One of the biggest gripes I had with attending college had to be buying textbooks. Ten years ago when I was in college, textbooks cost around $500 per semester. This was an outrageous cost. Yet, college kids were forced to pay for these books in order to follow along with the teacher’s syllabus. You would think that college students would be able to recycle used textbooks at the end of the semester and sell them to other students who were taking that class the next semester for a cheaper price. Yes students were able to do this, but only once a year from fall semester to spring semester or at least that was my experience. If you were taking the same class that your friend took the year before, you could no longer use that friend’s book. You were forced to buy a new book. The reason being is that the textbook publishers would sneakily rearrange their textbook content so that the students could not follow the teachers’ lesson plans without buying the new book. This is how textbook publishers extorted money out of college students’ wallets.
Things have changed though in the last ten years with the presence of the internet. Nowadays, teachers are able to teach students using online free software tools without having to use textbooks. They are also relying on online learning centers such as Boundless Learning to teach their students. Boundless Learning is a start up free online learning company that uses “openly licensed” material contributed by various educational experts. The problem is the textbook publishers are not happy. They are about to lose a significant amount of money with the evolution of this online learning company and they are not going down quietly.
The textbook publishers claim that Boundless Learning is plagiarizing their content from the textbooks. Cengage Learning, Pearson Education and MacMillan Higher Education filed a lawsuit against Boundless Learning in April, stating that Boundless Learning copied their economics, psychology and biology textbooks. Boundless Learning plans to defend their position of “not guilty” of plagiarism against these three giants. It is interesting that these three publishers would sue just three weeks after learning that Boundless Learning raised $8 million in private funding for their start up venture. Is the timing a mere coincidence? I think not. If the textbook publishers are to lose this case, they are going to be in big trouble. No longer are they going to be able to control the market. Their cash cows will disappear and this has them very worried.
If these textbook companies had gotten wind up the start up company’s business model only a few months early, I am sure Boundless Learning would have been sunk before it could even swim. The start up company would not have been able to afford the legal battle to fight the lawsuit. Fortunately, Boundless Learning now has $8 million in funding to help them fight this lawsuit. They also have the support of investors such as Venrock who I am sure has a slew of legal attorneys ready to assist. It will be interesting to see what the outcome of this case will be. Will David or Goliath win?