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 Takes A Page From Toms Shoes’ “One For One” Playbook

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]

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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.