January 31, 2011

Better book buying: 10 socially conscious online bookstores


Where to find nonprofit, independent & progressive booksellers

JD LasicaMost of us in the philanthropic and social good communities face the recurring question: Where should I buy my books — online or in the local community? And: How much more am I willing to pay to buy from an indie publisher or a green publishing house?

Let’s begin with offline. For the socially conscious, buying at a local store is preferable because it keeps money in the local community, supports independent enterprises and reduces your carbon footprint. There are a number of sites that make it easier to find and support local independent bookstores, where you can thumb though good old-fashioned print books. Chief among them:

IndieBound.org: Find bookstores and other independent retailers near you. Says Indiebound: “Spend $100 at a local and $68 of that stays in your community. Spend the same $100 at a national chain, and your community only sees $43.”

BookWeb.org: Search for a brick-and-mortar bookseller in your community that belongs to the American Booksellers Association.

Other book resources:

WorldCat: Search for a book title at your local library.

Bookshare provides accessible books and periodicals for readers with print disabilities.

10 socially conscious online bookstores

While buying a print book locally is a commendable approach, it’s not always possible in practice. Some communities don’t have local bookstores, so buying from an online retailer may be your only real option. In the past few years, socially conscious online bookstores have come into their own. Better World Books, Good Books and Chelsea Green are a few of our favorites. We know there are others out there, so please share your favorites in the comments!


Better World Books: Supporting global literacy

1Founded in 2002 and now boasting more than 1.5 million customers, Better World Books takes in used books from schools, libraries, students — anyone with old books — and resells them online at low prices. A triple bottom line company and a founding B-Corporation, Better World Books donates a portion of its profits to 80+ nonprofit literacy development programs around the world as well as local libraries — they’ve donated $9 million so far, and they’ve reused or recycled 40 million books to date. The company, which employs about 200 people, offer a 100 percent money-back guarantee and ship worldwide for free in a “climate-neutral” way. In May 2009, Business Week readers voted for Better World Books as the best U.S.-based social enterprise that is both making a difference and earning a profit. Follow @bwbooks on Twitter.

Sample title: The Ecology of Commerce, by Paul Hawken ($4.48 paperback, plus shipping). We’ve found Better World Books to be most valuable with older titles.

Good Books: All profits go to Oxfam

2Based in Auckland, New Zealand, Good Books’ business model is simple: Every time anyone buys a book through the Good Books website, 100% of the retail profit from every sale goes to support communities in need through Oxfam projects: funding projects that provide clean water, sanitation, develop sustainable agriculture and create access to education. No one at Good Books is paid and the firm has “zero operating costs.” The site says: “All time, professional services and resources are donated. … Each time you buy a book through us you challenge traditional barriers that prevent commercial involvement in reducing poverty.” Delivery worldwide is completely free, and Good Books has more than 2 million titles in stock in its catalog. Impressive. Follow @GoodBooksNZ on Twitter.

Sample titles: The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History by Michael Pollan ($24.30 NZ, $18.65 US paperback, free shipping)

Half Price Books: Save trees, books & money

3Through its Marketplace, Dallas-based Half Price Books offers new, used and out-of-print books, music and movies, stocked by independent sellers from 45 countries around the world. These sellers — such as Alibris, BargainBookStores and Paperbackshop — set their own prices and ship your order directly to you. The vast majority of the books and other items sold are priced at half the current list price or less. Half Price Books is committed to promoting literacy and being kind to the environment, so it donates or recycles any books they don’t sell. “Throughout our history, we have been able to donate millions of books to nonprofit groups in our local community and worldwide,” the site says. Half Price Books promotes hands-on Green Team projects, a bagless initiative, a year-round Educator Discount (10 percent discount for teachers and librarians) and, since 1982, an annual Banned Books Awareness Week. Follow @halfpricebooks on Twitter.

Sample title: Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer (99 cents used, plus shipping)

Biblio.com: An eco-friendly online bookseller

4A nonprofit founded in 2005, BiblioWorks’ mission is to provide books to communities in need while adhering to the principles of environment, profit, independence and community (EPIC). Its Biblio was the first bookselling marketplace to offer carbon-offsets on all shipped orders. The program, ecosend, is accomplished in partnership with Native Energy, whose projects include building sustainable communities. Biblio also offsets carbon emissions from internal operations, practice recycling, energy efficiency, compost and paper reduction where possible, and it encourages buying local. The site says: “With increased globalization and big box companies reducing competition, we’re doing what we can to revitalize the small business economy by creating quality connections between readers, collectors and booksellers, and promote healthy business competition. The words ‘consumer’ and ‘supplier’ are not used around our office.” Like Half Price Books, Biblio is more of a directory of online bookstores and booksellers rather than a direct online merchant.

Sample title: My book Darknet ($6.12 hardcover, plus $1.97 shipping)


Chelsea Green: Small but vibrant publishing house

5For 27 years, Chelsea Green has published titles on the politics and practice of sustainable living. A founding member of the Green Press Initiative, Chelsea Green has been printing books on recycled paper since 1985. It carries more than 400 titles with a focus on renewable energy, green building, organic agriculture, eco-cuisine and ethics in business. It prints 95 percent of its books on recycled paper and strives for a triple bottom line practice. Follow @chelseagreen on Twitter.

Sample titles: Don’t Think of an Elephant! by George Lakoff ($10 paperback, plus shipping) and The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono, Michael McCurdy and Andy Lipkis ($17.50 hardcover), an ecological fable. Continue reading