« August 2007 | Main | October 2007 »

Even at Harvard, Some People Don't Understand Business

I was dumbfounded at this article at the Harvard Crimson, describing how a student was asked to leave the Harvard Coop Bookstore when he was seen scribbling down notes to compare prices for some textbooks online. The book store asked this customer to leave under the policy that prices were their intellectual policy and should not be used for any other purpose than, frankly, to pay them. More likely, it is the book store feebly trying to prevent competitors from giving students the opportunity to not pay through the nose for textbooks.

The Harvard Business School currently has almost a thousand students matriculating through its rigorous courses of economics and business. Surely they could spare one or two of these go-getters to wander over to the Coop with a whiteboard and explain to these people the basic economic principle that a monopoly is no longer a monopoly if said monopoly has competitors (thus rendering the whole "mono" thing moot- maybe we should find a Classics major to run over to the Coop as well). Then we should let a few undergrads in need of a group project topic come up with a business plan that is more sustainable than "kicking customers out the door for daring to be educated consumers". They certainly couldn't do any worse. While we're at it, perhaps one of the budding ivy-league lawyers can spare six minutes (non-billable) to explain to the Coop that ISBN and prices are not intellectual property.   

There are dozens of places to find cheaper new and used textbooks online, and that's in addition to Crimsonreading.org, which is (obviously) dedicated to Harvardlings. WishRadar has it's hooks into Amazon and Half.com, both of which have entire sections to cover the used textbook market.

What did the Harvard Coop accomplish by kicking out one of their customers? Do they expect to stem the tide of students shopping online? Or do they honestly believe that they have a right to overcharge their customers just because they get the list of books directly from the professors?

There is no way to avoid the fact that the market will determine what prices should be. If the Coop hopes to turn a profit by selling textbooks to Harvard students that haven't figured that out yet, then I wish them luck.

« August 2007 | Main | October 2007 »