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Old 09-20-2007, 06:43 AM   #1
Alexander Turcic
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Harvard bookstore: Book prices are ours!

Caution: Writing down book prices might infringe intellectual property and get you thrown out of bookstores. No kidding, as it happened at the Harvard Coop bookstore.

Quote:
Jarret A. Zafran '09 said he was asked to leave the Coop after writing down the prices of six books required for a junior Social Studies tutorial he hopes to take.

"I'm a junior and every semester I do the same thing. I go and look up the author and the cost and order the ones that are cheaper online and then go back to the Coop to get the rest," Zafran said.

"I'm not a rival bookstore, I'm a student with an I.D.," he added.

Coop President Jerry P. Murphy '73 said that while there is no Coop policy against individual students copying down book information, "we discourage people who are taking down a lot of notes."
Read the full story at The Harvard Crimson.

[via Techdirt via BoingBoing]
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Old 09-20-2007, 09:35 AM   #2
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Well, after all, it's Harvard. Not known as the most forward-thinking of institutions...
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Old 09-20-2007, 09:47 AM   #3
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I do think, however, that it's a rather despicable practise to go and browse through books in a "physical" book store, and then go away and order the same books online because they are cheaper. Of course they are cheaper online - the seller doesn't have the expense of running that expensive store!

If many people do that, the inevitable consequence will be the demise of book stores - especially the small independents who can't possibly match the prices offered by Amazon, etc.
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Old 09-20-2007, 09:58 AM   #4
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The story did suggest that some books were cheaper at the coop, and that he would buy those. Otherwise, why go at all... get 'em all online.

I'm not opposed to shopping for the lowest price, and buying from that source. If the bookstore had its prices online, it would be the same as shopping between Amazon and Barnes and Noble online, and buying from the cheapest.

I have more of an issue with shopping at a store that allows you to see, try, and compare a product, taking advantage of salespeople to help you... and then buying online. There's rarely a need for that kind of shopping with books.

Whether they like it or not, even Harvard has to compete with the marketplace, and that includes online sources. If they deal with that by throwing out people who are aware of other places to buy their books, how long do you think they'll stay in business? How long would you want them to stay in business?
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Old 09-20-2007, 09:59 AM   #5
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If Harvard University would lower their tuition, then that sort of thing would not need to happen.
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Old 09-20-2007, 11:23 AM   #6
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HarryT, I wouldn't waste any tears on the Harvard Coop. Save it for regular bookstores. This is the textbook market we're talking about-- if you don't check prices and shop around, you can easily end up spending hundreds of dollars more per semester.
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Old 09-20-2007, 12:23 PM   #7
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First, this is the Harvard Coop -- a cooperative of current and former students and instructors -- not Harvard University. Each year you receive a rebate check based on how much you spent. Last I checked membership was a few dollars per year. For many years there were no rebate checks. The main store is in Harvard Square and the rent alone is astounding.
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Old 09-20-2007, 12:49 PM   #8
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i wont shed any tears for people in the text book market. its ridiculous how they make superficial changes and release new "editions" every other semester just to sell new books. on top of that schools get what is essentially a kickback for using these books in classes. i dont feel bad at all for returning text books i bought at my school's brick and mortar books store when i found a MUCH better deal on amazon.com. i saved what was close to a weeks worth of tuition for 2 classes and i got NEW books rather than USED.
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Old 09-20-2007, 12:55 PM   #9
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As a textbook author myself (I've written a couple of physics textbooks) perhaps my views in this area are a little "coloured" by self-interest .

The main difference between textbooks and mass-market fiction is the size of print runs, and that's what makes them expensive. Very often only 2000 copies of a textbook might be printed, which would be a ludicrously small print run by fiction standards. That's why the unit costs are high, and textbooks are expensive.

Believe me, you aren't ever going to meet a wealthy textbook author .
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Old 09-20-2007, 12:58 PM   #10
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Old 09-20-2007, 01:03 PM   #11
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The real problem is they claim the ISBN as their IP.
That position has several problems. The ISBN cannot be property of the shop. It is printed on the book by the publisher and is part of the book. Apart from that writing down the ISBN is definitely fair use.
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Old 09-20-2007, 02:34 PM   #12
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To chime in as a former employee of a text-book shop, whose boss was pretty open about explaining how things worked:

As HarryT mentioned, part of the problem is the small print runs, I'd combine that with a captive market demographic.

In Texas (I don't know about other states), markup on new textbooks is limited by law to 35% (we only did 30% -- which about covered the cost of paying we peons to unpack them, price them, and put them on the shelves) -- 'regular' books are 40% for comparison.

The only ones who really make much money on new textbooks are the publishers -- who, incidentally, are responsible for the frequent, barely changed new editions: once a certain population of used books gets out into the wild, folks stop buying the new ones altogether, so they adjust it slightly, and release a new one.

The real money for textbook stores are the used books. Think about it, they buy it for 50% and re-sell it for 75% -- a 50% markup. And in a lot of cases they don't even have to put on a new price tag, just stick it back on the shelf, and off you go.

Oddly enough, the student population and the textbook sellers both love used books for exactly the opposite reasons: the sellers because they make more off them, and the buyers because they pay less for them.
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Old 09-20-2007, 07:49 PM   #13
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The way around it is simple: Harvard lists class syllabi on their website. Get the book list from the syllabi and do your web research ahead of time for the books. Then walk into the bookstore with your book list and the lowest price you've found so far. Books that are lower, buy 'em.

Every school bookstore in the universe (or the equivalent) prefer you to buy all your books from them. (And it helps them pre-order, of course...) But there ain't no law that I'm aware of restricting your right to buy them from wherever you want to.
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Old 09-21-2007, 07:51 AM   #14
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I don't get how people would have an issue with comparing prices. When you go shopping and look in several stores, price is usually one of the things being compared (not always the only factor, but with textbooks it's pretty important), so what is the problem with comparing the price from a store and the price online?

Shops provice a service, and have the advantage that their products are right there in front of the customers. Could you imagine an online store owner saying "I find it despicable that these stores would have books sitting right there for people to conveniently browse and buy immediately. Of course it's quicker to buy from the store, the book's right there!"

If it's all about saving money though, there are other things to take into consideration. Firstly, the time and possibly any travel expenses involved in going to a physical store simply to check their prices, and secondly, whether it's worthwhile waiting for a postal delivery of a book that could otherwise be bought right there and then. For the average paperback novel I would imagine the savings wouldn't be worth the time and effort.
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Old 09-21-2007, 01:28 PM   #15
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You have to look at it from their perspective though, donovanh, if you come in and look at their prices and buy elsewhere, they're providing a service, which costs them, and realizing no revenue from it -- if that happens too much, they go out of business. In short, they're there to sell the books, not to provide a price comparison service.

I'm not saying I agree with what they did in asking the fellow to leave, just that I can see their point.
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