A new Chrome plugin that helps students find the cheapest textbook prices has drawn the ire of Follett, the national textbook chain that serves as the official bookstore for thousands of colleges in the US and Canada.
#OccupytheBookstore's plugin works when you're on your school bookstore website and displays prices from other stores such as Amazon and Chegg:
According to the plugin's creators, 2012 college graduates Peter Frank and Ben Halpern, Follett has threatened legal action.
"[Follett] effectively asked us to remove the plugin, stating that they'd 'need to involve their legal team' if we didn't comply," said the creators in a Reddit AMA. "A few days later, they told us that 'we will have to take legal action' if we don't remove it by the deadline."
Text book prices are out-of-hand
The price of a college textbook increased by 82 percent over the last decade.
"Textbooks are so expensive because professors assign specific editions and just five publishers have a lock on the market," higher education expert Ethan Senack told us last September. "That means they're able to drive up prices without fear of market competitors. The content of some courses changes, but not nearly enough to justify brand new print editions—sometimes every two years—that carry such high prices."
(For more, check out our full Q&A with Ethan Senack of the US Public Interest Research Groups about textbook prices.)
What can be done?
The #Occupythebookstore plugin is a good start. It will not, however, drive down prices, which will only happen with external pressure. That pressure could come from the government with legislation like what was proposed by Senators Al Franken and Dick Durbin last year. Their bill would have promoted the development of free, open textbooks. Colleges could also step up and revise their policies toward professors assigning new editions of books.