Nine New Lawsuits Target ‘Inclusive Access’ Textbook Programs, Alleging Antitrust Violations

By: Rebecca Koenig, EdSurge

Student complaints about the digital textbook and courseware bundles now assigned in many college classes have escalated into a new batch of legal challenges. Nine lawsuits filed in March, April and May against major textbook companies and retailers take aim at their bulk deals with colleges to offer online course materials, sometimes referred to as “inclusive access” programs.

Through these deals, colleges become digital book brokers, selling students access codes for packaged digital texts and online homework systems created by commercial publishers. These programs have drawn criticism because some students would rather shop around on their own for better deals. And students are used to being able to resell their print textbooks after a semester is over, but digital codes can’t be shared or resold. But publishers and booksellers say that the inclusive access services offer students books at reduced, bulk rates and therefore save them money.

The new lawsuits argue that inclusive access deals strangle the used book market and therefore drive up textbook prices. And they allege that publishers and retailers are violating antitrust laws because they, as one case puts it, “colluded to restrain trade in textbooks through the Inclusive Access conspiracy.”

“If one singular publisher did this alone, it wouldn’t necessarily drive up prices. Professors and universities could choose a different textbook, different course materials,” says Beth Fegan, managing partner at FeganScott law firm who is representing two students in one of the cases. “It’s the fact that they’re working together to exclude competition that’s the problem. With their collective power, they could shut down resellers of books.”

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