The Undergraduate Council is launching its re-tooled online textbook shopping service today, hopeful that the enhanced site will boost its campus presence and help supplement its annual budget shortfall.
The council's "UC Books" site-- www.fas.harvard.edu/~ucbooks-- searches online book retailers for the lowest prices on Harvard textbooks.
After a summer overhaul, the site will offer an expanded offering of course reading lists and now boasts a partnership with the Harvard Coop.
The refinements come largely as a result of the work of Student Affairs Committee Vice Chair Paul A. Gusmorino III '02.
Over the summer, Gusmorino and other council members, through the College's Committee on Undergraduate Education, sent letters to all members of the Faculty explaining UC Books and requesting reading lists.
Those letters, plus follow-up telephone calls to Faculty members have allowed the site to offer reading lists from more than 100 of the largest courses on campus. In the past, the site featured books from a handful of courses in select concentrations.
Under the council's newly-formed relationship with the Coop, UC Books will set the Coop's used book price as the benchmark against which students can compare prices from other book websites.
The Coop's used books typically cost 25 percent less than new books.
Gusmorino said that since the Coop does not charge shipping and handling, its prices may be very competitive with online booksellers.
The council also has revised its list of vendors, dropping A-1 Books and adding the Harvard Bookstore and Barnes and Noble's online used book site.
The moderate popularity of last spring's version of the council's website--which drew 50,000 non-unique Internet hits--has led council leaders to express hope that the updated site will not only be popular with students, but also provide the council with well-needed funds.
The council earns a commission on any orders that are placed through the site. Last year's commissions, which totaled several hundred dollars, were dedicated to the council's student grant fund, Gusmorino said.
The council's commission on each sale varies from nothing on some books to up to 12 percent for certain sales on amazon.com.
Gusmorino said he expected this year's site to generate about $500 in commissions.
Council President Fentrice D. Driskell '01 said that although the program was not part of her campaign platform, she views the site as crucial to the council's mission.
"We're always trying to make students' lives easier," Driskell said. "It's a great revenue generator."
The council will celebrate the launch of its website today by handing out bagels and snacks in front of the Science Center between classes.