The college textbook market has functioned as a near-perfect monopoly. Consider: How often does someone have the authority to order consumers to purchase a product with a limited number of vendors? University professors have just that power, requiring students to purchase particular books for their courses. The often obscure titles must typically be purchased from the college bookstore, which obtains them through special order. With limited competition, at best, prices for new textbooks can easily climb to $100, and have tripled since the mid-1980s
Now a group of small Web sites is trying to provide students with a cheaper alternative for textbooks and other school supplies, such as computers.