Bookstore to end textbook sales

by Richard Lazarus | 11/27/02 6:00am

The Dartmouth Bookstore announced it may stop selling textbooks entirely by Summer term due to the College's decision to continue allowing departments to decide when to give book lists to bookstores, as well as a declining textbook business.

Bookstore Manager Dave Cioffi sent letters Monday to students who are store members announcing that in the winter, the bookstore will greatly decrease the number of textbooks it carries for each course, by 40 to 60 percent.

By the end of Spring term or the beginning of Summer term, the bookstore will stop ordering books for Dartmouth classes entirely, Cioffi said.

The Dartmouth Bookstore has traditionally had a close relationship with the College and has been selling textbooks since its founding in 1872.

Wheelock Books Manager Whit Spaulding '89 said in an email that he is "capable of meeting the needs of the entire campus if it were necessary."

Cioffi cited a number of factors for the decision, among them low profit margins, a recent proliferation of alternate textbook sources, an increase in transportation costs, the size of the space needed to sell textbooks and a high rate of books that are never bought by the end of a term and need to be returned.

The factor that appeared to annoy Cioffi most, however, was Dartmouth's decision to continue to allow departments and faculty to decide whether to release the lists of course books. Currently, professors don't have to do so.

Cioffi had appealed for the College to change that policy.

"Scores of individuals at the College are responsible" for the release of the lists, said Cioffi. Other area colleges served by the Dartmouth Bookstore have central listing of textbooks or a policy that faculty must release textbook information to any interested bookstores, he said.

Dartmouth's decision made it difficult for the bookstore to get consistent information about textbooks, Cioffi said.

"For some people it's a power trip, for others it's a political tool, for others it's a punishment tool," Cioffi said of individuals' decisions not to release textbook information. "I just don't think that anybody is looking at the big picture."

"Someone should be telling them that this information should be provided and these are the reasons why. When hundreds of individuals make decisions, you don't have a policy," Cioffi said.

Assistant Dean of the Faculty Jane Carroll, along with Dean of the Faculty Michael Gazzaniga, heard Cioffi's request that Dartmouth institute a College-wide policy on the textbook lists but ultimately rejected it.

"I understand that he really wanted a policy, but we're not in the practice here of dictating to our faculty," Carroll said. "The bottom line for us is that our faculty do have a choice in the matter."

"I'm extremely sorry to see the Dartmouth Bookstore getting out of the textbook business," Carroll said. She continued, "I'm well aware that our faculty is making a choice, and competition is what this country's about."

Cioffi met with both Carroll and Gazzaniga advocating a College-wide policy of sharing all lists of textbooks.

Cioffi said he had not heard back from Carroll or Gazzaniga after the meeting.

However, Carroll said the meeting resulted in her sending a BlitzMail memo to College faculty members suggesting that they give their booklists to all interested bookstores "in the interest of friendly competition," according to Carroll. No other action was taken.

She said she believed she told Cioffi about the memo.

There was a strong faculty response to the memo, said Carroll. "I got an earful from people who had been less than pleased with [Bookstore] service in the past, and I learned a lot."

The emails were about evenly split between those who were fiercely dedicated to the bookstore and those who were just as vehemently opposed to it, she said.

A particular theme was Cioffi's hesitance to print course readers, according to Carroll. Also, he did not like buying expensive language textbooks that could not be returned.

Cioffi later contacted Carroll to tell her that Winter term book orders had not changed significantly, according to Carroll.

"I think what the Dartmouth faculty want is to make things as easy as possible for students," Carroll said.

Cioffi said his decision was motivated by business concerns. He needed a more efficient use for the space he used selling textbooks and did not have the information he needed to compete against other sellers, he said.

The Dartmouth Bookstore's decision comes at a time when students have more outside options for buying textbooks, most notably online, where prices for new and used textbooks can be much lower than the prices in town.

Asked if the bookstore's not carrying textbooks anymore would end up hurting students, Carroll replied, "They couldn't help but suffer to some degree -- the more choices they have, the better."