Finding a World of Good in Used Books

Many members of the book industry are engaged in different ways to support literacy efforts, and one strategy that continues to gain traction is selling used books to strengthen literacy programs.

One of the biggest literacy supporters, 14-year-old Better World Books, which was started by three Notre Dame graduates to sell used textbooks online, has donated 20.5 million books and raised nearly $23.8 million for literacy groups and libraries to date. Doing good is so interwoven into the Better World mission that in 2006, the online retailer, which also has a bricks-and-mortar bookstore in Goshen, Ind., became one of the first B corporations (a class of for-profit social ventures). In 2011, Better World made a commitment to donate one book for every book it sold.

“We’ve created a literary ecosystem,” said Diane Maier, director of global marketing and sales support at Better World. She pointed to the company’s partnerships with Books For Africa, which ships and distributes books for children in Africa; the National Center for Families Learning, which helps adults and children learn together; and Room to Read, which is focused on literacy in Asia and Africa. Better World also donates the books it can’t sell online to other literary, library, and education initiatives in the U.S. and around the world.