Column: I hope the Co-op dies, and good riddance

The UConn Co-op is seen on the Storrs campus. (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

Anyone who has been at the University of Connecticut more than one or two semesters understands that they shouldn’t buy or rent their textbooks at the Co-op unless it’s an absolute necessity. Compared to spending hundreds of dollars per semester, getting used books, rentals and PDFs (although reading bunched text on the computer is hard on the eyes after a while) via websites like Amazon and Chegg are infinitely better for your wallet.

Last semester, book sales were down 30 percent from their peak five years ago, according to the Daily Campus. Times are changing, and it appears the university bookstore has had difficulty adapting in a continually Amazonian age.

Nevertheless, a lot of STEM courses still coerce students into obtaining books specifically through the Co-op. For instance, when I took the general chemistry sequence (i.e., CHEM 1127 and 1128) two years ago, students needed to buy a special textbook with a code for the online homework, and the only options were the Co-op or the textbook company’s direct website, where they were sold for the same egregious price.

This makes students, like myself, who pay for books with their own money very angry. We are at a point where the estimated price of textbooks has increased 800 to 1000 percent, according to an email from the Co-op itself. Well- meaning professors are encouraging students to buy older editions online instead of going to the school’s insanely priced store.

Needless to say when the student body received an email this past Tuesday with the tagline of “Help Us Save the Co-op!” I didn’t feel an iota of sympathy. They did it to themselves. By expanding to a point that has not been profitable, they are forced to charge too much for their products, which in turn creates a self-fulfilling prophecy for its own demise.

When an institution is running $93,000 deficits as of last school year, according to the Hartford Courant, does it make sense to have two outlets in one area? There are 10 Co-ops at all five UConn branches, the health center and law school, so if people are going to these places less and less, why wouldn’t you consolidate instead of expanding?

Maybe an artsy café that welcomes authors and jazz nights is cool, but what is your bottom line? They used to have these programs elsewhere – jazz nights at Lu’s, for example – and I’m sure those spearheading them can and will find other places; it’s a big campus. There’s no point in paying rent somewhere you don’t thrive, especially when it has a twin a mile away.

Much of the opposition comes from the prospect of a Barnes & Noble replacing the Co-op. The organization says a corporate entity like them will drive up costs and not tend to the students in the way the Co-op currently does. That’s probably true, but in most cases, Amazon and Chegg will be there to serve as better options. Moreover, Barnes & Noble will pay rent to situate itself on campus, whereas the university funds the Co-op.

Students need to be discerning about what they buy – everything is on the Internet, you should know this by now – and in the aforementioned cases of predominately STEM courses, professors ought to encourage buying cheaper materials; I don’t know if the chemistry department still uses OWLs, but a six-month subscription is $126, and that’s insane.

Vis a vis the Co-op, everything is digital now, and there’s no circumventing that notion. My fundamental problem with the bookstore is that it pegs itself as a “not-for-profit organization…[prioritizing] service over bottom lines.” And yet, it still price-gouges its textbooks and accessories with the ardor of a hungry, soulless corporation because it understands the reality of needing to make ends meet.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too.


Stephen Friedland is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at stephen.friedland@uconn.edu.