It's a range war on the Xerox Strip-an all-cut fight for the right to reproduce, automation's answer to the gas war.
Since July, Cambridge's four leading Xerox copiers have lined up along a two-block stretch of Mass Ave. servicing the copying needs of undergraduates and faculty members.
Last Saturday, their quiet competitiveness was shattered when James M. Jacobs, proprietor of J. August clothing store and owner of Copy Cat xeroxing dropped his prices from a 5-3-2 cent combination to 3-2-1.
Gnomon Copy, which moved into the old Felix's newsstand next door, met the challenge with a 3-2-1 pricing while publicly charging that Jacobs cut prices simply to drive the competition out of the Square.
Signs and Threats
In a sign posted on its front window, Gnomon claims that the proprietor of J. August threatened to drop prices last month unless the other companies met his slightly higher extra copies price. "Now Jacobs has carried out his threat," according to the sign.
The sign urges copiers to boycott J. August for any of the other copiers in the Square. "You may pay a higher price today," it reads, "but you will insure a viable competitive situation for the future."
Piqued at Gnomon's posted response, Jacobs added some dressing to his price cuts two days ago with the "guarantee" that the lower prices will remain until May 31, 1971-through the peak season for theses.
"This cracks me up. We've got the lowest prices in the United States and they lower them," Bob Chilton, owner of CopyQuick copiers, said yesterday. Though CopyQuik has stayed with its 5-3-2 pricing, it will reconsider its prices today.
Richard Cauldon, owner of the fourth copier, Reproductions, Inc. would only comment that the price war is "suicidal."
Yesterday, Jacobs could hardly conceal his delight at the furor his price cuts have caused. "We should be given a medal for giving the students a break," he said, "If someone wants to be a damn fool and rent a store with high overhead and all kinds of administrative costs, let him try. We're not here for philanthropy. We can make money at 3-2-1. We can make money at 21/2 cents a copy."
He added that his prices for the last two years have been "too high, but we finally became convinced that our arithmetic was wrong."
It's unclear how long the other xeroxing companies can hold out at prices which everyone but Jacobs finds unfeasible. "It's so close that bookkeeping can offset things one way or another," John Sytek, owner of Gnomon Copy, said. "How long we're prepared to go is up in the air. It will have to be dictated week by week by the situation in the Square."