A publisher allegedly threatened legal action against a tool that helps students compare prices of textbooks across online sites. The Wall Street Journal wrote about the issue, saying it had reviewed an email written to Texts.com by publisher Follett’s demanding Texts.com stop running the tool on sites the publisher supports, or “we will need to involve our Legal team.”
It’s not the first time price comparison tools have ruffled feathers. Retail stores were enraged 3 years ago when Amazon launched a promotion giving consumers a 5% discount on items purchased through its site if they use its Amazon Price Check mobile app to compare prices at brick-and mortar retailers.
Texts.com hosts a free student exchange where students are able to buy and sell books with their on-campus peers. There are no fees or commissions for student deals. When there are no student listings available, Texts.com employs a price-comparison engine to find deals at a wide range of retailers. “By coupling these options: a free exchange platform, and a price-comparison engine, Texts.com is able to provide students their best-possible textbook buying/selling options in one place,” it explains.
But Texts.com went further by creating a plugin for Google’s Chrome browser called “OccupyTheBookstore.com” that overlays competitive market prices for textbooks directly on college bookstore websites. “This allows students to easily compare prices from services like Amazon and Chegg instead of being forced into the inflated bookstore markup,” Texts.com states.
Texts.com told the Wall Street Journal the plugin works with over 2,000 college bookstore websites maintained by Follett, Barnes and Noble and Nebraska Book Company – and that’s apparently the sticking point for Follett.
In an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit, Texts.com said:
We’ve been asked to remove the extension by Follett, a $2.7 billion company that services over 1700+ college bookstores. Instead of complying, we rebuilt the extension from the ground up and re-branded it as #OccupyTheBookstore, as the user is literally occupying their website to find cheaper deals. Ask us anything about the textbook industry, the lack of legal basis for Follett’s threats, etc., and if you’re a college student, be sure to try out the extension for yourself!
The Texts.com kerfuffle is somewhat reminiscent of the old eBay versus Bidder’s Edgecase. A user can search Texts.com for a title and see a list showing where the book is available (AbeBooks, Valore Books, Amazon Marketplace, and Bookbyte, for example), along with condition and price of each listing found.
Similarly, Bidder’s Edge aggregated auction data from eBay and other marketplaces. eBay sued Bidder’s Edge in 1999, which ultimately settled the lawsuit and folded in 2001.