After tuition, textbooks are one of the biggest college expenses. One company is trying to stop students from seeking other options

No self-respecting college student would be caught dead with a knockoff iPhone. Now a textbook company is hoping the same is true for its books.

Cengage announced a “major initiative” to keep students from buying cheaper “inferior” and “counterfeit” textbooks. The company is urging consumers to only buy textbooks with the Cengage certification seal.

How do you spot a “counterfeit”? They say textbooks may be missing pages, use different paper, and feature blurred photographs. But with textbooks costing students up to $1,250 yearly, it’s not clear they care.

“Every product we create is the result of painstaking work on the part of authors, editors, manufacturers and countless others who want to bring students truly impactful learning materials,” says Cengage CEO Michael E. Hansen.  “Unfortunately, some seek to profit — illegally — on the backs of those who have devoted their lives to helping students.”

What are counterfeit textbooks?

It may be difficult to tell by the untrained eye which textbooks are legitimate and which are counterfeit. Websites like booksrun provide images of examples to distinguish the two.

Often counterfeit textbooks are manufactured illegally and are shipped to students from countries like India or China. You can tell the difference by the binding of the books.

After a good look at the book, it’s not hard to spot they are of cheaper make and fall apart easier. The paper in them is thinner and lower quality. Original copies often have a glossy print, whereas counterfeits are just plain paper.

The pages may have a darker color shade than the originals. They’re also usually smaller, or disproportionate to the original product.

Cengage and the Education Publisher Enforcement Group reviewed the inventories of several online sellers to determine how much of their inventory was counterfeit. Over 75 percent of the books were counterfeit, and some sellers had 100 percent of the titles offered for sale stocked with counterfeits.

Cengage, along with other textbook companies McGraw Hill and Pearson, has been working to encourage distributors to adopt their “best practices” to selling textbooks. Textbook distributors like Chegg and Ingram have, but one called Follett didn’t — and now they’re getting sued over it.

In their lawsuit, the three textbook companies outlined a complaint that Follett refused to “conduct due diligence on their suppliers and fuel[ed] the counterfeit market by relying on the process of buying and inspecting counterfeits instead of not buying them in the first instance.”

What should students do?

It’s no secret college is expensive and so are the materials required to succeed. The question is whether or not students care where they get their textbooks, or the quality of them.

Students may think purchasing knockoff books will save them money, but Cengage says counterfeit textbooks will cost students in the long run. When students go to sell back counterfeit textbooks at the end of the semester, textbook rental companies like Booksrun or Chegg will not accept take them — so students are stuck with them once their class is over.

Companies like College Avenue recommend students instead borrow books from friends who have already taken courses and to look into book rental programs offered through the college or online companies.

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Article last modified on August 8, 2017. Published by Debt.com, LLC .