Better World Books: What other dealers can learn from the new model
What Dealers Can Learn From BWB
Though the Better World Books business model is generated by the technology, business climate and mindset of the 21st century, there's still much that traditional book dealers can learn from their practices.
For starters there is nothing to prevent any dealer from doing what BWB does:
Any dealer can talk to libraries or other potential donors and solicit their no longer wanted books. Any dealer can develop code and automation processes. Any dealer can find non-profit partners. Any dealer can put out donation boxes and ask for gifts - with or without a non-profit tie-in. Any dealer can offer to pick up the books others don't want and take them ALL away.
The point is that while any dealer could... many dealers don't, won't, can't or don't-know-how to do any of those things. Also very few more traditional booksellers are as young, smart, hip, quick, hard working, coordinated and pleasant to deal with as this fast paced crew.
You want energy and work ethic with a little athletic flair and a great deal of youthful enthusiasm? You want whiteboards covered with math code? This is your double digit combo of fast growth and a quick learning curve. It is impressive to see it all delivered in one neat logical package.
What any older book dealer can see is that BWB will eventually find out more about books and their tradition. They also will eventually understand the worth of books prior to the invention of the ISBN number. But in the meantime this company, its inventory and its rejects constitutes a gold mine (if not the mother lode) of good stuff at low prices. There's value here and plenty of it (See end of article for contact info and how to make an appointment to view their stock in person).
The other thing more traditional booksellers can learn from Better World Books is the concept of a written business plan. In all the years I've been buying and selling antiquarian books, and all the years my parents did it before me, I have never once heard the words "business plan" mentioned, nor have I ever heard someone going into any segment of the used book business say, "I think I'll sit down and write my business plan today." I have seen notes on the back of an envelope. I have heard threats of imminent divorce if certain spouses didn't sell some of those books immediately... but a written down plan? No, this is a new animal.
At BWB I heard about "business plans" from every lip, from every sector, from every department. If that's what makes it go, perhaps the rest of us should take the hint. We could all learn a thing or two from committing our ideas to paper and then tracking how the actual results match the conceptual projections.
I have many positive things to say about this company. It has recognized a need and stepped in to fill it. It has systematized what previously was unorganized. It does a significant amount of good along the way and keeps over 300 mostly young and talented people employed in a corporate model, which includes a regular paycheck and benefits such as health care, vacations and stock options.
That said I do, however, have some reservations.