Commentary: Buyer beware: book buying a pitfall for finances

Every business has its competition. It is the American way. Our economy is dependent on it. The United States government has gone so far as to declare monopolies illegal. They do this to offer equal opportunity to business owners and to create competitive regional prices on products and services. But for some reason the Northeastern bookstore doesn’t follow this system. Let me tell you why.

I purchased my books for this semester from the school bookstore for a mind-boggling total price of $532. Afterward, I went and did some online research. Many students find out what textbooks they need for their upcoming set of classes and they purchase these books online at Web sites such as <a href="http://www.half.com“>www.half.com and Amazon. By doing this, they save hundreds of dollars off the steep prices of the Northeastern bookstore. If I had purchased these books on www.half.com, I would have saved a whopping $205.

I would have used this option if I had known it existed before I made my trip to the bookstore. However, these sites are all for naught if the professor in question decides to use another type of text – the coursepack. Whenever I buy one of these from Gnomon Copy on Huntington Avenue, or visit the bookstore, I feel like I’m the innocent victim of an all – encompassing book cartel.

The Northeastern bookstore and many other campus bookstores around the country have joined with faculty and publishers to form monopolies. Teachers have their individual book preferences and they provide these requirements to the university so that students can purchase books. But there is a downside: MANY teachers contact the textbook publishers and form their own coursepack – a rendition of an actual textbook with only the information relevant to their class along with added information and a fancy stamp with the teacher’s name on the front. These downgraded, bland-looking paperback textbooks cost nearly as much as the textbooks they are modeled on. The Federal Trade Commission’s Web site clearly states that, “While it is not illegal to have a monopoly position in a market, the antitrust laws make it unlawful to maintain or attempt to create a monopoly through tactics that either unreasonably exclude firms from the market or significantly impair their ability to compete.” Because other retailers cannot carry these customized books, they are excluded from competition and have absolutely no ability to compete in the marketplace, thereby making the Northeastern bookstore unlawful.

These so-called textbooks are then unusable by anyone outside Northeastern and can’t be resold online. This places a tremendous financial strain on students who often need to sell old textbooks in order to buy new ones. Why can’t professors just stick with the traditional book designed for their course? Why is this unethical situation forced upon those who have the least power to protect their rights – the students? It is an illegal monopoly if there ever was one.

I sit here at my desk with a one-centimeter thick pamphlet that I just spent $135 on, and I laugh at how we are forced to buy this exact version. There are no outs. We cannot buy this product anywhere else but the Northeastern bookstore. That’s not to mention the bookstore doesn’t even sell these coursepacks for a discounted rate. There are no equal opportunities for businesses such as half.com and Amazon. These Internet retailers are not allowed, and have no reason to stock these customized books for students. No longer can we save hundreds online. We are forced to purchase our textbooks from a single business. The Northeastern Bookstore has a monopoly. Is this the kind of business practice we are being taught to subscribe to in the classes we take?

– Jesse Chase is a junior marketing and finance and insurance major.

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