Better World Books Takes A Page From Toms Shoes' "One For One" Playbook

The book recycler and reseller has already given away $10 million to help improve literacy. Now it's giving away a book every time you buy one.

Better World Books, a bookseller that calls itself "the online bookstore with a soul," announced an initiative this week to donate a book to the company's non-profit literacy partners—Feed the Children and Books for Africa—every time a book is purchased on their website. Books for Africa will receive used textbooks, while Feed the Children will (obviously) get children's books.

Sound familiar? That's because the "Book for Book" initiative is similar to Toms Shoes' "One for One" initiative, which gives a pair of shoes to a child in need every time a pair is purchased. The model has been so successful that Toms is now using it with its sunglasses line (but giving away glasses and eye surgery to the needy instead of sunglasses). "Who wouldn't be inspired by what Toms Shoes is doing? Anybody who hears that story, you look for ways that you too can make an impact beyond what you're already doing," says Andy Perlmutter, CEO of Better World Books.

As you may surmise from its name, this isn't Better World Books' only charitable endeavor. The bookseller's entire business model is based on helping the down-and-out: the company collects books that colleges and libraries are going to throw out, sells them, and sets aside part of each book sale to give back to its literacy partners. It's a model that offers affordable books and textbooks to customers, supports literacy, and keeps perfectly usable books out of the landfill.

The for-profit model is clearly working. Better World Books has raised nearly $10 million for its nonprofits and reused or recycled over 57 million books since its inception in 2003—all while making money for the company, which has ballooned to having nearly 400 employees (it started out with just two Notre Dame graduates). "Now that we're approaching the milestone of having donated $10 million back to our nonprofit and literacy partners, we thought it was about time that we made that long-term commitment [with Book for Book]," says Perlmutter.

With Better World Books and Toms now using the buy-one-give-one model, we have to wonder: who's next?

[Image: Better World Books]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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  • ian Vadas

    @ stacy 

     So true that there are more and more of these types of businesses. So many in fact that I was inspired to write a blog called Giving Brands ( to turn people on to these types of brands. There are many brands like TOMS doing good but like you said they are not that visible yet. So I thought it would be helpful to list them all in one place.

    TOMS was certainly not the first social enterprise. Newman's Own has been doing good for over 30 years but TOMS did a really good job of taking the one for one model and making it popular. 

  • Bette Boomer

    Absolutely important to do good while we baby boomers are doing well. TOMS is one of our best-of-the-best resources we reviewed for our readership & we're thrilled they are also taking it another step with TOMS+The Row with the Olson twins. We should all support the Better World Books Book for Book.

  • Stacy McCoy

    I really loved the article.  Better World Books is a social enterprise that is doing so much good, it's always great to see them featured and getting the press they deserve.  

    However, I do take one small issue with the article: With Better World Books and Toms now using the buy-one-give-one model, we have to wonder: who's next?

    Lately I've been seeing a lot of articles on social enterprise end with something like this.  And it's unfortunate because there are literally hundreds of social enterprises doing so much good for the world.  It makes it seem like there are only a handful of companies out there.  That is just not true.  Literally. Hundreds.  One for one? What about FEED Project, Selfless Tee, Two Degrees, or Warby Parker?  I could go on and on.  TOMS, though they are probably the most visible in this space at the moment (well deserved), was hardly the first social enterprise.  Social enterprise has been around for decades.  

    Who's next you ask? Everyone.  Business has been trending towards this for quite some time now.  And soon all business will be done as business should be done, with a social mission in mind.