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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 textbooks.
     "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 product."
     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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