November 2, 1999
College Book Stores
Sue Online Competitor
By Amy Williams
FRESNO CAMPUS -
The National Association of College Stores sued VarsityBooks.Com
on Friday, accusing the online bookseller of making "false and
misleading advertising" claims.
The lawsuit, filed in federal district
court here, alleges that the company's ads mislead potential customers
by promising discounts of 40 per cent on suggested prices for
"In truth and fact, Varsity offers
only a small percentage of its textbooks at 40 per cent below
the prices charged by on-campus bookstores and other online competitors,"
the suit says. The lawsuit also accuses the company of deceiving
consumers about the extent of its discounts. "On its World Wide
Web site, Varsity has defined the 'Suggested Price' as the price
publishers suggest that bookstores charge for new textbooks,"
the lawsuit says. "In the college publishing industry, however,
there is no 'Suggested Price' provided by the publishers for many
of the textbooks printed."
The college-store association, a
trade group representing more than 3,000 higher-education retailers,
is seeking an injunction that would bar VarsityBooks from using
"suggested price" or any similar term "unless the publisher of
said product, in fact, issues the stated suggested price for said
The suit seeks an injunction that
would require Varsity books to "retract its previously false and
misleading advertising" on its Web site and in its advertisements,
and would prevent the company from promoting any discounts "unless
Varsity identifies, clearly and prominently, the true bases for
the claimed discount."
VarsityBooks officials could not
be reached for comment on Friday. According to a voice-mail greeting
at its headquarters here, the company was closed because its offices
were being moved to another location in the city. Founded
in the summer of 1998, VarsityBooks was one the first companies
to encourage students to bypass their campus bookstores and buy
their textbooks directly on the Internet. VarsityBooks recently
announced plans to sell stock to the public.
Officials of the bookstore association,
which is based in Oberlin, Ohio, said the lawsuit was not an attack
on Internet booksellers generally.
"NACS is not opposed to on-line
bookselling," said Brian Cartier, the association's chief staff
officer, in a statement. He noted that many of the association's
members are themselves using e-commerce, but added: "We simply
cannot stand idly by, however, when huge sums of money are being
spent on deceptive advertising and promotional campaigns directed
at college students."
[Editor's Note: Varsity
Books states it, "...offers up to 40-percent discounts on new
textbooks compared to on-campus bookstore prices and other online
competitors." To see for yourself, click here for the online Varsity
Book Store ].
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