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Profs Use Quantum As Coop Alternative

By Thomas R. Karlo
Executive Editor

This semester, a number of professors, primarily from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, sent students to buy textbooks at Quantum Books, rather than The Coop, MIT's traditional textbook supplier.

Lower prices were cited as a major reason for the departure from convention, which forced some students to buy books from two different stores.

Quantum, located two blocks from The Coop, carries mainly technical books related to computing and electronics.

"We figured out that Quantum was less expensive," said Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering M. Frans Kaashoek, who teaches Computer System Engineering (6.033).

Kaashoek estimates students saved about 15 percentoff The Coop's price by purchasing the text at Quantum. So far, the switch has not caused any problems. "Ihaven't heard any complaints from the students,"Kaashoek said.

Quantum offers ease and economy

Ordering the books was easier as well, said Neena Lyall, the 6.033 course secretary. "It was less of a hassle because they take orders over the phone, whereas with The Coop you have to fill out quite a few forms."

Quantum's proximity made it an ideal alternative to The Coop. "They're quite close," Lyall said. Lyall also found that Quantum's customer service was more responsive.

Another large course that chose to have its students buy their texts at Quantum was Computation Structures (6.004), taught by Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science George W. Pratt '49. Quantum was chosen"because The Coop was going to sell the text for $70 and Quantum was willing to sell them for $58,"said Lisa Kozdiy, the course secretary.

About nine courses ordered their books through Quantum, with a total of over 500 books, said Sheila Cecchi, an assistant store manager at Quantum. This number remains small compared to the overall number of orders placed by MIT classes.

Still, "it's the first term there's been a significant number of classes doing this," Cecchi said.

"We have a reason to stay competitive which The Coop might not have,"Cecchi said. "They know the book orders are going to come in. For us, it's Wow! Here's new business.'"

MIT Press sells textbooks

Another alternative to The Coop for purchasing texts is the MITPress Bookstore, located across the street from The Coop. The store carries books published by the press as well as many books written by authors associated with the Institute. This includes a number of textbooks used in courses at the Institute.

The required texts for 6.004 and Introduction to Algorithms (6.046) were available at MIT Press.

Although their primary role as a publisher prevents the store from actively soliciting orders, "there are individual instructors that ask us every semester to order books for them," said Jeremy Grainger, the store manager. "We don't aggressively pursue text sales."

The store also offers coupons for a 20 percent discount on books in the back of the campus phone directory.

Grainger gave several reasons why students sometimes choose to buy books at the MIT Press. "We're smaller, we're friendlier, sometimes they save money, and we have a special section of hurt books."

The Coop unaware of competition

So far, management at The Coop is not concerned about the move of a few classes to alternative suppliers. "We're not aware that's going on," said Allan Powell, The Coop's general manager. "There have always been people that shopped for alternatives."

The Coop's agreement with MIT concerning textbook sales is not exclusive, Powell said. Still, "we are considered the bookstore for MIT,"he said. "We put a lot of time and effort into contacting professors and getting information about what is required and suggested reading for courses. We consider this a top priority and our major mission."

The Coop's pricing is competitive without question, Powell said. "Our prices are driven by the costs charged by the manufacturers. If someone brings a pricing issue to us, we look into the validity of the claim. If something's wrong, we fix it."

The Coop does hold some advantages over Quantum. "Quantum's return policy is not as generous as The Coop's; as a a student, that's important to me,"said John Rusnak Jr. '97.

The move away from The Coop also caused confusion. "I guess I'm a little confused now as to what the MITstore for textbooks is," Rusnak said.Rusnak intends to go along with the recommendations of professors. "If they think Ishould buy my book somewhere [besides The Coop], that's okay with me."