The shop that’s donated almost 20 million books to charity


There are now fewer than 1,000 active bookstores in the UK, a figure that has fallen by over a third in the last ten years. Widespread damage inflicted on independent businesses by retail behemoths such as Amazon, as well as transforming consumer habits, makes the independent sale of books an increasingly dangerous venture. Despite this uncertain climate, Better World Books is an online bookseller that prospers by doing things differently.

Better World Books has been selling new and used books since three university graduates in the US founded it in 2002. Besides selling reclaimed books, Better World Books aims to incite positive change by donating books or a percentage of its profits to charities and literacy programmes around the world.

What makes this independent bookseller a successful enterprise? Better World Books knows that buying from a charitable enterprise is probably more enticing than associating with the shadier business practises of larger booksellers, now widely documented and condemned. Its conscientious business practices appeal to the ideals of a growing number of customers concerned with the effects of their consumer habits on the world around them.

The book seller’s stock is a combination of disposed books acquired from colleges, universities, and donations. It holds regular public book collection events in a drive to increase its stock, which is kept in several distribution warehouses around the world.

Better World Books works carefully to ensure all its initiatives are aligned with its sustainability mission. The company designates a portion of its profits to environmental sustainability, and liaises with a carbon management company to plant trees, intending to offset the carbon emissions caused by the transport of their stock.

The company wants this information located where it’s most tangible to the public. A look at their counter placed conveniently at the top of their website indicates the company has recycled over 210 million books so far, and donated over £15 million to literacy programmes and libraries around the world.

Every time Better World Books sells a book, they donate another book from their stock to charities, literacy non-profits, prison book initiatives, and scholarship programmes in impoverished areas in the world. Their recipients include Books for Africa, which distributes books to disadvantaged African children, Worldfund and Room To Read, who both provide education to areas with low literacy rates, and Feed The Children, whose work has distributed over 100 million pounds of food around the world.

As of 2016, the value on their website counter continues to climb – more books are being sold, more books are donated, and a greater number of libraries are receiving the funds they need. Making these figures not only publicly available, but also clearly visible to the buyer, places good business practices at the forefront of the transaction. 

Studies have even shown that this type of transparency increases customer satisfaction regardless of the economical climate. It allows conscientious customers – a growing group – to more easily identify with the positive change that their purchases facilitate for people around the world.