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#121 Making the world better with books

By Cathryn Wellner / August 20, 2011

Reading, Photo by Alan Cleaver from Flickr Creative Commons

Time was when I dreamed of having a book store in some small-ish town, a place where customers would curl up in soft chairs, pet the resident cat, listen to visiting authors and, of course, buy enough books to make the store profitable. Other dreams took over, but I’ve never lost my delight in books and bookstores. I love the physical kind I can wander through, but I’ve also come to appreciate the online stores that reflect someone’s passions.

I just discovered one that rocks my socks. BetterWorldBooks started out as a way for co-founder Kreece to clear some space in an apartment he shared with co-founder Xavier by selling old textbooks online. It morphed into a fundraiser for the Robinson Community Learning Center. Today it is a social enterprise that has reused or recycled over 54 million books and raised more than $10 million for literacy and libraries.

When it became clear selling books online was a viable idea, the Indiana-based duo and Jeff, a business-savvy friend, hit on a smart variation—the idea of partnering with libraries to take discarded books and sell them on the Internet. Now they raise enough money to make a living and support libraries and literacy around the world. At the end of the day, they can go home knowing they’ve done some good in the world.

They ship books all over the world at no cost, unless you want it expedited, and then it’s only $3.97 per book. You can choose a book that’s new or opt for one that’s gently used or has a lot of mileage on it. If you have books to donate, just print off the shipping form, paste it on your box of books, and smile as you think of the good those books will do.

The folks at BetterWorldBooks know how to tell a good story. Their “How It All Began” write-up is informal and engaging, using a storytelling style that weaves through the entire site. They sound like the guys next door, the kind you’d invite over for a barbecue and end up dropping in on each other regularly. That’s smart marketing, and it’s good to see it used for something besides trying to sell me the latest resource-gobbling gadget.

Speaking of resources, environmentally conscious customers can feel a little better about the inevitable cost to the earth of shipping books around by topping up their order. The extra cash helps support Tatanka Wind Farm in the Dakotas.

So there it is. Business with a conscience selling one of the few types of consumer goods that really tempt me – books. This gives me hope.


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