In 2002, three Notre Dame University grads, Xavier Hegelson, Chris Fuchs, and Jeff Kurtzman, figured that they could make a good business out of collecting all the textbooks students were throwing away because they were outdated or the bookstore wouldn’t buy them back. The guys ran a book donation drive on campus, sold the books online, saved some landfill, earned some cash, and funded a literacy program at the local community center.
And that, in essence, is exactly how in eight short years, Better World Books has become a model of the fast-growing, socially-responsible and profitable B-corporation — ventures that use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. To date, Better World Books has collected more than 35 million books, and raised over $8 million for literacy programs, $3.1 million for libraries and $1.6 million for student service groups. It’s also saved 13,000 tons of paper from going into landfills– and even uses reclaimed library shelves in its warehouses. “The online bookstore with a soul” is BWB’s quite justifiable tagline.
But make no mistake, Better World Books is first and foremost a dynamic, focused business. As an online book seller, the company has more than 6 million new and used books for sale at any given time, in 22 online marketplaces like Amazon and Alibris, and on its own website created in 2006. The company developed a sophisticated software system to use marketplace data to price books on every site, and can instantly change prices and quantities as necessary. It harnesses the labor of student groups to staff its 2000 Campus Collection programs, while starting a Library Division to give 2100 libraries a conscionable (and rewarding) way to get rid of books they can no longer shelve. It also offers free shipping anywhere in the U.S and super great bargains!
The beauty of Better World Books is that it proves you can run a brilliant business, treat your employees well, make money… and still improve the world. If BWB only allowed people to donate their old books for reuse, it would be doing the world a favor — but the fact that when you donate your books to Better World, you know that part of that resale price (about 7% on average) is going to fund literacy projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the U.S. — well, that’s just gravy. (BWB also donates hundreds of thousands of kids books it can’t sell to Feed the Children and millions of textbooks to Books for Africa.)
Today, I’m donating $100 to another one of Better World Books’ well-established and widely respected literacy-promoting organizations: the National Center for Family Literacy, that since 1989 has helped more than one million at-risk families to experience the power of learning together. I’m also taking a boatload of my old books to the new donation box on Peachtree Rd. and sending them off to a brighter future. You can find a box to donate here