After 26 years, Wheelock Books closes

by Andrew Culver | 1/3/19 2:40am

Students will now have to order all their textbooks online following another bookstore closure in Hanover. After 26 years in operation, Wheelock Books — the town’s only remaining bookstore for new books — has stopped its in-store and online retail operations.

In an email statement sent to each academic department during fall term, Wheelock Books announced that it would no longer serve the Dartmouth community as its broader business shifts toward a “fee-for-service” model it already uses on other college campuses.

In this model, the store provides all course materials for the entire student body with the school paying for the books either through a tuition allocation or gifts from benefactors, according to the email statement.

Wheelock Books founder and owner Whit Spaulding ’89 wrote in an email that Wheelock Books is “price-competitive with most everything” including online, e-book and rental purchases. However, students are accessing free digital copies of textbooks online, a phenomenon that is happening in “higher and higher volume,” Spaulding wrote. Due to copyright rules that the business must follow, it is “impossible” for Wheelock Books to compete with free online sources, he added.

Spaulding also wrote that “many campuses” have switched to the company’s full service model, which delivers all needed textbooks to students on the first day of classes. The initial email announcing the store’s closing said that Dartmouth is not currently pursuing the full service option. However, Wheelock Books “stand[s] ready” to take up this model if Dartmouth chooses to do so, the initial email statement said.

The College has “a lot of options and opportunities [for textbook supply] to evaluate,” Spaulding wrote, noting that students are able to order almost all the books they need through other online sources.

The initial email statement sent to faculty recommended that professors take steps to ensure their students will not expect to buy their books in the Wheelock Books store this term.

While Spaulding said Wheelock Books’ email statement was sent to each academic department, earth sciences professor Erich Osterberg said he was completely unaware of the store’s closing until being contacted by The Dartmouth.

The Wheelock Books website contains no notification of the closure.

“Ten years ago everybody was getting their books from Wheelock [Books],” Osterberg said. “Now, with the explosion of online book sales, my impression is that fewer and fewer students are doing it.”

Osterberg said he was unsure how the store’s closure would affect his textbook assignments, but that he would have to “take the pulse” of his students this term.

“With the rise of electronic textbooks … it’s unclear to me what the impact will be,” he said, adding that there may not be a large impact given the ease of getting textbooks online.

Wheelock Books’ closing follows the recent closing of Hanover’s Barnes and Noble in December.

“Now that Wheelock Books is closed and Barnes and Noble is closed, what happens to [the] textbooks [that] students [need]?” Hanover town manager Julia Griffin said.

While Left Bank Books — a store that sells rare and used books in Hanover — remains open, Dartmouth is now left without a source of new books and textbooks for students.

“To have a college town without a bookstore of any sort is baffling,” Griffin said.

Echoing Osterberg, Griffin said “the whole world of books in changing and one part of that change is what’s happening in textbook sales.”

“Its not surprising that the traditional bookstore models are foundering,” she said.

Ordering books online through services like Amazon is more convenient these days with two-day shipping, according to Raphael Huang ’21.

Huang said he purchased one textbook from Wheelock Books because he needed it as soon as possible, noting that he would have otherwise bought the book from Amazon as it was cheaper.

He noted that in the future, he will have to be more careful to order books on time without Wheelock Books as a last-minute purchasing option.

However, Huang added that overall, he does not think the store’s closing will have a great effect on the Dartmouth student experience.

Osterberg noted that internet retail has affected downtown Hanover “really hard lately.”

“It’s sad to me as a professor who likes books — physical books,” he said.