Back-to-school time is always fun around here. We pretty much work at a frenzied pace, doing absolutely anything and everything that we can to connect the most students and parents with the most money-saving books in all sorts of formats and editions. It’s long days and all hands on deck for this seasonal rollercoaster called college rush.

One of the fun parts of my job (and an increasingly large one as the subject of textbook costs gets more attention every fall) is interacting with the media, business contacts, and customers. Often it’s through these interactions and relationships that I learn how different types of users experience our website and the online textbook-buying process in general. These grassroots interactions, particularly during rush, are essential to understanding firsthand the user experience and using the information that allows us to constantly improve our service.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of conversing with Donna Gundle-Krieg, A National Education Examiner for located in Detroit, MI. In covering her education beat, Donna, who was familiar with our site and had recommended it in one of her prior articles, had come across our announcement about Price Tweetbacks. In the course of our conversation, Donna told me about her experiences with buying textbooks over the years. We spoke in particular about a frustration she had encountered this summer when buying textbooks for her daughter. And now that rush has settled down a bit, I wanted to share it with you as Donna is not alone in her frustration and she and I both want to pass on, to the benefit of others, what we learned and the outcome.

In short, Donna searched for a book online via the best method: she searched by ISBN. When the book arrived, she noticed that the book had the right title and author, but it was marked “Teacher’s Edition” and the ISBN was different than the one she ordered. This was not the book Donna and her daughter needed, but when they tried to return it to the seller from whom they purchased it, they were told by that seller that the book, while clearly not the correct ISBN, was identified as the teacher’s edition in the Seller Comments found when the user mouses over the Details box on our site. went to bat for Donna and made sure that the seller refunded her and that she and her daughter got the right book. But what happened? I mean, operating a search engine and price-comparison tool, don’t we tell students that using the ISBN is the best way to locate the books they need? Well, yes, and that’s absolutely true; it’s the golden info source of all data and identification in the book business! Unfortunately, some merchants assume that variations of a title (teachers’ editions, annotated editions, international books, etc.) are all the same and list them all under a primary ISBN. The seller will then add a brief note in the Seller Comments portion of the Details stating what is different.

Let me state clearly that at, we do not encourage or condone this practice. It makes things confusing for students and difficult for us, and it’s just plain misleading for everyone. Not cool. So we went into a huddle and thought up a solution for ISBN-driven searches where some sellers are working around the ISBN (Did I mention that this isn’t cool? Right.) So, we updated our filters to move all these types of potentially problematic books (the teachers’ editions, annotated editions, international books, etc.) into our International Editions category as we work on a better way to display the information. We also continually run quality-assurance checks on the merchants who appear in our search results in order to make sure that they comply with our policies and represent their products honestly.

And we rely on you, students and parents, to let us know when you encounter something that seems like it should be different or could be better. In the meantime — actually, always and with everything that concerns your money and how you spend it — we recommend that before making a purchase, you read the Details and Comments on each item. Isn’t getting what you want, what you need, and what you pay for worth taking that extra few seconds to make sure that everything gels? We think so.

Should you run into a snag and not get the book you ordered, take a moment to check your confirmation emails from the merchant to make sure that you placed your order correctly and that what shipped was a different item. If so, contact the merchant who fulfilled your order directly. In almost every case, the seller should take back the book with a full refund (and no restocking fee) if the error was theirs (i.e., they sell and ship you a book that is different from what you ordered and what they represented). If the individual seller is not cooperating to rectify the situation and you purchased the item via a larger website marketplace such as Amazon or Alibris, contact the website directly and explain what happened so that they can help you get what you need and make sure that the seller meets his/her responsibilities. And of course, if you’re like Donna and you run into a data issue or have a suggestion about how to curtail confusion on the website, please contact us.