Better World Books

Monday 2 June 2014, by nilvidal

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A. The main facts about the activities of the company.

Better World Books collects and sells books online (all of them available with free and carbon balanced shipping) in order to help people in need. For every title they sell, they donate another one to non-profitable organizations who run literacy initiatives worldwide. With more than 8 million new and used titles in stock, they are a self-sustaining company that creates social, economic and environmental value for all their stakeholders. Then, they are not the traditional company with an add-on cause component; social responsibility is at the core of their business.

B. The Ethical challenges this company is addressing.

Better World Books is among a tiny but growing group of “triple bottom line” companies who understand that profit is not the only way to measure business success. Then, constituting the core of their business we can find three main values and at the same time ethical challenges to deal with:

· Social/Cultural: being able to spread literacy as much as possible is their main goal. For this reason, every time a customer purchases a book, they donate another one to someone in need. Moreover, they help funding high-impact literacy projects with part of their revenues such as with the building blocks. They provide these type of structures for children and families in developing countries in order to incentive them to learn, grow and share human knowledge.

· Environmental: concerned about the environment and the future of our planet, they are into a program which covers both carbon offsets when books are shipped to their customers and the company’s other operations and activities. Also, they work to find homes for books, which we think that it’s their greatest contribution. They cooperate with a great net of libraries and universities collecting used titles and keeping them out of landfills (8000 tons of books until now).

· Economic: Better World Books perfectly shows us that despite loving business and understanding the importance of running profitable enterprises, an entrepreneur can launch a win-win project, make money and positively contribute to a better society. They do this by answering equally to all of their key shareholders, among which we can find employees, customers, literacy partners, investors and the environment.

C. What makes you believe this company is really ethical and why you trust it?

The main aspect that makes us believe the ethical approach of Better World Books are their partnerships and alliances, which highly increase both their visibility and transparency. They work with/provide support to a wide range of organizations, among which we can find:

· Some of their social partners:

-  Books for Africa (non-profit organization).
-  The National Center for Family Literacy (non-profit organization).
-  Room to Read (award-winning non-profit organization founded by John Wood, a well known opinion leader).
-  Worldfund (non-profit organization)
-  Prison Book Project (non-profit organization)
-  Robinson Community Center (University of Notre Dame-affiliated)
-  National Literacy Trust (independent charity)
-  READ International (independent charity).
-  The National Adult Literacy Agency (independent charity).
-  (…)

· Environmental alliances:
-  3Degrees: American firm which offers green power options to 25 million customers and provides renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets to Fortune500 companies, green building firms, utilities and other organizations committed to sustainability.

· More commitment:
-  B-Corporation: Better World Books, in order to prove its commitment, are into B-Corporation, which is a private certification issued to for-profitable companies by BLab , an American non-profit organization. By joining it, they went in a growing international network of purpose-driven business dedicated to setting a new standard for social and environmental performance.
As we can see, it’s not only about a typical company who annually donates part of its revenues to some ethical cause. Better World Books’ partnerships are on the top of their business model and all its activity turns around them.

D.The possible challenges facing the company in the future and how you think this company may improve.

Although they send books worldwide, the European market still represents a very small percentage of their sales. His initial business model in the U.S. was the purchase and sale of used university books, and this was the way to become known throughout the country. We think that to penetrate the European market they would choose the same strategy due to the opportunity presented by the homogenization of the university education system in Europe.

Also we think that they might increase their market thanks to digital products. They are already selling ebooks, audiobooks and DVDs on their website but their catalog is very limited compared to some competitors.
Finally, assuming that the company will have a huge growth, this could collaborate actively, acting as a lobby, to help to the deregulation of publishing industry. The consequences would be a reduction in prices, increase the scope of the industry to promote reading and could avoid capital accumulation in the big publishing companies.


• Kristi York Wooten (August 16, 2011). "Can Buying a Book Help Kids and the Environment?". Huffington Post

• KC Ifeanyi (March 3, 2009). "Better World’s books talk back". CNN Money

Location: Indiana (USA)

Sector: Wholesale and retail trade

Official website: http://

Key figures:

· Founders: Christopher Fuchs, Xavier Helgesen and Jeff Kurtzman
· Headquarters and distribution warehouses: Mishawaka (Indiana, USA), Atlanta (Georgia, USA) and Dunfermline (Scotland, UK)
· Revenue: $65 million
· Donation by 2013: $14 million
· Donated books by May 2014: 16 million
· Re-used/recycled books by May 2014: 130 million
· Employees: 340
· Main donation recipients: Feed the Children and Books for Africa.

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