The Real Deal: How Weeding Out Counterfeits Benefits Your Bottom Line

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The Real Deal:  How Weeding Out Counterfeits Benefits Your Bottom Line

When you hear the word “counterfeit,” it’s likely that images of knockoff watches, purses, sneakers and other name-brand products come to mind. Add  textbooks to the list. The high demand for educational materials combined with multiple distribution channels makes textbooks an enticing market for fraudsters. We’re committed to eliminating this type of activity across the Follett Marketplace through training and education.

The impact of counterfeit textbooks is widespread:

  • Publishers — Producing high-quality, well-researched course materials requires significant investments on the part of publishers. Counterfeit products deprive authors of royalties and publishers of the funds that are rightfully theirs, limiting the ability to create new educational content. 
  • Distributors/Sellers — Counterfeit textbooks are a drain on sellers’ inventory of saleable product and put them at risk for legal liabilities. A consortium of publishers was recently awarded $34.2 million in damages in a lawsuit targeting an importer and reseller of counterfeit books.*
  • Buyers — When students source textbooks, they often look for the best prices and assume that what they buy is legitimate. It’s harmful to sellers’ reputations when they find out later that the books are fake.
  • Student Sellers — Counterfeit books are ineligible for buyback, depriving students of money, which they may have been counting on to fund the next semester’s book purchases.

Counterfeit textbooks put buyers and sellers at risk and damage the reputations and bottom lines of legitimate vendors. All players in the industry must work together to implement formal policies and processes to identify and weed out counterfeit textbooks from the marketplace.

Anti-Counterfeit Culture

Reproductions are often produced overseas and can vary in quality from obvious fakes to high-quality copies. The first line of defense against bogus textbooks is to make the identification and eradication of counterfeit materials part of an organization’s culture through training for employees and strict adherence to best practices.

Follett Marketplace encourages stores to implement formal programs to avoid buying, renting and selling counterfeit textbooks by identifying fake materials in inventory and at buybacks. Every employee should know how to spot imitations and what to do when they are found.

The First Line of Defense:

The Follett Marketplace is able to get in front of counterfeits by pinpointing specific ISBNs and sellers for inspection. First, our trained staff manually flags any suspicious items. Inventory then goes through a second counterfeit check at our warehouse, where books are graded using several individual counterfeit-related questions. If a book fails that inspection, it is sent to the publisher or destroyed.

Shipment Inspections:

Only work with distributors, like the Follett Marketplace, which can verify that they have measures in place to reduce instances of counterfeit textbooks in their warehouses and are committed to providing authentic materials such as EPEG-approved distributors. Trained personnel should inspect every shipment to make sure it’s clean before making it available for purchase, with particular attention paid to titles that are already known to have been counterfeited.

Inventory management systems that enable the tracking of the source of every textbook in inventory are useful to pinpoint where counterfeits came from, so distributors can rectify the situation or are taken off the list of approved providers. Publishers are eager to rid the marketplace of counterfeits and will inspect suspected counterfeits to verify if they are authentic or fake.


Buybacks can be an intense time when personnel must quickly determine the condition of used books while processing transactions. With the right training, it’s also possible to easily spot counterfeits.

If it’s clear that the student purchased a counterfeit book from your location, it’s best to accept the book. Then set the book aside and follow set procedures for counterfeits. If the book was purchased from another source, reject the buyback and tell the student that there is no value for that item in your system.

Follett Marketplace Best Practices for Identifying Counterfeit Textbooks

Sophisticated printing technologies make it possible to produce high-quality counterfeits. The Follett Marketplace employs a number of best practices when examining textbooks during inventory inspection and at buybacks to determine if they are authentic or fake.

All textbooks are constructed in a similar manner. Understanding what elements of textbooks to inspect is the best way to spot counterfeits. It’s useful to compare books to verified, legitimate copies of the titles from the publisher from the same print run. Some counterfeit books may only have one or two traits that
demonstrate their counterfeit nature, while others may have more.

Counterfeit Warning Signs:

Generally, the best way to identify a counterfeit is to compare the suspect book to a book known to have been purchased directly from the publisher. In cases where this isn’t possible, inspect the following components of the books:

  • Dimensions: Check the height, width and bulk. Is the book the same size or is one considerably taller or thicker than legitimate copies on hand? The trim size should be consistent, even between print runs.
  • Ink: Check the density and appearance of colors. Look for differences in color or appearance of text on the interior pages. Counterfeit books printed with cheaper inks may also have strong, unpleasant odors.
  • Images: Check for differences in photos, screens and tints. Photos might appear fuzzy or blurry. 
  • Alignment: Check for differences in page margins, print bleeds and proper centering of text within margins.
  • Paper: Check for differences in color, texture, coating and thickness. The same type of paper should be bound throughout the book.
  • Cover/Spine: Check the lamination, color and text. Does the lamination match? Are any of the images or text blurry or pixelated? Are the author’s name, title and publisher’s logo centered on the spine, or is the information skewed to the left or right? 
  • Headband: Check for the headband, which is the cloth that extends at the top or bottom of the spine. Is it too long or short? Is it made of a plastic zipper? Does the color of the headband match at the top and bottom of the spine?
  • Scoring: Check that hinge scoring on the cover, the indentation that enables the cover to fold over more easily, is present.
  • Adhesive: Check the color and distribution of the glue on the spine. The glue should be white and neatly dressed.
  • Binding: Check that the binding retains its tension and does not lay flat. Does the paper easily detach from the spine?
  • ISBN: Check to see if the ISBN on the back cover matches what is printed on the copyright page. Is the barcode or number blurry?

What to Do with Counterfeit Textbooks

If counterfeit books are discovered, it’s important to follow these steps:

  1. Segregate the fake books from incoming shipments, store inventory or buyback stock.
  2. Inspect the entire shipment for additional counterfeit books.
  3. Gather as much info as possible about the book(s), including ISBN, title, order number, date received, tracking number, total number of the title in shipment and reason for inspection.
  4. Contact the publisher’s representative and provide information gathered about the counterfeit book(s).
  5. Wait for the publisher’s instructions on what to do with the counterfeit textbooks.

Do Not:

  • Sell the Counterfeit Textbooks — You risk damaging your supplier reputation, are liable for counterfeit textbooks that you put in the market (even if done unknowingly) and do a disservice to students who are unable to sell back fake books.
  • Return the Counterfeit Textbooks to the Supplier — Counterfeit books must be returned to the publisher or destroyed. If counterfeit books are sent back to the supplier, there is the potential that they might be reintroduced into the ecosystem to be sold again instead of being removed or destroyed.

Working Together Proactively

Counterfeit textbooks are a significant problem for publishers, distributors, sellers and buyers. By joining forces, all players can considerably reduce the supply of fakes in the Follett Marketplace. The goal is to ensure that only authentic materials are available at points of purchase to support the health of all sellers’ bottom lines by providing buyers with legitimate textbooks.

Follett Marketplace Fights Counterfeits:

Follett takes the issue of counterfeit textbooks very seriously and employs a number of measures to ensure the validity of books in our inventory, including adherence to the best practices developed by the EPEG.

Ongoing audits of inventory show that the measures are working. Follett proactively seeks ways to be a good business partner and member of the educational learning materials community. This approach has been part of the company’s culture for more than 145 years and contributes to our leadership position in the market. Sellers who partner with Follett can order textbooks with added confidence that they are receiving clean inventory.

About Follett Marketplace

For over 145 years, campus bookstores have partnered with Follett to easily source, sell, rent and buy back textbooks at competitive prices. Follett leverages leading-edge technology to bring you Follett Marketplace, a specially designed platform that provides easy-to-use tools for procuring your specific textbook inventory by connecting you with thousands of buyers and sellers in the marketplace.

*“Publishers Win $35 Million in Counterfeit Textbook Suit,” Publishers Weekly, April 12, 2018.