Books are a staple in our house and reading is a favorite activity. I love to get lost in a book (right now I am reading I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb) and am thrilled that my children are learning to love reading too. I have read K Is For Kissing A Cool Kangaroo so many times that I can recite it without once looking at the book. I cannot imagine having grown up without books in my world, but I know all too well that some families consider books a luxury and they are a rarity in many parts of the United States and the world. That’s why I love this week’s Do-Gooder Company, Better World Books.
Better World Books started as a small venture that sold used college text books online and has exploded into a truly unique online bookstore. They are an online used bookstore with a mission of spreading literacy and preserving the environment, all while making a profit. To collect inventory, they have partnered with over 3,100 libraries and 1,800 college campuses to collect books of all kinds. On college campuses, they enlist student organizations to organize a book drive as a fundraiser. Better World Books pays the organizations a fee per book collected. Their library partners act as consignors by earning a percentage of net sales on books that they sell through Better World Books.
Better World Books then sells its inventory online through its website and other partner channels. Through Book For Book, for each book bought online, BWB donates a book to someone in need. In addition, a percentage of each sale goes to one of their literacy partners: Books For Africa, The National Center for Family Literacy, Room to Read, World Fund and several others. The percentage varies based upon the source of the inventory and the partnership agreement. As an example, they say an average library partner agreement donates 15% of net profits to the library and 5% to the literacy partner designated by the library. About 7-8% of text book sales is designated for the literacy partners. They have a live ticker at the top of their website that tallies their impact. As of the writing of this post, they have raised $14,143,851.29 for their literacy and library partners and donated 8,558,503 books. Not too shabby….
As for environmental impacts, BWB has reused or recycled 135 million pounds of books – approximately 99 million books, keeping them out of landfills. I write this with the caveat that it is unclear how many of these 99 million books would have ended up in a landfill or would have been recycled by their donors. Regardless, they are responsibly handling unwanted books by sending them to the recycling yard.
My Bottom Line: Literacy is a cause that I can get behind because it is so very important to succeeding in life. Better World Books has some excellent literacy partners and has found a way to make a profit (though how much of a profit is not readily available information) AND raise a considerable amount of money for both its literacy and library partners. I am less impressed with their environmental impacts, though I commend their use of recycling for unwanted books – no book should end up in a landfill. That said, I think the core social impact of this business venture is raising awareness about literacy and supporting programs that promote literacy. It’s worth a look at their online store, though there is a reasonable chance that you will find lower prices elsewhere. It is up for you to decide if you are willing to pay a bit more knowing that some of the proceeds will go towards a social good.