A Textbook Case of Missing the Point

1187802974The old dictum about how the less important something is, the more heated people get about it, seems especially apt today. The Globe has a story on B1 about a low-level insurrection staged by a group of Harvard kids against the Coop bookstore over soaring textbook prices.

“Harvard students say they want the Coop to hand over the list it creates each year of books required for Harvard courses,” the story says, “so they can be listed on crimsonreading.org, a student-run online bookstore that offers alternative sources for texts, often at lower prices.”

Hmm. It seems at least a little unfair to expect the Coop to hand over proprietary information to a competitor because of a nasty trend affecting students across the country, and the head of the Coop says so:

Coop president Jeremiah Murphy said [his] … staff spends considerable time compiling the list, collecting the names of books required by professors and sorting books by course, he said.

“The issue is, why should we give it out to anybody, particularly the competitors?” Murphy said.

“The Coop has never professed to be the cheapest price in town,” he added. “If you spend enough time on the Web, you will find something cheaper somewhere. We take the point of view that the books are all here, and we offer a fair price for it.”

That’s reasonable enough. But what strikes me as pretty unreasonable is that people are getting so riled up about textbook prices to begin with. Yes they’ve risen exponentially in price over the last decade, and now cost kids between $700 and $1,000 a year. But according to US News, tuition and room and board at Harvard costs over $44,000 a year.

So, kids, if you’re going to stage a protest against someone for screwing you over, stage it against your own school. That’s where the real robber barons are.