to understand what is happening you have to make distinctions between the type of publications we are talking about: textboots, casebooks, and treatises. Textbooks and casebooks (textbooks with selected readings from cases and statutes illustrative of the ideas in the narrative) are really for instruction. Treatises are major works of analysis and description of certain areas of law, e.g. Waters on Contract, Trust etc. You can usefully divide treatises further into; practioner books and scholary books. It is true, that there is a move to looseleaf for practitioner material, as Connie says. Like Simon I’m also not troubled by the looseleaf/permanent distinction. The preservation inititiatives on several fronts should address this systematically.

    I can tell you there is no slow down on the publising of legal academic titles. Indeed, there is something of a mini renaissance, in high quality interdisciplinary titles, and particularly in Canada. The real change in the world of academic legal publishing is the retrospective digitalization of older textual material, for which see and in the arrival of e-books in a big, although still hapzard way. For example, in this list of titles under the subject heading for law
    The real issue here for practioner books is when, how, what, is going to convert to e-book form and how much will it cost.

  3. Apropos of pocket parts, see Yale Law Jounal’s new “The Pocket Part” at

    This via Joe Hodnicki’s weblog:

  4. campbell, thank you for making the distinction. From where I sit, I was concerned the scholarly treatises were being “loose leafized” but it sounds like I may be wrong. That is good news.

    You mention preservation initiatives: is someone actually collecting and keeping loose leaf pages that usually get discarded in updates?? I shudder to think what that would entail…

    Simon, what a clever name for a companion discussion to a law journal! If pocket parts were more prevalent here, I would be tempted to appropriate it for my own devious use.