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Textbook company matches book sales with donations

Better World Books donates a book to organizations like Feed the Children and Books for Africa per book they sell. Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

Better World Books donates a book to organizations like Feed the Children and Books for Africa per book they sell.
Credit: Shelby Lum / Photo editor

An online textbook store with a social mission could be giving local bookstores some competition.

Ohio State students who buy their textbooks from Better World Books can help promote literacy around the world because Better World Books donates a book to organizations like Feed the Children and Books for Africa per text they sell.

Some representatives from bookstores lining High Street said they recognize potential competition in the online company.

“I have heard of the company before and met some of their representatives at a conference a few years ago,” said UBX Book Exchange general manager Andrew Gordon.

While Gordon believes Better World Books, based in Indiana, serves a good purpose, he doesn’t think the company is taking away from his store’s profits.

“There are a lot of online sellers and they are only one of the vast groups of online sellers,” Gordon said. “We (UBX Book Exchange) have probably bought from them before in our online shopping as well.”

Better World Books started more than 10 years ago and has continued to grow, said John Ujda, vice president of marketing at Better World Books.

“The company has grown every year, many times having double or even triple digit growth,” Ujda said. “Our revenue this past year was $63 million. We ship about 25,000 books daily and receive about 100,000 books a day from various sources. We have grown massively, and it is really quite a serious operation at this point.”

Ujda believes the company has an advantage over the competition because it’s a triple bottom line company, meaning it takes economic, social and environmental factors into consideration in its business.

He also said the company does not charge more for its books because of its cause.

“Often to make a socially conscious purchase, people think that they are going to have to pay more,” Ujda said. “We are kind of the rare exception. We actually have really competitive prices. You’re typically going to get as good a price or better as you would anywhere else… We are trying to use the power of business to address social and environmental problems.”

Brett Santoferraro, a fifth-year in industrial and systems engineering said he would only buy their books from Better World Books if the price was reasonable.

“I usually buy my books used on Amazon.com, however, if these books are the same price, or even cheaper, then it is a win-win to buy them from Better World Books,” he said.

The founders of Better World Books, Xavier Helgesen and Kreece Fuchs, got the idea for the company when they attempted to sell some textbooks back to bookstores after graduating from college but were offered low prices in return,Ujda said.

Helgesen and Fuchs decided to sell their books online instead, a fairly new idea in 2001, and the books sold within a day or two, Ujda said.

“The co-founders looked at this and said there is a huge opportunity here: this gap between what a book will sell for, and what a bookstore will buy it for,” Ujda said. “The co-founders then began to organize a book drive and tie what they were doing into social good.”

Helgesen and Fuchs ran a book drive for a local learning center by collecting unwanted books and selling them, raising more than $20,000, which they then split with the center, Ujda said.

“That was pretty much the birth of the business, and they said, ‘There is no reason we can’t do this on every campus in America,’” Ujda said.

Some OSU students said they would gladly buy their textbooks from Better World Books.

“If I have to buy the books anyway, I might as well help people as well as buy the book,” said Gabby Ansberry, a first-year in chemical engineering. “Especially if they are so expensive, I would rather buy them where I can help someone as opposed to somewhere that the textbooks are the same price and are not helping anyone.”

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