Textbook publishers sued by college students claiming giants conspired to illegally monopolize

(13 May 2020)  College textbook publishing and retail giants Cengage Learning, McGraw Hill, Pearson Education, Follett Higher Education Group and Barnes & Noble College Bookseller are targets of a proposed national class-action filed by college students. The suit claims the companies conspired to restrict sales of textbooks to a specific online format from on-campus bookstores in order to foreclose competition and raise prices.

According to FeganScott’s managing partner Beth Fegan, who is representing the students, the agreements require students to obtain their required course materials from an “Inclusive Access” program by paying full-price for a digital access code from their official on-campus bookstore. When the semester ends, students lose access to the textbook, eliminating the possibility to resell to secondary purchasers.

“Textbooks have always been a major expense for college students, but for most, the free market allowed them to purchase or resell used textbooks to blunt the cost,” Fegan said. “These agreements rob students of that option, forcing them to play by the rules set by publishers and bookstores.”

Fegan noted the Inclusive Access agreements disadvantage students, who historically had access to a range of alternatives when it came to purchasing materials. Not only could students typically choose between new or used textbooks in print or electronic versions, they could also source these materials from official on-campus stores or from alternative retail options such as off-campus bookstores or online sellers.

The suit, filed in mid-April, alleges that students are effectively required to purchase the Inclusive Access materials in order to have the necessary materials that will allow them to pass their course.

The complaint states that the Inclusive Access scheme allows publishers and retailers to avoid the decline in student spending and stagnant new textbook prices, instead allowing them to preserve and increase profits by preventing competition based on price in the market for Inclusive Access textbooks.

Filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the suit seeks to represent all students at colleges or graduate schools in the United States who were required to purchase textbooks or course materials through Inclusive Access. Plaintiffs Elizabeth and Grace Kinskey lead the suit, and if approved, the compliant will cover all students defined by the class.

“Publishers and retailers have manipulated the requirements of higher education to foreclose competition and reap profits at students’ expense—this has to stop,” said Fegan. “Students should not be gouged because publishers are facing a changing industry, and we want to put the power of competitive pricing back where it belongs – with the students.”

Here’s the original announcement.