Creators of Textbook Price Comparison Tool Face Potential Litigation

Posted January 12th, 2015 in News by Micah Jenkins

Following a recent Reddit discussion thread, a new textbook price comparison tool called Occupy The Bookstore has grown in popularity.  According to the Reddit thread, Occupy The Bookstore is “a Chrome Plugin which overlays competitive market prices for textbooks directly on the college bookstore website.”  When a user installs the extension, they see their bookstore’s prices for textbooks, as well as pricing from various online vendors.

The creators of the chrome extension, Peter Frank and Ben Halpern, are also the founders of, a site that helps buyers find the best prices for textbooks.  They are now facing litigation from the Follett Higher Education Group, the largest campus bookstore operator in the US.  The Follett Group recently emailed Frank and Halpern and asked that they remove the extension on the basis that it “is effectively changing the presentation of the information on the screen.”  Follett then stated that legal action would be pursued in the event of noncompliance.  Unfortunately for Follett, their requests seem to have generated an unforeseen amount of publicity for the plugin; Occupy The Bookstore has now been downloaded from the Chrome Web Store more than 20,000 times and its creators have no intentions of removing it.

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The “Somebody Else’s Money” Problem: NPR Explores the Rise in College Textbook Prices

Posted October 13th, 2014 in News by Micah Jenkins

David Kestenbaum and Jacob Goldstein of NPR’s Planet Money assert that the rising cost of textbooks can, in part, be attributed to one simple economic tenet: the “principal-agent problem,” or as Kestenbaum and Goldstein jokingly refer to it, “the somebody else’s money problem.”

The principal-agent problem is most simply described as a conflict of interest that arises when the person who decides to buy something (the agent) isn’t the person who has to pay for it (the principal). Within the context of textbook adoptions, students are the principals, tacitly agreeing to let their professors choose course materials on their behalf. College professors act as the agents, and make the final decision regarding which textbooks will be required for their courses. The conflict arises when sales representatives from publishing companies present their textbooks to professors for adoption. They expand on the expensive extra features and attributes of the textbooks they are trying to sell and never mention the price of the items. Professors never think to ask about the price because it is the students who ultimately have to bear the burden of the cost.

Other factors contributing to the high cost of textbooks include a growing used textbook market, textbook rental options, the availability of illegal textbook downloads, and students choosing not to purchase the textbook at all. This creates a cyclical problem wherein students continue to find creative ways to avoid buying textbooks, and publishers continue to raise their prices to recover profit losses.

In an effort to maintain control of the textbook market, and offer cheaper solutions for students, some publishers are moving towards the production of E-textbooks. However, E-textbooks do not pose a perfect solution for students because there is no used market for them, and they cannot be resold.

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Florida Senate Rejects House Bill on Textbook Affordability

Posted June 19th, 2014 in News by Alexander

House Bill 355—previously passed by the Florida House of Representatives—was struck down on May 2nd by the Florida Senate’s Education Committee. The bill promised to reduce textbook prices for Florida colleges and universities and would have held the State Board of Education and the Board of Governors accountable for the adoption of textbook instructional materials, affordability policies, procedures, and guidelines. In addition, it aimed to create a task force to investigate textbook affordability issues.

The reason for the bill’s rejection is uncertain; however, students have been commenting on the issue and voicing their concerns on social networks. Several comments include information and tips that would help fellow students afford textbooks for the upcoming fall semester.

  • “Don’t tell me you’ll give me $2 for a book in perfect condition, bought new, that was used once.”
  • “I understand that there is content professors want that is not in the books, but they could provide that information separate in a PowerPoint or PDF file.”
  • “I would love if my textbooks DIDN’T cost more than a credit hour.”

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Student PIRGs Releases Policy Guide on Textbook Affodability Issues

Posted June 6th, 2014 in News by Alexander

The Student Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) website recently published a new policy guide on textbook affordability issues. Their intention is to provide leaders and decision-making authorities – from institutions to state legislators – with informed policies concerning open access textbooks and other approaches for affordable textbooks. The guide provides textbook affordability background information, open access textbook policy solutions, a list of key audiences and suggestions to address their concerns, a checklist of components necessary to create good policies, and sample policies and programs.

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Law Professors Petition for Students’ Right to Sell Used Textbooks

Posted May 19th, 2014 in News by Alexander

After receiving an online petition from law professors with over 300 signatures, Wolters Kluwer Aspen Law, a leading legal publisher, released a statement assuring them its new casebook-publishing program would not threaten students’ ability to buy and sell used textbooks.

The professors feared the new casebook-publishing program, called Casebook Connect, would impede students’ rights to sell and buy used textbooks. The program’s initial introduction indicated some of the most popular casebooks’ new editions would include a print copy and a lifetime access to a digital version. However, at the end of the semester, students would be required to return the printed copy back to the publisher. The professors argued this would force students to buy new casebooks every semester and eliminate the used-book market.

After 329 signatures, Aspen released a response with more information about the program and relieved many of the petitioners’ concerns. They said students would have the option to purchase individual casebooks, new or used, or buy through Casebook Connect program.

Vikram Savkar, vice president and general manager of Wolters Kluwer Legal Education, said in an interview that it was a case of miscommunication. He assured the professors it was always the company’s intention to let students choose whether or not to buy the casebooks through the program. In addition, Mr. Savkar indicated they are working hard to find a fair price for the content in response to the professors’ feedback.

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