Follow-up to Better World Books Article
Response to BWB article from Balopticon Books, Delmar, NY
Nice article on BWB Susan, and not nearly as fluffy as we usually see. They have done some good for literacy, they are employing Americans, and I like the uniform shipping rates and money back guarantee and certain other things, but for me this all raises more questions than it answers, as follows.
-When you say the BWB model does not "make them a lot of friends among the older generation of booksellers," you leave out the reasons why, which may not be apparent even to the average reader of Americana Exchange. On their About Us page they still claim to be "The Online Bookstore with a Soul." This will always rub many independent online booksellers the wrong way, no matter how defenders parse it. Then there is the completely unprofessional way they list the vast majority of their books, the one-size-fits-all boilerplate in place of actual condition description, and insane prices on the high end (and software pricing is no excuse for so many paperbacks priced in the thousands). I asked them about the condition of a fairly expensive book once and got a generic reply because they could not be bothered to inspect their own wares. The ARC (that acronym is already taken in the book trade) department is another matter, with over 60,000 better titles entered by "real, live" catalogers, but you can see them struggling with the selection (broken sets that nobody wants even when complete, hopeless textbooks from 1992 only because their software says it is scarce, etc.) and the description (pretty wordy and cringey at times). And so many of these are ex-library titles on the not-uncommon side, which real collectors just don't want.
-"The determination of what has value happens very rapidly and is done for the most part by computers." What is the general nature of the algorithms they use and how do they arrive at the value of a book in such a hurry when there are so many variables, especially for pre-ISBN titles?
-"Books that do not meet the BWB value thresholds are either shipped to literacy partners or sent by the container load to be recycled for such uses such as paper napkins." What percentage of these rejects go to literacy partners, as opposed to recycling facilities? The recycling part sounds ominous, like mass extermination. Many of them could probably find a good home in a regular library sale run by local volunteers, where all the income goes to the library. They boast over 36 million books saved from landfills but they sound like the biggest book killers in the world. And getting 100,000 books a day or whatever the figure is to Indiana from all over the country must leave an enormous carbon footprint (I know they claim 17,000 tons of carbon offset but that seems like the probable pennies on a dollar they actually donate to charity when all is said and done).
-"Payment is made on a sliding scale that ranges from about 15% for low value books to 50% for books worth $500 or more." How do libraries know they are getting everything promised from the initial valuation right through to final payment? Can they ask for a full report on what is essentially a consignment some years down the road?
-"Books in Gaylords are treated roughly; if they weren't wrecked by the time they got to Mishawaka, what's left after BWB has taken a fast look is, in many cases, waste paper." If true this makes one wonder why they bother. Are they just looking for sturdy textbooks with higher price tags that can stand such awful treatment or what?
-"Though they are readers, friends of literacy, book lovers all…" All? I'm picturing some forklift drivers, sorters, accountants and tax lawyers who might not fit that description.
-"Any dealer can put out donation boxes…" Nice thought but BWB pulls this off by half masquerading as a non-profit. I don't think my town or university would agree to personal donation boxes.