Florida students sue bookstore

In twenty years, college textbook prices have increased at twice the rate of inflation.

Whether it comes in the form of stomping out of the store, refusing to use books all semester or promptly spending the $7 you got back for your books at Chipotle, it’s probably safe to say that most students, at some point, think they’re being overcharged by their university bookstore.

But two students from a college in Florida tried a different approach. Thomas Rebman and Danny Brandner have brought a class-action suit against Daytona Beach Community College and Follett Higher Education Group, a large collegiate bookstore chain. The students are alleging unfair and illegal pricing practices and are asking for $5 million in recovered damages.

The students are alleging that the bookstore rounded book prices up to the next 25-cent increment and therefore were earning a little extra per student. But they pointed out when that amount is multiplied by thousands of students each semester across the country, it amounts to millions. Rebman and Brandner also alleged that the bookstore paid less than 50 percent of books’ retail prices when buying books back from students, thus breaching their contract. The students included their college in the suit because, they said, through its contract with Follett, the school receives up to 10.5 percent of annual bookstore revenues.

A 2005 Government Accountability Office report on college textbooks found that textbook prices have nearly tripled between 1986 and 2004. That is compared against an overall inflation at 72 percent, and tuition and fees increasing 240 percent. This means that college textbook prices have increased at twice the rate of inflation. The report primarily attributes these price increases to additional book material, such as CD-ROMs and other instructional supplements. The problem is that students don’t have a choice of whether they want to purchase these extra materials and often end up never using them.

This case could set a precedent by calling for the accountability and accuracy of bookstore pricing across the nation, and it all started with two fed-up students.