A proposed class action lawsuit claims several major college textbook publishers and two dominant college bookstore chains have conspired to monopolize the market for course materials through the “Inclusive Access” product used on campuses nationwide.
The suit alleges that Inclusive Access, which requires students to obtain their course materials “only in an online format and only from their official on-campus bookstore,” has in fact restricted students’ access to cheaper course materials from other sources. Further, Inclusive Access has allowed the defendants to charge higher prices for those course materials “with no legitimate justification” for doing so, the complaint alleges.
In effect, the case claims, Inclusive Access is anything but, and furthers the interests of only the companies involved in the apparent scheme.
“Inclusive Access increases students’ costs and eliminates their choices in order to increase the profits of textbook publishers and on-campus college bookstore retail chains,” the complaint scathes, alleging that the practice amounts to a “virtual monopoly.”
According to the case, Inclusive Access is sold to universities through agreements with defendants Cengage Learning, Inc.; McGraw Hill LLC; and Pearson Education, Inc., and made available only through the schools’ official on-campus bookstores, which are typically operated by defendants Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, LLC and Barnes & Noble Education, Inc. or Follett Higher Education Group.
As the lawsuit tells it, college and graduate students have historically had a number of options for purchasing course materials—including used, new, rented, and electronic materials available from both on-campus and off-campus bookstores, online bookstores, and other online sellers such as Amazon, Chegg, eBay, and Craigslist. The variety of options and sellers increased competition, which in turn lowered prices and allowed students to save money on the often-staggering cost of higher education, the case explains.
For the publisher and retail defendants, however, the threat posed by the competitive textbook market cut into profits and triggered the companies’ development of Inclusive Access. Whereas students used to be allowed to buy materials from any source and in any format, the defendants imposed that those enrolled in an Inclusive Access course be required to purchase access to materials from only their official on-campus bookstore at a price designated by the companies.
While many students may have in the past purchased a used version of a required textbook on the secondary market, Inclusive Access eliminated competition and thereby forced students to pay for the materials at the defendants’ prices—or otherwise be at a “massive disadvantage.”
“Students effectively have no other choice than to purchase Inclusive Access materials at the designated price from their official on-campus bookstore,” the suit states, noting that many of their courses’ reading assignments, homework, and quizzes are part of the Inclusive Access materials and unavailable from any other source.
All told, the case alleges Inclusive Access “does not have any advantages for students.” While students are forced to pay higher prices, buy materials in online formats that cannot be retained when the course is over and risk losing access to materials due to loss of Internet connection, the defendants rake in profits from their unlawful monopoly.
The lawsuit looks to cover all college and graduate students in the United States who were required to purchase course materials through Inclusive Access.