Following are three letters on the report of the Council Committee on the Bookstore (Almanac October 14), followed by a response from the Committee Chair, Dr. Robert Regan. The Report, originally scheduled for the October meeting of Council, is expected to be on the November 12 agenda - Ed.
A Level Field?
I read the 1996-97 Bookstore Committee's report and I gaze in blank astonishment. The Committee recommends that the University act to ensure a level competitive playing field in the course book business-on Barnes & Noble's behalf.
Is there a company less in need of extra help in competition than Barnes & Noble? Can the Committee cite one instance of a Barnes & Noble store being driven out of business by competition from an independent bookstore? The stories I hear are about neighborhoods like Manhattan's Upper West Side, now saturated with Barnes & Noble stores and littered with the corpses of well-regarded independents. Barnes & Noble has a long, successful history of looking out for itself; they need no special help from us.
This is particularly true in the course book business, which demands large movements of merchandise and people in a very short space of time. The more staff, storage space, and national and international warehousing and delivery capacity you can call on, the greater your advantage. I fail to see why Barnes & Noble is the competitor most in need of special help here; and I fail even more deeply to see how the Committee can believe that making course lists available to "everyone" can fail to benefit Barnes & Noble even more than their already gargantuan size does.
But this is simply the business end. University City is the most bookstore-poor campus area I've ever seen; House of Our Own is, as far as I know, the only used-book dealer between 21st Street and Cobbs Creek. The advantage House of Our Own and the Penn Book Center have had over the pre-B&N bookstore was not only customer service for certain professors, but more attention to and availability of new and currently interesting books. Both stores have done more to promote lively intellectual community at Penn than the Bookstore has ever done in my time here (going back to 1979).
It would be an act of blackest ingratitude merely to allow Barnes & Noble (and, in the case of Penn Book Center, Penn's insane rent-seeking) to drive the independents out of business; to direct the University's own resources toward that end would be an act of intellectual barbarism.
The purpose of this letter is to oppose the recommendations of the Bookstore Committee (Almanac October 14,1997) and to urge its rejection by the University Council. The Committee is distressed because some faculty members refuse to share their reading lists with the University Bookstore. Among their speculations into the reasons why some faculty prefer to use independent bookstores, the Committee claims, "Some teachers favor friends or ideological comrades with their book orders." In the interest of "free and open competition," the Committee urges the Provost to insure that all departments place their reading lists on their PennNet home pages in advance of pre-registration.
The Committee's snide speculation about faculty motives misses the two major reasons why many of us do not use the University Bookstore. First, we get much better service from the Penn Book Center and House of Our Own. In each case, we can deal with the proprietor and with staff who know their stock and provide us with personalized service. Second, we want to encourage the preservation and prosperity of independent bookstores.
No vibrant university community exists without good independent bookstores. They sustain intellectual life. They carry an array of titles rarely found elsewhere. Their proprietors know the community they serve and select books that meet its needs and interests. They are places to browse and to chat -oases in the world of sterile and impersonal chain stores.
A head-to-head competition between small independent bookstores and Barnes & Noble for course book orders will not be "fair and open." It will give all the business to Barnes & Noble. With publishers making returns more difficult, independents cannot afford to speculate on expensive books. In the interest of convenience, students purchasing books for one course at Barnes & Noble will buy the ones for others there, if they are available.
Without course book orders, neither of this community's two excellent bookstores can survive. They will fold. If you want an idea of the consequences, do the following: go to Center City and look at the titles in the window of the new Barnes & Noble. Then look in the windows of House of Our Own and the Penn Book Center. I rest my case on the difference.
--Michael B. Katz, Sheldon and Lucy Hackney Professor of History
Signed also by:
This is in response to the committee report and recommendations on bookstore policies (Almanac Oct. 14, 1997). There are a multitude of reasons regarding where one might order books for one's courses, and they can be
named plainly without insinuating ideological impropriety (and the very idea that favoring a corporate bookstore chain might be any less ideological could be debated as well).
My own reasons for working with House of Our Own are directly tied to the kind of university experience I hope to contribute to for students on this campus.
1) Philadelphia is a great city for bookstore lovers, and discovering House of Our Own in the process of getting one's textbooks for one out of the four courses a student takes just might inspire curiosity about what other types of book outlets there are in this city.
2) House of Our Own's topical and disciplinary range happens to overlap to some extent with the field I work in-students who go there get a rich exposure to connecting fields and occasionally bring those ideas back into the classroom.
3) Having gone to a European university before immigrating to the States, I'm utterly used to professors ordering texts at whatever store they please. No one would have dreamt of requiring that one store be favored.
The degree of corporatization (and undermining of variety) in the academy in this country is already quite perplexing to me, and I hope that the suggested policy which surely is not in the spirit of Ben Franklin will not be adopted.
-- Regina Bendix
Undergraduate Chair, Dept. of Folklore and Folklife
In answer to all three letters above, let me clarify that the proposal to put titles and ISBN numbers of course texts on departmental web pages came not from Barnes & Noble, not from the management of the University Bookstore, but from faculty and student members of the Bookstore Committee. Our motive was simple: we sought to insure that textbook-buyers would be as well served by vendors as possible. We believe open and free competition will serve that end. We listed the anticipated good results of proposal in the report published in Almanac October 14, 1997.
We considered the consequences of the change we proposed for vendors who compete with the University Bookstore, since a competitive environment is precisely what we want to encourage. For every list of required texts previously available only to one competitor of the University Bookstore that would, under our proposal, become available to the Bookstore, dozens of lists previously available only to the Bookstore would become available to competing vendors. Can that accomplish anything but the competition we seek? We can only guess what the consequences will be for the Bookstore and for its competitors, but this we do know: In other university communities where Barnes & Noble has opened its Superstores--at Penn State, for example-the number of independent vendors competing in the market has increased significantly. A lively and competitive market, it would appear, increases sales for all.
To those who take issue with my word "ideological," I respond that I am one of those with a long institutional memory: two decades ago instructors gave their ideological friends book monopolies; when the occasion for that disappeared, some seem by habit to have continued to support monopolies, however disadvantageous for students that may be. The Bookstore Committee hopes to see all vendors competing on a level playing-field.
The response by Mr. Furniss to my letter in Almanac October 14 gave a history of the new Night/Weekend Parking Policy and described the primary mission of Penn's parking program, but it missed the point I was trying to make. I'll try again.
1. It is clearly in the best interests of the research-and-teaching mission (as distinct from the parking-program mission) of the University to encourage and facilitate the access of research students and faculty to their offices and laboratories in the evenings and on weekends. For example, I refer to Lot No. 1, which is adjacent to the LRSM.
2. Except for special events, there is generally plenty of empty space in Lot No. 1 for students and faculty to park in the evenings and on weekends, as they have been doing for the past 33 years.
3. It does make sense to issue special permits to these faculty and students to indicate that they are University people and there-by to control access to University property.
4. It does not make sense to charge the students $50 and the faculty $300 for the pri-vilege to drive to work in the evenings and on weekends, thereby giving up the leisure time normally enjoyed by most administrators.
5. The cost of issuing the stickers could not be more than $10, given that the facilities for this already exist, and no more people need to be hired. Therefore, it is obvious that the transportation and parking department is using this as a way to generate new income. This is inappropriate and is counter to the best interests of the University.
This letter needs to be sent further up the brain stem of the University so that appropriate action can be taken.
-- Charles McMahon, Professor of
Response to Dr. McMahon
Let me also try to make clearer that the Night/Weekend Parking Policy does have some provisions along the lines you mention, although it is true they do not apply to all locations.
As endorsed by University Council Steering Committee in February, 1997, the policy calls for a core set of monitored night permit lots that are at fees which are substantially discounted from daytime rates, especially for research graduate students.
The designated night parking lots are free to faculty, staff and students who already pay for daytime permits.
Additionally, these night permit parking lots are supplemented by numerous unmon-itored, free lots which include Nos. 3, 18, 29, 31, 33, 40, 41, 42, 45, 47. And, the parking garage (#37) located at 34th & Chestnut Streets is also available after 4 p.m. on weeknights at a discounted $4 fee.
-- Robert Furniss