Harvard Coop Does Not Inflate Book Prices


Kudos on yet another piece of irresponsible journalism in regards to the Coop, this time in the form of Molly Hennessy-Fiske's "Crashing the Coop" (Feb. 1, 1997). As was evinced by my brief conversation with the author as she was researching the story, as well as observing her interactions with other interviewees, Miss Hennessy-Fiske's intentions were not to provide a fair account of bookselling at the Coop, but rather to push an agenda. I, in turn, would like to push mine.

Having sat on the Board of Directors of the Coop for over a year-and-a-half, I have seen up close the difficulties of running an academic bookstore, one of the largest of which is student perception.

While prices on certain books are indeed high, the mind-set of many students is that the Coop deliberately inflates them to make profits. This is incorrect in two ways. First, we sell all books at list price (see Books In Print, the industry bible, to confirm this).

Textbooks is not a money-making division for the Coop, an important fact that the author neglected to include in her diatribe. Secondly, there are no profits, per se, at the Coop. All profits derived from member sales (i.e. when you give your Coop number at the cash register) are returned to members in the form of a rebate at the end of each fiscal year. Unfortunately, the Coop has not returned a profit in recent years, only adding to student skepticism about the store.

Thus when Hennessy-Fiske asserts that she purchased her Weber book at Harvard Book Store for less money, she certainly could be speaking the truth.


Yet without a doubt, it was a different edition, another fact conveniently omitted from her article. She also did not mention the fact that other cheaper versions of the book in question are available at the Coop, as are more expensive versions at Harvard Book Store.

Finally, I take issue with Miss Hennessy-Fiske's careless journalism. I must admit I noticed her researching her story only because a fellow student was chewing her out for her leading approach to her interviews. In overhearing her other interviews, it became clear that she was searching solely for quotes that supported her position. Hence her brusque dismissal of the one quoted student who wanted to (gasp!) make an informed statement rather than spew aimless vitriol.

Shoddy journalistic tactics and half-truths aside, it seems Hennessy-Fiske would like what we all would like: an improved Coop, more attentive to students' needs.

So as the Coop enters a new phase of growth and change in the coming months, I encourage her, and everyone else, to take a fresh perspective on the Coop. Go in with an open mind; you just might be surprised. --Jon D. Caramanica '97, member of the board of directors, Harvard Cooperative Society