guest post – Gene Motte

Who are consigment companies really benefiting?

Currently a number of companies are soliciting libraries and organizations large and small for books they will sell on consignment. Some portion of the sale price is to be given as charity, and a small percentage sent back to the source. In some instances, books not sold will be se
nt to a charity for shipment for Africa.

Just like jobs, books kept in a community rather than outsourced represent a reusable and strengthening resource. Sending withdrawn & donated books out of a community to be sold has a number of community, charitable, and financial drawbacks as well as some benefits.

For some communities, sending large numbers of books away limits resources for library patrons, schools and literacy groups. A book kept in a community may go through several iterations of readers before it is no longer useful, often acquired at a reasonable price each time. Inexpensive books help families on a budget, local literacy groups with limited funding, and schools who may need books for libraries or for raising money themselves. Reducing the number of used books and book sales in a community makes books more expensive to acquire, and reduces the serendipity of discovery in reading. In addition, those who wish to donate books to local libraries for local use may be less inclined to do so if the books are leaving the community to be sold elsewhere.

Preserving local uniqueness and helping local businesses has traditionally been a strength of libraries, but is threatened in these programs. Local booksellers who go to library sales and then resell books may be adversely affected. While some see this as just the ups and downs of businessenterprise, these bookseller bring money into the community, and greatly add to its intellectual and social life, especially if they have open shops. Many articles have been written about the demise of local bookshops around the country and the loss to the social fabric of the community; distant reseller programs do not help.

The charitable aspect of of sending books out of a community is also problematic on closer look. For libraries, approximately 15% of net proceeds (that is, proceeds after costs of sale on various websites) are returned, while only 5% of net goes to a charity of choice, accodring to the sign up documents at the leading company. Approx. 80% of the net value of a book sold is kept by the book company. Top officers of these organizations make over $100,000 a year. On yearly sales of $6 million at one top company, only $750,000 total in the entire life of the company has been donated.

There are better methods for donation. Any donation is certainly an added benefit to the charity partners. However, they would benefit better if the books they needed were sent directly to them rather than the best being sold here, or if money was sent to them directly by libraries. This approach was also advocated by the American Institute of Philanthropy regarding these programs. Approx. 75-80% of monies gathered by charities such as Books for Africa are used directly for charitable purposes, not 5%.

Such programs with these companies may not be in the best financial interests of the local library or community. It is clear that an expensive book sold may generate more money in the program. Cheaper books, often sold for between a dollar and 3 dollars at a library sale, are sold for an average of $5.00 online, with the libraries making only 75 cents, which more than offsets gains made by far fewer more expensive books. Pricing tools by these companies both artificially inflate prices precluding sales or artificially depress them, costing both libraries and charities income. Lastly, books that do not sell in a timely manner (often within 90 days) are often recycled, regardless of age, importance, or value, bringing no revenue to the library at all.

Important local financial issues arise as well. Books sold in the community, whether directly by the library or even by local booksellers who come to the sales, bring money and tax revenue to the community. Book sold from points outside the community remove resources, sometimes dearly needed however small. Even the recycling of the paper in the books, which might bring some revenue for a community, is lost when the books are sent away.

For the library, the attractiveness of such reseller programs is clear to see: a quick, simple way to clear books out and bring some money into the library, while helping out some very worthy charitable organizations. However, as noted above, there are costs to that simple solution. While
it is not always easy to run a library sale, such activities have a far greater impact on a community than just being a hassle for a librarian or friends group – it is a social gathering, a place for discovery, an opportunity for even greater charitable donations, and a renewable intellectual and financial resource for communities.

Motte & Bailey Booksellers

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