Web developers unleash code in hopes that students will take on bookstores

“This will significantly speed it up because we would have to go and figure it out ourselves,” Kadamati said of the complex compiling of books for courses at UT Austin.

Before TextYard’s code release, Kadamati said he hoped to launch Semiproductive.com by the end of April. Now, he’s hoping to make the textbook site live at the beginning of March.

Advocates for web scraping argue that the practice is legal for a range of reasons.

The practice is deemed illegal when the web scraper is damaging a company’s servers or affecting its business in some way. Greenberg said TextYard’s methods don’t disrupt a bookstore’s web service.

Many websites don’t include any provisions on web scraping in terms of service agreements listed on the site. And the federal Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) calls for course-book information to be made freely available to all bookstores and students.

Charles Schmidt, a spokesman for the National Association of College Stores (NACS), said web scraping is not “inherently illegal,” but that college stores that have placed restrictions on scraping and data mining in terms of service agreements could take legal action.

College bookstores have remained the most popular place for book purchases, Schmidt said, because students know the stores are more reliable than textbook websites.

“College stores do not dominate the textbook market merely because of the adoption information they have, but because they are the best, most convenient, safest place for students to purchase or rent their textbooks,” he said. “Only the college store guarantees it will have the exact course materials a student needs for a course.”

TextYard’s open source announcement comes as the NACS questions the true price of college books in materials.

Reports published last year by the Student Public Research Interest Groups (PIRGs) estimated textbook costs to be more than $1,000 a year. NACS charges that those numbers are exaggerated, and the true number is around $650 annually.

An 2011 NACS report said that book costs have actually dropped since 2007 due in part to “the meteoric rise in the number of college stores offering the textbook rental option.”

SwoopThat lets college students search many of the most popular websites – including Chegg.com, BookRenter.com and Amazon — for low-cost textbooks by simply plugging in their course schedules.

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