Coop Gets Textbook CompetitionBy Katharyn Jeffreys
As the term begins, students are once again faced with the chore of purchasing textbooks. In the past year the Coop has seen strong competition from online bookstores who have assaulted students with gimmicks to bring to light the lower prices available online. However, the Coop also several new foes in the market which are not highly advertised, several of which were created by MIT graduates.
MITswap.com <http://mitswap.com> was created by Marc Rosen ’02 as “a place where students could list their own used books, and then browse the listings of other used books.” The page is at a dot com address due to the MIT rules of use which have prohibited such ventures in the past.
MITswap provides books at the lowest cost of any online source, but does not yet have a very wide selection. Many online bookstores use the convenience of delivery to students’ doors as a selling point, a feature not available at MITswap. Rather, students trading books must arrange to meet and exchange cash for books. This is made easier by links providing information found when fingering someone on Athena.
Students can choose to buy a book based on condition, cost, and location, all of which are displayed on the site. Another benefit to the site is that it is organized by course number.
Rosen, who is not profiting from the site, has said that he has “lost about $500 so far on domain names, web hosting, database servers, and the like. But I don’t care. I will save more than $500 bucks on books in my remaining two and a half years here.”
Big name bookstores offer low prices
When MITswap fails to provide a low cost match, Bigwords.com might be a good alternative. The site is rare among online booksellers because of its buyback program which allows students to buy and sell used textbooks with the website serving as the middleman. Unlike MITswap however, Bigwords.com is a for-profit company and buys low and sells high. Prices are comparable to The Coop, and availability is limited.
In addition to used books, Bigwords.com sells new books at low prices. It is able to do both, according to John Bates, an executive at Bigwords.com, because “we don’t have a bunch of real world bookstores to worry about.” The company buys from several distributors. Companies such as ebooks.com, which is run by Barnes and Noble, and VarsityBooks.com, which has an exclusive agreement with book distributor Baker and Taylor, are somewhat restricted in their ability to expand availability and keep prices low.
Several price comparison web sites have been established. One, created by a group of MIT and Harvard alums and located at <http://limespot.com> is organized by courses and allows students to compare book prices from five online bookstores, taking into account shipping costs and availability, which vary among sellers.
In the fall The Coop introduced a price matching program which allowed students to bring a printout of an internet offer, including the price, ISBN, and guarantee that the book was in stock and ready to ship. In addition The Coop offers personal service and convenient returns. They are also available online at <http://thecoop.com>