I was disappointed to read a recent Crimson editorial staff article, “The COOP- a Cooperative?”, mostly because of the mistakes in reporting and complete lack of knowledge about cooperatives in general and the COOP in particular. I would like to address these comments in the article and set the record straight.
First and foremost, the article is confusing a business model and a corporate structure. The COOP is and has always been a Massachusetts’s cooperative corporation. As with any cooperative, the COOP is owned by its members. A change in the business model does not change our governance structure only how the business operates. The statement “no longer grants those who pay the $1 membership fee ownership in the company” is not true.
Secondly, the COOP’s mission statement focuses on being competitive, that doesn’t mean necessarily being the lowest price available. We offer students many options in course materials at different price points (new, used, digital, rental) and a bundle of value (price, assortment, availability, right edition, convenience). Our mission also states that the COOP should make a profit in order pay its members a rebate for their patronage and support any capital needs of the business. The article states that the COOP “must find a way to reclaim its mission by providing books at competitive prices”, but the COOP doesn’t need to reclaim its mission, it never lost it.
Furthermore, the COOP does reflect the definition of a cooperative as members are the owners and a large percentage of members patronize the stores. A cooperative is in fact one of the oldest loyalty programs in existence. A Cooperative is only successful if its members come together and support the store by shopping there. The COOP doesn’t “promise an 8-10 percent rebate for all purchases made there”. As with any cooperative, The COOP only promises to share in the profits generated by member business and that amount is based on the profits at the end of the year which may vary depending on how well the store has done and how strong its member’s support has been.
And finally, Harvard College does not “allow the COOP to sell required course books all in one place”. The COOP chooses to support the educational mission of the College by selling required course materials as part of its mission to student members. For the almost 130 years of its existence, the COOP has in fact allowed Harvard to not have to use resources to support a store and take their focus off what they do best- educate students.
There is no competitive advantage afforded the COOP. In fact, the COOP supports the University further by functioning as the aggregator of the book list and by posting it on its website in a timely manner so that students will know what is adopted for classes and have the info to shop wherever they want, not just at the COOP.
The COOP will continue to focus on its mission as a cooperative and, as it has done for all of its existence, will adjust the business model as needed to be relevant to the needs of its current membership.
Jeremiah P. Murphy, Jr. ‘73
President, Harvard Cooperative Society