Book Costs Send Students Online

Student-run websites compare book prices and offer dicounts

ALL COOPED UP
Katherine M. Gray

David M. Butterfield ’07 figured that yesterday’s trip to the Coop would be the least expensive of his college career—after all, he wasn’t purchasing any coursepacks.

The total? $287.50.

“It’s a real buzzkill,” he said. “You’re excited about your class, then your buzz is killed when you have to drop $170 for a textbook.”

The required textbook for Chemistry 17, “Principles of Organic Chemistry,” costs $117 at the Coop, not including the book’s solution manual. That’s another $51.50.

High textbook prices have become a staple of college life, but Harvard students are looking for alternatives. The recently-launched www.crimsonreading.com allows students to compare book prices offered by a variety of sources. Crimsonstuff.com allows students to sell and buy books from other Harvard students.

The website, created by Maya E. Frommer ’07 and Kevin M. Bombino ’08 two years ago, has 1,599 items listed and has sold 122 items so far this semester.

“Maybe someone who doesn’t mind [a book that is] highlighted can get 80 or 90 percent off the Coop price,” Frommer said. “If they can’t return a coursepack [to the Coop], the person who buys it could get 20 percent off.”

For Portia K. Botchway ’10, the website has been a breath of fresh air.

“I only bought one course’s book from the Coop this semester,” she said. “All of the other books, I’m buying from upperclassmen on crimsonstuff.com. My books should have cost over $500, but I am only paying about $280.”

Charles J. Redlick ’09 has taken five trips to the Coop, and he says they might not be his last.

“As I sort of figure out the classes I’m taking, I’ll buy the books,” he said. “I’ve been here a lot.”

Recommended books aren’t always just a recommendation. In the eyes of some students, they’re just as necessary as required reading, driving up their lengthy bills.

“Some of these are recommended books,” said Kate A.E. Rocker, a first-year student at the Graduate School of Education. “I appreciate that they put these out, but I still feel that I have to buy them.”

The Coop’s used books may not provide the savings penny pinchers are seeking. A new coursepack for Literature and Arts C-42, “Constructing the Samurai,” costs $113, but the used version is a whopping $85.

“The only physical store for books is the Coop,” said Redlick.

Kurt Mahnke, the Coop’s assistant manager of the textbook department, declined to comment.