Where to find nonprofit, independent & progressive booksellers
Most 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.
Sustainable Insight: Focus on eco-friendly books
6Sustainable Insight is an Australian online bookstore that specializes in sustainability and environmental books, DVDs and educational resources. Topics include gardening, agriculture, environmental management, organics and sustainability. Follow @SustainInsight on Twitter.
Sample title: The Chaos Point by Ervin Laszlo ($35.96 Australian, $35.74 US, plus $17.95 shipping to the US)
City Lights: Advancing ‘deep literacy’
7Alongside Powell’s (below), San Francisco-based City Lights Booksellers is a venerable independent bookstore with a well-known online brand. It’s internationally known for its expert selection of books and for its commitment to free intellectual inquiry. Browse a selection of featured books, new releases and recommended titles from the City Lights staff that you can order online. It created the nonprofit City Lights Foundation “with the goal of advancing deep literacy, which is not only the ability to read and write but fluency in the knowledge and skills that enable us to consciously shape our lives and the life of our community.” Follow @CityLightsBooks on Twitter.
Sample title: The Political Edge, edited by Chris Carlsson ($12.57 paperback, plus approximately $8 shipping)
New Society Publishers: Carbon neutral
8Since 1996, British Columbia-based New Society Publishers’ mission has been to publish books that contribute in fundamental ways to building an ecologically sustainable and just society, and to do so with the least possible impact on the environment. New Society acts on on its commitment to the world’s remaining ancient forests by printing its books on Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper stock and by going carbon neutral. 80 percent of its book sales come from the United States. Follow @NewSocietyPub on Twitter.
Sample title: Choosing a Sustainable Future by Liz Walker ($19.95 paperback, plus shipping)
Development Bookshop: International reach
9Development Bookshop, operated by Practical Action Publishing, offers a wide range of titles on international development and related issues. The UK-based publishing house ships more than 20,000 books a year to more than 100 countries.
Sample title: The Sustainability Handbook for Design & Technology Teachers, Ian Capewell (editor) (£10.76, $17.06 US paperback, plus international shipping)
OR Books: Print on demand
10OR Books is a fascinating new model of the 21st century bookstore. It makes only a handful of titles available for purchase and prints them as orders come in. While there are a lot of print on demand publishers, the New York-based house “embraces progressive change in politics, culture and the way we do business.” OR Books publishes just one or two books a month, combining established authors with new discoveries. Founded only a few months ago, the company currently has just 13 titles on hand. Follow @ORBooks on Twitter.
Sample title: Wikileaks and the Age of Transparency by Micah L. Sifry ($17 paperback, $10 ebook, both ship in February).
Donate your unused books!
Most of us have stacks of little-read books on our bookshelves or taking up space in the closet or garage. Big Hearted Books collects unwanted media — books, DVDs, CDs, records — and redistributes them to people who can use them. Says Kevin Howard: “Our primary goal is to keep books out of landfills and to get them back into the hands of people who can use them. We only recycle books that are of no use to anyone. We sell 10-15 percent of the donations to cover our costs either online or to local book stores, and everything else is given to nonprofits. We donate to town libraries throughout New England for their anual book sales, to the prison book program, to schools, senior centers, etc. We pay the hosts of our donation bins for allowing us to collect books on their property, which allows quite a few churches and schools to earn some much-needed money while helping us with our cause.” Now 2 years old, Big Hearted Books plans to apply for nonprofit status this year.
More online book resources
Here are some additional online book resources:
• Addall: A book price comparison engine that searches 40-plus websites and 20,000 sellers.
• isbn.nu offers a quick way to compare the prices of any in-print and many out-of-print books at over a dozen online bookstores.
Note: We covered ebooks — which are coming into their own for reading on a Kindle, iPad, Nook or your favorite mobile device — in our Guide to publishing a successful ebook. ManyBooks.net offers 29,000 free ebooks for download, and the new Google e-bookstore partners with independent booksellers to offer 3 million ebooks.
Certainly a word needs to be said about self-publishing services like LuLu, Author Solutions and Blurb, which are more eco-friendly because the books are printed only when a specific order comes through — this seems like the future of online book publishing to us. See our roundup of self-publishing services.
Here are some additional independent and progressive online stores to consider:
• Powell’s Books is a progressive, family-owned, unionized independent bookstore. In addition to its well-known online store, Powell’s operates in seven locations in the Portland, Ore., area.
• Geared to educators and progressives, Teaching For Change’s Busboys and Poets Bookstore seeks to ensure that the next generation has the skills, information, and commitment to play an active role in their communities and in civic society. Both a brick-and-mortar store in Washington, D.C. and a Web store, the organization offers a curated list of New and Featured titles in page of our webstore for the latest releases and featured titles for children, young adults, teachers, and progressive readers. The site makes it difficult to browse, so use the Search button if you know the author or title. “Our focus is to provide books that activate your mind and community,” says the site’s About Us page.
• Open Books is an award-winning nonprofit social venture that operates a wonderful bookstore in Chicago, provides community programs and mobilizes passionate volunteers to promote literacy. They accept donated books (50,000+ in stock). Online orders are through Better World Books and Amazon.com.
• Launched in 1999, Earthprint is the official online bookshop of the United Nations Environment Programme. A number of prominent international organizations have since joined this initiative to provide a central location for environmental and agricultural official publications.
• Antioch University’s Activist Bookstore: Check out books centered on advocacy for social justice and sustainability.
• Strand Book Store remains a fiercely independent family business with more than 200 employees, more than 2.5 million used, new and rare books, a renovated main store in New York and an online presence.
• Parallax Press: As a nonprofit, this online publisher relies on volunteers to fulfill its mission of promoting engaged Buddhism throughout the world.
• National Novel Writing Month has a list of dozens of independent online bookstores nationwide.
Some of these sites can’t compete with the prices offered by the big-box retailers, which often sell books at a loss. Just remember: Price is not the only factor worth considering.
What online bookstores do you frequent? Leave a comment below!
• Guide to publishing a successful ebook (Socialbrite)
• Self-publishing: Tell your story in print (Socialbrite)