The last decade has seen a total disruption in book publishing and purchasing. Remember before the internet, when one bought books at stores, either new or used, or perhaps for a specialized book, through a mail order catalogue? Now single-click is a verb. We purchase books, cheaply, and two days later they arrive at our doorstep. If that’s not fast enough, we download the books on Kindles or Nooks in a few seconds.
The internet created a new opportunity for anyone with a connection to sell used books online. I was so gleeful when I first discovered this about 7 or 8 years ago - it was simple and intuitive. By under-pricing the bottom used offer, I nearly always unloaded my books, many of which I had bought used myself. I also reevaluated my library and sold books I didn’t use and realized were just sitting there taking up space. It was ecological – reusing – and economical. And it kept the bookcases neat!
Amazon Prime, which features free shipping on all orders for a $79 charge, has reshaped the used book market. Now new books are often cheaper than used, when one calculates the cost of shipping. (Amazon does not provide free shipping for used books coming from second party vendors.) The ease of listing used books has increased supply, further driving down prices. Entrepreneurs have grown significant niche businesses reselling books on Amazon, many of which are listed for $.01. Ever wonder why? It’s because the have large enough volume to get discount postage, so they can make a tiny profit on the $3.99 ship charge.
Amazon has also increased its commission on used book sales. These factors have all combined to cause used book prices to plummet. New hard cover books depreciate in value within weeks of publication; when the paperback comes out, they crash further. While digital books are eco-resource-light, they cannot be resold. If they ultimately replace hardcopy books, that has interesting implications.
Recently my son brought me a carton of high quality newish books, with an offer. If I would resell them, all profits could go to charity. A few books fetched decent prices, but most were not worth the time and hassle to sell. I discovered Better World Books, a social business with a free-shipping model, which makes it economical to buy and sell used books. Their supply is all donated (they pay the shipping), and while they are a for-profit, they donate a percentage of their profits to their five international and domestic literacy partners. They are a B Corp certified social venture.
This experience inspired me to launch a project, BookCycler, accepting people’s used books and cycling them forward, with any profits going to the Kibera School for Girls in Kenya, of which I am a board member. Most books will be shipped to Better World Books for them to resell. The hope is that amidst all the books with little resale value, I will find a few which will fetch more, and those dollars will help fund the school.
If you live in the Philadelphia area, here is the deal: I accept up to 15 books at a time. They must be in good condition and have ISBN numbers, so no advance reviewer copies. 21st Century copyright is preferred, and the newer the better. The ideal would be to buy a new book and donate it as soon as you’ve read it, before its price plunges. Please email me for drop-off information:
100 Under $100: One Hundred Tools for Empowering Global Women
I haven't been writing lately here at Money Changes Things -I am researching and writing a book on low tech, high impact tools and tech for women in the developing world.
I have posted many exciting innovations on Pinterest, and subdivided them by sector.
My book is aimed at integrating the women's empowerment and humanitarian tech sectors, showing how low cost, high impact technologies and practices can help women improve their lives, lifting themselves and their families out of extreme poverty. You can follow my book blog: 100 Under $100