Better World Books Thrives Despite the Recession

We have already published two posts about Better World Books, one in February by Amie Vaccaro, and the other by me last June. Why should there be another post? During an economic recession when people are buying less of everything, Better World Books is thriving. Started in 2003 by college students, seven percent of its revenues go to non-profit organizations and libraries. It has raised over $5 million for those organizations and libraries. In other words, Better World Books is a triple bottom line company that is managing to make a profit.
On CNN’s website, an article pointed out that other online bookstores have more revenue. In 2008, Half Price Books had $186 million in revenues, and had $177 million during the first three months of this year alone. However, unlike Half Price Books and, Better World Books does not charge shipping and handling fees within the U.S., and only charges $3.97 worldwide. That coupled with the low cost of its books, gives it a tremendous opportunity for continued growth.

Better World Books had a great holiday season. Traffic increased 131 percent, with a 500 percent increase in gift certificate sales from the 2007 holiday season. There was a 194 percent revenue growth in December 2008, with $2.1 million in revenue.
This January, Better World Books raised $4 million in equity capital. It currently sells about 6,000 books a day, with over half of the orders coming from customers who previously purchased books. The company’s 2008 revenues increased 40 percent to $21 million. Better World Books wants to reach $31 million this year.
Better World Books’ website has only been around for over two years. Before the website, sales occurred through third party marketplaces. During the first seven months of 2008, site traffic was up 115 percent over the first seven months of 2007.
Until last year, Better World Books didn’t even have a marketing budget. In a blog post on the company’s website, co-founder Xavier Helgesen pointed out that the while not having a marketing budget, the company marketed its books through its employees and customers. “Every time a customer is flabbergasted, they are going to tell people, and that endorsement won’t cost us a dime,” Helgesen’s said in the blog post.
Better World Books not only gives part of its revenues to non-profits and libraries, but helps the environment. The company’s co-founder, Xavier Helgesen told Green Business Innovators that Better World Books is a “company based upon reuse.” In fact, from 2003 to 2008, the company has saved over 8,000 tons of books from landfills. To date, it has saved over 20,000 pounds of books, and reclaimed over 680,000 pounds of metal shelving from American libraries.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

One response

  1. I wish I could say I had a good experience with
    Better World Books. I worked at their warehouse. Let me tell ya’ I have met Xavier. He is a complete flake who doesn’t do anything, except sit around blogging and getting onto myspace. However, that’s beside the point. The management their is subpar. They don’t really know how to manage people. They say their into ‘listening’ to their employees’, but we all know how that is. Rudy is the worst manager of them all. He’s a Notre Dame graduate that has very little common sense when it comes to relating to anything. He once confided in me that his job was of a ‘leadership position’. Somebody has to tell me what that means. The only thing I saw him doing was screwing around.

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