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>I used to spend a lot of money

>at the Coop bookstore in Harvard Square. I knew it was a Barnes and Noble, but I liked the selection and the clerks are nice and I knew where it was (I still find Harvard Square hard to navigate). But now that I have heard, via Bookshelves of Doom, that the Coop considers freakin’ ISBNs to be their “intellectual property,” I’m done.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >Totally outrageous! See if I go back there on my visits to Cambridge (I don’t think so). All college and private school bookstores try to prevent students from saving money by buying books elsewhere. I think it’s terrible, and of course the idea of IBSBNs being their intellectual property is out of this world. It’ll be fun to watch this one.
    Thanks, Roger!

  2. >aren’t ISBNs listed in BOOKS IN PRINT? (or is BIP still in existence?) this might be a simpler way for students to bypass the COOP.

  3. Roger Sutton says:

    >According to today’s Harvard Crimson the Coop called the cops on students writing down ISBNs yesterday (

    What I don’t understand is how this method of obtaining ISBNs is efficient. Surely the course reading lists are online–couldn’t the ISBNs be referenced from there with more ease?

  4. david elzey says:

    >On two separate occasions I’ve had people who worked at the co-op deny they were affiliated with Barnes & Noble. What’s up with that place?

  5. Brian Floca says:

    >Best line in that last article: “It sort of takes the ‘co’ out of ‘coop.'” And what does that leave you with, really?

    Looking forward now to the Coop’s awkward and fumbling quasi-backpedaling and feigned disappointment at the misunderstanding.

  6. >My coworker’s daughter got in trouble for copying down ISBNs at the bookstore at her college in Wyoming. Disgusting.

  7. >Aw, you guys are such babes in the woods here.

    Don’t you know that book stores in university towns are cut-throat competitors when it comes to stocking required reading? That’s because it’s, like, required, and they have a built-in customer base of people who have to buy the books. Why else would someone pay $140 for a dry, boring book called “Introduction to Physics”? Text books are the bread and butter of book stores in university towns. No text book sales, no “Harvard Dad” t-shirts.

    Typically, a professor will select a particular book store to carry his text books, and will relay this info directly to the store. The traditional way for the other book stores in town to find out what’s on Dr. Who’s syllabus is to send someone into the competitor’s store to copy down all the ISBNs for the required reading in his course. This someone is usually a student who, if caught, can simply say, “I’m just a poor student shopping for the best deal on my text books!”

    That’s clearly what has happened here, and my guess is we’re not getting the full story of the long-standing war between the Coop and whatever Cambridge book store is paying some poor student to go in and copy down the ISBNs.

    If this were simply a case of a student shopping for the best deals, he could get the bibliographic info off of his own syllabus and look the titles up on Even a Harvard student could figure out how to do that.

  8. Roger Sutton says:

    >No, Vodko, the linked stories make it clear that the students were gathering ISBNs to be used by a student-run, nonprofit online-bookstore-aggregator (there’s gotta be a simpler word!). But hell, even if they were professional sniffers from the Harvard Bookstore down the street, the Coop has no right to claim ISBNs as their “intellectual property.”

    P.S. Spent 128.93 dollars at the Brookline Booksmith yesterday.

  9. Cassandra Mortmain says:

    >Blarg. This is the kind of story that sort of makes me want to cover myself in ISBN numbers and chain myself to their front doors in protest of their intense worthlessness.

    If the poor, struggling, independent bookstore for my college could afford not only to NOT call the cops on students writing down the ISBNs, but to make said numbers available freely on its website, than surely Barnes and Noble/the Coop, who are, presumably, the Harvard of college bookstore* can permit its students the right to copy the damn things down.

    Oh, and to the person who recommended looking up the bibliographic info, the ISBN is much more helpful, because it specifies not just book and author, but publisher and edition as well, both of which are usually crucial in have correct in a school book.

    *i.e. rich as Croesus, high on snobbery, and lacking in moral fiber.

  10. Roger Sutton says:

    >We’re having a problem with the Horn Book blog, and while comments are showing up here at Jacketflap (from where I’m commenting) they don’t show up on our site, and I can’t post, either. I hope it gets cleared up soon.

  11. Roger Sutton says:

    >I saw a Boston Globe article yesterday that reframed the controversy into a demand from the student booksellers for the Coop’s list of ISBNs for Harvard textbooks and the Coop’s refusal to provide same. If this is true then my sympathies go back to the Coop–well, not my sympathies, exactly, but I agree that they have no responsibility to provide a competitor with information they have gathered for themselves. I wonder if public support for the students has caused them to overreach?

  12. booksRock says:

    >Some things that some of you are not taking into consideration:
    1. Think about the work and expense the Coop must go through to obtain this information from the professors. Not surprisingly, the professors don’t just hand over complete, accurate, and timely information.
    2. Harvard University has chosen to enter into a contract with Barnes & Noble to run the Coop. There are many benefits for Harvard from B&N as a result. Check with the contract administrator for more details.
    3. The textbook business is actually a very low-margin business. Most bookstores do not have room in their pricing to “slash” prices. Want to know more? Check out the info from the National Association of College Stores. As an aside, they make a lot more on the Harvard Dad t-shirt.

    Before anybody says anything, no I don’t work for Barnes & Noble. I’m a local student who believes in doing their research and having all of the relevant information at hand.

  13. Anonymous says:


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