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Coop Rebate Not Likely This Year: Text Discount Replaces Rebate

By Daniel C. Stevenson
Associate News Editor

The Harvard Cooperative Society is offering members a 10 percent discount on fall textbook purchases, but does not expect to provide the usual rebate on all purchases for the year, according to General Manager Alan Powell.

Students need to present their receipts at the location of purchase between Oct. 17-31 to receive the rebate.

The Coop announced this change in anticipation of a further drop from the 1.0 percent rebate last year. The 10 percent textbook refund was added last spring to offset the low 1.1 percent refund of 1992. The rebate reached as high as 10 percent in the late 1980s.

"The most significant thing we could do for students would be something in the area of textbook pricing," Powell said. Hopefully this fiscal year, which began July 1, will be better than last year, he said.

"We have not given up on the concept of the rebate," Powell said.

The Coop has about 120,000 active members, 25,000 of which are MIT and Harvard students; membership fees are $1 per year.

Non-student members will not benefit from the new rebate policy, although they do typically take advantage of coupons and member-only sales, Powell said. The Coop will likely develop an additional program for these members, he said.

Economy, competition hurt profits

The textbook retail industry is labor intensive and has a low profit margin, Powell said. Markups typically range from 20 to 25 percent, he said.

Overall Coop sales have dropped in the past few years, Powell said. The poor national and local economies contributed to the downturn, he said.

In addition, "competition is much much stronger than it has ever been," Powell said. For example, "The Coop used to be the biggest music store in town," but now other more specialized stores have opened, he said.

One of these businesses, Text Express, sells textbooks to Boston-area students, typically at a 13 to 15 percent discount off of the list price, according to co-founder Chris Long.

For example, Text Express sells Transport Phenomenon, used in the course Transport Phenomenon (10.302), for $67, compared to the Coop's $78, or $71.20 with the rebate.

Text Express distributed flyers on campus last week, but these had no bearing on the Coop's discount, Powell said. The discount was announced on Aug. 24, before the flyers for Text Express were distributed, he said.

Stores like the Coop "have an enormous markup on textbooks because they have a monopoly on it," said Jennifer Gilbert, co-founder of Text Express.

While Text Express does not carry all the books used in MIT courses, they have books for about 75 classes, Long said.

Text Express also offers free delivery and over-the-phone ordering, Long said.