College Accused of Monopolizing Textbook Market

JOLIET, Ill. (CN) – The local, off-campus competitor of an Illinois community college bookstore claims in court that the school is trying to put it out of business by selling textbooks below cost and withholding course book information.

Joliet Textbooks, which owns a store selling textbooks and related items across from the entrance of Joliet Junior College’s campus in Joliet, Ill., filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Will County accusing JJC of violating the Illinois Antitrust Act.

The off-campus store claims that JJC “engaged in a concerted scheme to thwart competition in the market for the sale of used and new textbooks and to destroy competition in the marketplace by undermining plaintiff’s business through anti-competitive pricing strategies.”

The school’s official bookstore, a half-mile from Joliet Textbooks, “enjoys certain institutional advantages over a private sector competitor like plaintiff,” such as not paying rent and not needing to generate a profit to stay open, the complaint states.

Both stores purchase their new and used textbooks from the same sources, says Joliet Textbooks, and the standard practice is to charge 20 to 30 percent above cost.

However, JJC has allegedly been selling textbooks to its students below cost and is giving out rebates and calculating sales taxes on the artificially lower price.

According to the lawsuit, the school has also prohibited its professors from telling Joliet Textbooks what books they will be using in the upcoming semester and is withholding Pell Grant funds that are owed to the store for books sold to students, until those students complete two-thirds of their classes.

All this, Joliet Textbooks claims, is meant to drive the off-campus store out of business and establish what would be a monopoly in student textbook sales.

Joliet Textbooks is asking the court to restrain JJC from acting against its store. It is represented by Frank P. Andreano of Andreano & Lyons in Joliet.

JJC, the oldest public community college in the country with an enrollment of 15,000 students, denies the allegations against it.

“As the digital age progresses, the College has seen a decrease in sales at its bookstore,” said Kelly Rohder, JJC’s director of communications and external relations. “The College has always acted in the best interests of its students with the goal of providing them the resources they need to succeed at a reasonable cost.  The College does not believe it has done anything wrong or unfairly competed in the textbook market place.”