We developed OccupyTheBookstore.com, a Chrome Plugin which overlays competitive market prices for textbooks directly on the college bookstore website. This allows students to easily compare prices from services like Amazon and Chegg instead of being forced into the inflated bookstore markup. Though students are increasingly aware of third-party options, many are still dependent on the campus bookstore because they control the information for which textbooks are required by course.

Here's a GIF of it in action.

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!

Proof: http://OccupyTheBookstore.com/reddit.html


Wow, lots of great interest and questions. Two quick hits:

1) This is a Texts.com side project that makes use of our core API. If you are a college student and would like to build something yourself, hit up our lead dev at [email protected], or PM /u/bhalp1 or tweet to him @BHalp1

2) If you'd like some free #OccupyTheBookstore stickers, click this form.


Wow, this is really an overwhelming and awesome amount of support and interest.

We've gotten some great media attention, and also received an e-mail from someone at the EFF! Words cannot express how pumped we are.

If you think that this is cool, please create a Texts.com account and/or follow us on FB or Twitter.

If you need to get in touch with me for any reason, just PM me or shoot an email to [email protected].


Wow, this is absolutely insane. The WSJ just posted an article: www.wsj.com/articles/BL-DGB-39652

Comments: 1751 • Responses: 20  • Date: 

Plyngntrffc1772 karma

This is great! I am going to share this with my younger friends who could benefit greatly. What types of threats did you receive? Were any personal in nature and not very professional?

peaches0171465 karma

Thanks so much for telling your friends!

The e-mails that Follett weren't unprofessional or personally threatening, but they were clearly intended to intimidate us into quickly complying and removing the plugin without doing our research.

They effectively asked us to remove the plugin, stating that they'd "need to involve their legal team" if we didn't comply. A few days later, they told us that "we will have to take legal action" [if we don't remove it by the deadline]. We never responded to their e-mails, largely because we needed more time to do our research and confirm that we are allowed to do this.

Edit: Removed e-mail screenshots.

EDIT2: Hijacking my own top-reply to mention that we just got an email from someone at the EFF. This is super exciting and is exactly the type of support we might soon need.

notcaffeinefree473 karma

You should blank out those email addresses.

peaches017411 karma

Thanks, good advice.

disco_stewie155 karma

If you live in a state that has ANTI-SLAPP laws, you can actually get money from them.

IANAL my guess is that their argument is baseless. Using ANY browser changes the presentation of the site. It wasn't even that intimidating outside of the fact that they said "legal team".

A way to mess with them would be to tell them, "Sure I will take it down. But you should know that the code is open sourced using the GPL 3.0 license (or whatever you decide) so enjoy sending these e-mails to literally everyone that uses it."

peaches017110 karma

Very interesting, and great point about the fact that ANY browser changes the presentation.

Let me do more research on this, really appreciate it!

RandomhouseMD1284 karma

From a legal standpoint, what is the argument from Follett? It seems to me that a user has a right to display whatever information on their browser they want to.

Assuming you are in no way manipulating the packet that is received from the textbook service, and are only manipulating the end result, is there any legal precedent you know of that says that you either can or cannot do this?

peaches0171667 karma

Good questions.

Follett had a few angles, none of which have much merit:

They could try the Copyright angle, arguing that our plugin constitutes copyright infringement by creating an unauthorized adaptation of their page. That said, we're opt-in, so while we are modifying the web page, we're only doing so with the end-users permission. Additionally, we’re not manipulating information or blocking the ability to use any/all aspects of the site if the end user so desires.

They could also try the Terms of Service angle, saying that we're knowingly equipping their users to breach the TOS by using scrapers, data-extractors, etc. That said, we never directly interact with any bookstore website, we merely supplement information provided by the end-users local browser. As such, we think that they could theoretically go after the individual student, but they probably would never bother.

In searching for precedent, we looked at AdBlock heavily, and also at price-comparison plugins like Honey.

gemusan1969 karma

Developer of Honey here. Can confirm their claims are baseless. The end user has the right to modify content delivered to their browser however they want. We've done extensive research and read all the relevant court cases. Happy to chat and compare notes if you think we could be of help. You can reach me at george at joinhoney.com.

On a side note, we're interested in using your API to build this feature into Honey. I'll reach out to Ben separately.

peaches017694 karma

George, just seeing this!

Thanks so much for chiming in. I had previously connected with Ryan, and am a Pasadena native - so I feel connected to you guys in a few ways.

I look forward to connecting with you guys - will shoot off an e-mail now.

lhamil64499 karma

Honestly, how is your plugin any different than me clicking "Inspect Element" and modifying the page manually?

peaches017672 karma

In all reality, it isn't much different. There are many sites that do price-comparison (BigWords, SlugBooks, CampusBooks, and our main site: Texts.com) when you provide an ISBN. We just make it easier by bringing this functionality directly to the bookstore website.

pumadude321305 karma

This may be too long, but please read (at the least) from the bolded word "also" and down.

I wouldn't even go as far to say that you are modifying the web page. You are an extension of the browser, a 3rd party. At no point does your extension become part of the page itself in any way, shape, or form. In fact, your extension reads a public website and then cross references it in other public databases. Cross referencing tools are not illegal.

As for the ToS argument, that's just bullshit. You cannot legally be held to a website's ToS just by going onto it. Everyone has the chance to leave a website without having first accepting a ToS. The ToS applies when you start using the services. Amazon's Conditions of Use begins with this principle:

We offer a wide range of Amazon Services, and sometimes additional terms may apply. When you use an Amazon Service (for example, Your Profile, Gift Cards, Amazon Instant Video, Your Media Library, or Amazon applications for mobile ) you also will be subject to the guidelines, terms and agreements applicable to that Amazon Service ("Service Terms").

Also, if you are going to respond to them, I would suggest using keywords from Follett's website. They have a whole "values" page.

  • Always do the right thing -- Integrity
  • Own the outcome -- Accountability
  • Put customers at the center of all that you do. -- Customers
  • Be open, honest, and transparent -- Each and Every Associate
  • Challenge yourself to find a better way. -- Innovation
  • Go farther together. -- Teamwork

In a response letter, if you wish to do so, I would suggest talking about your goal to make the process "more open, honest, and transparent." You saw a problem with the prices of textbooks, so you challenged yourself to find a better way together, with your coworkers. In the end, this is a customer-centric extension by helping those struggling financially to save money. Helping those in need is the right thing to do.

peaches017222 karma

Thanks so much for this, and great points all-around.

You're 100% spot-on:

You saw a problem with the prices of textbooks, so you challenged yourself to find a better way together, with your coworkers. In the end, this is a customer-centric extension by helping those struggling financially to save money. Helping those in need is the right thing to do.

This is what motivates us, and what encouraged us -- two 2012 grads -- to take the risk and start Texts.com. We wanted to build a no-nonsense textbook exchange that actually benefits students, and this plugin was an offshoot of that mission.

Thanks for taking the time to put this comment together.

orpheus270897 karma

Curiously, if they are just manipulating the end result, how would this be different than something like ad block? (In the sense that it is legal)

I ask this acknowledging I know next to nothing about these things.

peaches017167 karma

This is the crux of why we're allowed to do this. We don't interact with the bookstore website server, just the end-user's browser. Because we're opt-in, many of Follett's potential claims are wiped out.

zakriboss546 karma

Why is this market able to provide such inflated prices when the people purchasing them are among those who have the least?

peaches017692 karma

There are a few factors at play.

  • Students need the textbooks, so they're (generally) willing to overpay vs. not acquiring the book at all -- especially underclassmen
  • Publishers are in an oligopoly, where there are few incentives to lower prices or seek innovative models that could threaten the main business line
  • Publishers (and campus bookstores) are being hurt by the used book market, which is dominated by firms like Amazon and Chegg. As a result, they raise prices to try and maintain profits which leads to a positive feedback of spiraling prices.
  • /u/chair_boy makes a good point that the various parties understand that students will oftentimes rely loans to cover costs: drop in a bucket

Planet Money did a great episode which goes into more details on some of this.

Airsoul358 karma

Is this a non profit venture?

peaches017630 karma

No, and thanks for bringing this up. We display affiliate links to companies like Amazon, Chegg, and ValoreBooks. This is a side-project from Texts.com, which is a free student textbook exchange + price-comparison engine.

In short, we allow students to easily buy/sell books with each other, but make money by helping them find deals when there are no student options.

hibikikun77 karma

So if you guys are from texts.com, does that mean you would have the backing to fight this if it does go to court?

peaches017229 karma

Not really. We're still just a bootstrapped company working out of a cramped office that smells like Sriracha.

We do have a lawyer, but I think that going to court against a behemoth like Follett would be prohibitively expensive for just about any company of our size.

Melogna383277 karma

Why are the online access codes (which I always need for classes) so expensive?

peaches017434 karma

This is a tactic used by publishers to try and recoup money being lost to the used textbook market. This ensures that even when students can benefit from selling to their classmates, that they can still get paid.

EarthBrown185 karma

What do you think the average college student could do to protest the outrageous prices of textbooks?

peaches017281 karma

The true silver-bullet and pie-in-the-sky is broadly-accepted and distributed open source textbooks. There are some exciting initiatives at a few schools pilot-testing this approach. My long-term advice would be to rally behind these efforts and support them through talks with your SGA, professors, and administrations.

Immediate steps you can take:

1) Raise awareness -- especially to underclassmen -- that buying the textbook isn't always necessary.

2) Ask the professor if old and/or interiational editions are suitable -- this can easily save you hundreds.

3) Buy and sell with other students; either on campus FB groups, or through a textbook exchange (such as our main site, Texts.com)

4) Compare prices from services like Amazon, Chegg, ValoreBooks, AbeBooks, etc.

winterymint79 karma

How do I donate to you?

peaches017221 karma

Thanks for the offer; but as I cover above, we're a for-profit outfit and wouldn't feel right about taking your money. We're a small team, founded by 2012 grads, and bootstrapped, but we believe we're 100% in the right and will stand up to whatever is coming at us.

If you want to help out, please just spread the word.

meanuglyemu70 karma

On what grounds are you supposedly being sued?

peaches01794 karma

I answer this here, but effectively we anticipated that they could argue we either: 1) violated copyright by changing their page, or 2) broke their TOS.

On 1: we're opt-in, and never modify their page, just the local browser's version. On 2: we never interact with their servers, so there's no basis for trespass to chattels or other claims that we are hurting their performance, etc.

jjones21766 karma

One of the biggest problems I ran into as a student was that my university would 'customize' textbooks which, in effect, gave them a modified title and a different ISBN. Will your extension help to combat that ridiculous tactic?

I'm sure it would be a long way off, but I'd love to see, for example, an extension that compared the college textbook to a different edition (customized or prior edition) and listed what content was different: added/removed chapters, etc.

peaches01756 karma

Unfortunately, there isn't a competitive / open market for these custom editions, so the core price-comparison functionality of the plugin isn't all that helpful.

That said, the extension does automatically show any student listings from your campus that have been posted on Texts.com -- our main site and student textbook exchange.

The best way to make money / save money on those custom editions is to sell them within your local community. After all, the only people who have/want that book are already on campus.

nogami63 karma

Could you give us an idea of which schools / regions this plugin will service? Is it US only, only specific schools, etc? Couldn't find the information your website.

peaches01790 karma

Re-posting this:

If your bookstore website ends in Neebo.com, BKSTR.com, or BNCollege.com, it should work. We can try and support other sites, just let Ben ([email protected]) know.

That means we're potentially facing flak from:

Follett - a $2.7 billion

Barnes & Nobles - a ~$7 billion company

Nebraska Books (Neebo) - a ~$400 million company

_kvl_18 karma

what prompted you to create the extension? Was it simply you saw a need for this sort of product and made it, or have you felt the painful sting of college textbook price gouging and decided to valiantly try to slay the dragon of....i have no idea how to finish this metaphor, but some sort of overpriced book dragon i assume.?

peaches01716 karma

Ben and I are both 2012 grads, so we're definitely scratching our own itch here.

The dragon is a combo of textbook/bookstore behemoths, combined with student laziness. We think that the Chrome Plugin in particular does a good job addressing both.

The-Achilles13 karma

Does your plug in also provide comparable sell-back prices?

peaches01718 karma

Yes, it links to the other Texts.com side-project: WhatIsMyTextbookWorth.com