Paying for Answers? Chegg’s Paywalls and Content Restrictions

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Chegg. The very mention of this service may inspire a visceral anger or frustration from any student who found themselves desperately trying to finish an assignment on time or to understand an under-explained concept the night before an exam. Chegg has become synonymous with paywalls and content restrictions and has developed a business model based on student necessity and providing answers and assignment answers as well as Q&A from experts. Chegg started out as a textbook/Craigslist-like goods-selling service started by Iowa State University student Josh Carlson but switched to renting out textbooks to colleges. In 2012, Chegg shifted online and began the process of evolving into the education information giant it has become today. Throughout its history, Chegg has included its own paywalls, subscription services, and content restrictions in order to drive and evolve business as well as to restructure in order to appeal to wider or different audiences who might become customers of the service.

Screenshot of the “Create an account” page on Chegg. The Chegg Study subscription is $14.95

            Chegg’s founding in 2000 was as a sort of Craigslist for Iowa State University students. This website was not restricted to ISU students but by its lack of scope, its effective clientele was ISU. As this business grew, Josh Carlson, its founder, sought to expand and streamline it to a wider-access site for textbook rental and purchase. After Carlson left, the remaining executives made this switch to the new business model. As business began to pick up, Chegg began making acquisitions and renting and selling to universities, accelerating its growth and prevalence in the education sphere. In 2012, Chegg made the decision to shift online. This was also an indicator of the shift from an old type of business to a new type of business, and from an older, less restrictive business model to a newer, more restrictive model. Beginning in 2012 and 2013, Chegg evolved into an online student services and information marketplace. The website became a place where textbook solutions would be transcribed and posted for subscribers only, and subscribers would need to pay a monthly fee in order to access these solutions as well as to ask questions to hired experts and Chegg-certified tutors. This led to an explosion in the use and utility of Chegg, with thousands of textbook answers being incorporated into the site. The subscription plans are tiered, with the Chegg Study account (a relatively expansive access pass to the site) costing $14.95 in 2020 and the Chegg study pack costing $19.95, which unlocked more use for the website, which includes plagiarism checks and walkthroughs, among other things.

DMCA protection guarantees digital copyright security (Source: Copyright Alliance)

            Chegg’s placement of restrictions on content are based on pure business; Chegg is a publicly traded company on the NYSE and, despite its ostensible “students first” policy, has an actual objective of delivering profits to shareholders and expanding company worth and value. And, due to the high number of hits on Chegg’s website and the wide availability of answers on Chegg, it almost always comes up in the top quarter of the first page of results on search engines, which increases the chances of potential consumers being interested in using it. The restrictions placed on content are another example of Chegg’s business perspective. These restrictions are all tied in as all of them fall under the umbrella of paywall restrictions: you need to pay to access and the more you pay, the more benefits you get. These restrictions placed on the website content are in order to ensure that users cannot simply get instant gratification, close out the window, then repeat the process, as it ruins the business model. That’s not to say that thee have not been attempts to undermine the Chegg blocking of content and answers on the website; in fact, numerous attempts by numerous people, websites, services, and institutions have all been effected in recent years. Services such as and were used to unblock Chegg to bypass content restrictions and allow for free and unrestricted access to answers (if CAPTCHA authentication was verified). As these websites were relatively fringe at first, Chegg did not have knowledge of them until the 2018-19. As a result of this discovery Chegg made a complaint and these sites were hit with Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests. Chegg, as a result, was able to continue its subscription system and paywalls without anything cutting into its profits and information. Chegg, however, has also come under fire for its actions regarding facilitating academic dishonesty at some universities (as a result of its restricted content leading some students to make accounts and post exams and assignments) and has been forced to cooperate with universities to attempt to end this string of academic dishonesty. These restrictions could be seen as having both beneficial and malevolent results. They are beneficial as students unable to pay for them might seek alternative methods of learning and attempt to succeed, and because the questions and answers by experts and book solutions allow students to gain new perspectives and more knowledge about areas of struggling academically. However, they are also quite malevolent as they send a message that a student can pay their way through classes with Chegg as a tool, make education profit-based rather than student-based or merit based (ironically defeating its own mission statement), encourage cheating if results cannot be found and adequate resources are not readily available, and discourage students from trying with readily available answers in front of them.


Featured Image Source: Chegg

Image 1 Source: Screenshot of Chegg “make an account to access answer” page

Image 2 Source: Copyright alliance

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