Thursday, December 24, 2009

Better World Books: Listing Half Of A 2-Part Item

Today we've got Better World Books, a social enterprise based in Mishawaka, IN listing a book's Shop Manual and neglecting to list the actual book itself. The listing has ISBN 1418028657.
The objectionable part of their listing is highlighted and bolded in red below.
Not only does this behavior detract from the overall experience of Amazon customers as they shop for used media, it also messes up automatic pricing engines and may cause BWB's competitors to lose money.
Note the poor feedback of this seller. In practice, 92% is between bad and terrible on the Amazon feedback scale.
If you sent an incomplete item like this in to BWB's textbook buyback arm, they'd probably toss it in the trash and refuse to give you any credit for it.
Bad Bookseller! No Cookie!

  • Seller:  BWB - TEXTBOOKS

  • Rating:92% positive over the past 12 months (3118 ratings.) 15854 lifetime ratings.

  • Shipping: In Stock. Ships from IN, United States. Expedited shipping available. International shipping available. See Shipping Rates. See return policy.

  • Comments:   Shipped by Better World Books. Shop Manual only. Great condition for a used book! Minimal wear. 100% Money Back Guarantee. Shipped to over one million happy customers. ( « less )

    Note the following less than stellar feedback:

    1 out of 5:
    "very bad seller, after i purchased for two weeks, then sent me a message and said the book had been sold. don't trust this seller."
    Date: December 21, 2009     Rated by Buyer: XXXX

    1 out of 5:
    "The review is based solely on the misinformation on the condition of the book. Seller said "used - very good," but book has highlighting and writing throughout the entire book. The condition of the book should be clearly described. Labeling the book as "used - very good" when every page has highlighting and writing in he margins is misleading. "
    Date: December 4, 2009     Rated by Buyer: XXXX

    They're getting a total of 3 NO COOKIES today.
    On a closing note, they're at 3.118 sales per year. With most sellers getting about 1 feedback per 5 sales, we can guess this division of BWB is moving about 16,000 pieces per year. If their textbooks average $20 per unit, that's probably a gross of $320K just from Amazon. I'll guess Amazon is 1/3rd of their volume, so this department is probably right around $1M gross annual revenue.
    Their business model probably warrants another blog entry. I'll do it if I get around to it, although I should probably discuss Nebraska Books and their Amazon purchasing antics first.


  1. Hey TJ---

    I'm kinda hazy on this social enterprise concept. Wouldn't practically any business operating in anything other than a vacuum be a social enterprise? At least BWB's website descibes itself as a "for-profit" social enterprise so that helps to pin things down a little bit.

    And a B Corporation. Let me get this straight. A social enterprise earns its B Corporation certification by scoring 40% on a test or index created and administered by another social enterprise which charges money to award this certification. It sounds a little bit incestuous. Or like mutually advantageous backscratching anyway.

    And then there's the third condition which needs to be met in order for the first social enterprise to be certified as a B Corp by the second social enterprise. The B Corp aspirant needs to adopt language into its charter or corporate manuals that holds it responsible to do...absolutely nothing. I'm sure that I can't afford whatever annual fee is required to pay for the certifcation (unless it's less than ten bucks) but, by golly, I can fully conform to the requirement of being held to do absolutely nothing. I can't even begin to remember the last time I did anything other than checking the fridge for another cold beer.

    If I'm reading this right, B Corporation classification doesn't actually confer any special legal nor tax advantage on a social enterprise so classified. Unless you count the advantages of being able to use the classification to muddy the waters as to what the enterprise does and how it does it.

    BWB throws out enough fuzzy language and quasi- legalisms on its web page to leave my head spinning. Maybe there is an advantage to be gained by layering your social enterprise in multiple veneers of BS and feel-good nonsense.

    Jeez, sign me up.

  2. It's complicated, certainly.
    I'm not wholly critical of BWB.
    Assuming they're not bald-faced lying here:
    then they have donated $7.3 million to charity since they came into existence.
    They provide a service, and do donate some money to some organizations that do, probably, do some good.
    My only objection is that the nature of the enterprise is not transparent to casual consumers, donors and their business partners.
    I'll note that at a local college campus, the solicitations conducted for books to be donated to BWB pretty much leave students with the impression that the books go straight from the donation box onto a plane and thence directly to some impoverished needy reader in a developing country.
    The reality is that the book will be flipped for quick cash and perhaps one twelfth of the profit resulting from said flip will go to a charity that promotes literacy.
    Thank you for mentioning the "B Corporation" angle on this. I'll read up on that, although like you, I'm confused as to what material benefit it confers upon an enterprise thus incorporated.

  3. Okay, here's an update:
    This particular post, outlining a prohibited listing on Amazon, has been viewed twice by Better World Books employees. The book is still up.
    Now, was it a manager or a guy that packs books that read the post? No way of knowing. Still an amusing tidbit, though.