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Coup Enterprises Plans to Undercut The Coop

By Jennifer Chung
Staff reporter

A new competitor has joined the ranks of local textbook providers to MIT students.

The Coup Enterprises, a company set up by Winston Wei '00 and Theodore Pun '00, has recently begun distributing flyers on campus and sending mail to various mailing lists directing them to its online store at http:// www.musearts.com/guests/coup.

On the site, students can browse through a list of classes and the books needed for them. Since the company has just formed, however, it has only ordered books for a few courses, particularly those with the largest enrollments.

"We plan to do around 60 to 70 courses for the next semester," The Coup said in a statement. "Hopefully by the fall of 1999, we will be able to expand our business to Harvard."

TheCoup had already received about fifty orders for books by the first day of business, which fell on Registration Day. It claims to sell books at 10-20% off the price books are sold at the Harvard Cooperative Society. It can do so "because of lower operating expenses and a lower profit margin."

Other companies challenge Coop

In the past, other Boston-area companies have attempted to cash in on the textbook-selling industry.

The now-defunct TextExpress used to sell textbooks to college students throughout the Boston community via phone, delivering within 1-2 days. Like The Coup, TextExpress did not have textbooks for allMIT courses, but the prices of the textbooks it did carry were somewhat lower than those of the Coop.

Text Express officials have commented in the past that the company was able to cut costs by delivering the books to students instead of maintaining a normal retail store as theCoop does. TheCoup seems to work on the same principal, promising to deliver books to on-campus residences within 1-2 days.

Purchasing a textbook directly from the publisher can be cheaper still. For example, Introduction to Algorithms, the textbook for the class Introduction to Algorithms (6.046), sells for $80 at The Coop, $72 at The Coup, and $63 from MIT Press through its bookstore.

Coop has not been affected

"We have felt no residual effects from other companies,"said Robert Devine, General Manager of the Coop at Kendall. In fact, the Coop may even have seen an increase in the number of units purchased by students over the past few years.

Devine said that the seemingly high prices for textbooks are a result of the publisher mark-up. "It seems as if technical and business books are more expensive... maybe because of competition for specific textbook authors," he said.

Art Sotak, a regional editor for publishing stalwart Irwin McGraw-Hill, cited royalties, production expenses, marketing, and editing as factors that contribute to textbook's high prices, a feature not shared by trade books, such as those found on theNew York Times Bestseller's list.

"It costs a lot more to produce a text book,"Sotak said. "There are different formulas involved - different editing and design. If you use a specific graph or chart, you need to secure the royalties."

"With editing, as many as twenty people can review the textbook," Sotak added.

Technology books in particular begin with a higher cost of production, Sotak explained. Graphics requiring multiple colors still involve a great deal of hand-labor. Higher quality paper is needed to accommodate the multiple runs necessary to print colors, he said.