Ingram’s VitalSource wants to acquire Verba to give students affordable access to textbooks

The college textbook industry has no shortage of startups, from ebook company RedShelf to big players like rental service Chegg all the way to Amazon itself. But a SF-based company called Verba, which has flown mostly under the radar since 2008, has weathered the slow change of the textbook industry.

VitalSource, the ed-tech arm of book distribution company Ingram is today announcing their intention to acquire Verba, which will remain an independent subsidiary and continue operating.

But what does stealthy Verba actually do?

Verba was started in 2008 to help students save money on college textbooks. Verba originally let users search their textbooks by course and compare prices in their own student bookstore to those on Amazon, Chegg, etc. Over time, Verba began to offer tools to university book stores to check competing prices on textbooks so that they could offer more effective pricing to students.

As of now, Verba serves more than 350 college bookstores.

Verba then introduced Collect, letting faculty members log in to the system and check on past textbooks for the courses they’re teaching and factor in those books’ affordability score as they plan their courses.

But it’s Verba’s most recent product, Connect, likely enticed Ingram’s VitalSource arm to write a check.


Connect is Verba’s first product dedicated to digital text books, letting students pay for an “Inclusive Access” account through their student account to get day-one access to digital textbooks for their courses.

VitalSource has shown increasing interest in the transition to digital textbooks, partnering with Cerego to add interactive content to the digital BookShelf platform. But the price of e-textbooks continues to be a hurdle for many students.

While e-textbook prices may be lower than the cost of a brand new textbook, many of these course materials drop in price as they are re-used, resold, etc. With the help of Verba’s existing price comparison tools, the Connect product allows faculty members to negotiate the price of e-textbooks with publishers and ultimately convert more sales.

This is a useful tool as universities transition to All Access course material models.

Publishers have been struggling of late to deal with the way technology has opened up access to course materials, whether through rental services or open source information on the web. All Access plans (sometimes called Inclusive Access, day-one access, or digital direct access) let universities charge students a course fee for digital access to materials on day-one.

Given the turmoil in the industry — Pearson said it saw an unprecedented decline last quarter — publishers are finding these Access plans much more attractive.

Meanwhile, Verba’s Connect finds itself in an excellent position to facilitate Inclusive Access programs for all parties, from the Administrative side to faculty members to publishers and students.

“Inclusive Access is the future of textbooks – first day digital at a low price – and this is how much both companies believe in making it happen,” said Verba CEO Ryan Petersen.

The terms of the deal between Ingram’s VitalSource and Verba were not disclosed, but here is what VitalSource COO Pep Carrera had to say about it:

We are excited about what the Verba team brings to the table in terms of people, ideas and technology. We plan to deepen our existing integration with Verba Connect, their inclusive access platform, to provide institutions and college stores more options and opportunities to help students and faculty. Students will save money, institutions will ensure students have learning materials on the first day of class, and stores will be at the center of the experience.

Verba raised a small seed round from family and friends and has since bootstrapped the company.