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Bookstore’s gouging must stop

Staff Editorial | Thursday, September 27, 2007

Everybody knows that the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore is expensive. It’s almost not worth complaining about. Customers know it’s something they have to tolerate, and, for the most part, they do. People don’t expect competitive prices at the Bookstore. If customers really want that “Play Like a Champion Today” sign, there’s only one place they can get it, and it’s understood that the price won’t be reasonable.

What’s not understood is the recent spike in course packet prices.

Last year, a theology packet was $30. This year, it was $93 – up 210 percent. People might tolerate paying 210 percent more for Notre Dame-brand apparel, but not for photocopies.

Still, the Bookstore knows it’s the only supplier, and it shows no sense of obligation to adjust its (undisclosed) markup – like the markup it applies to other course materials. Instead, it cites increased copyright and production fees as primarily responsible for the new prices.

Did copyright and production fees increase by as much as 210 percent?

Maybe the Bookstore is right, and these fees really do increase at more than 50 times the rate of inflation, starting last year and last year only. Yet even in this (astronomically improbable) event, the least the Bookstore could do is reduce – or disclose – its markup.

Until then, professors should save students money by putting more material on electronic reserve, a method often more convenient than course packets.

The University could also do its part by allowing competition. There’s no excuse for selling black and white photocopies to college students for more than $90. If the University wants to support a monopoly, it shouldn’t support a monopoly that gouges its students.

Any indication that the Bookstore actually cares about academics over markup might lead some on campus to see it as a community supplier – instead of a necessary evil.