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Book Donation Sites Are Selling the Best Books

The Baltimore Sun had an article criticizing the selling of books online at ABE and Amazon by the not for profit organization, Book Thing. Under the name, Boards & Wraps, Russell Wattenberg has over 4,000 titles listed for sale online. These are books that Wattenberg receives in the form of donations. Many books are given every weekend, but the cream are being sold.

Booksellers would like Wattenberg to disclose how much profit he is making and where those dollars go in regards to operating Book Thing. Wattenberg is not the only recipient of book donations that sells the best books. Friends of the Library groups do this regularly.

On the one hand, if the money is going to run the charity, it makes sense to skim the cream. On the other, if all the best books are being given away, the people getting the donations aren’t getting to read the best books, or at least the popular ones. I do think that Wattenberg should be more up front with where the dollars are going. People who donate books and money want to be assured that the money is going where it is said that it is going.

Via Steve Weber’s Selling Books.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

4 Comments

  1. jmc
    Apr 29, 2007 @ 10:17:43

    This was a topic of conversation at dinner the other night. The one at the table who is a Book Thing regular was a bit dismissive of the article as being prompted by sour grapes of other booksellers and/or book donors who realized after the fact what they had donated had value.

    If the sale of rare donated books makes it possible for the organization to flourish, more power to Wattenberg. I don’t have a problem with this. However, I think transparency is important in non-profits, so being more open would be good.

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  2. Robin
    Apr 29, 2007 @ 10:52:58

    Well, if Book Thing has assets or income over a certain level, they have to declare it to Uncle Sam to keep their 501(c)(3) status, so “transparency” in this case would be more to secure continued donations and public support, right? That makes complete sense to me, even if I wouldn’t automatically assume anything wrong with the sale of expensive books to generate even more income for the non-profit. It is EXTREMELY difficult to keep those organizations going without some kind of income base, and I’m thinking it’s far easier for many people to donate books than actual cash.

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  3. jmc
    Apr 30, 2007 @ 05:35:10

    Mmm, declared income and assets on tax returns aren’t the transparency I was thinking of, primarily because of accessibility. While members of the board of directors/trustees have access to that information easily, it isn’t feasible to distribute copies of the tax returns to donors who worry or wonder about what is done with the books they’ve donated. I was thinking more of an annual report of sorts, reduced to bullet points of contributed income, earned income and expenses. For example, I get monthly financial statements from the NP I work with — I can see line by line where the money is coming from and where it is going. We are audited annually as part of our network obligation, and we publish an annual report that is available to all donors. Generally, though, they aren’t interested in reading it. What they are interested in is the pamphlet and e-newsletter we circulate with the budget consolidated into 5 or 6 lines showing what our overhead was, how much money was contributed vs. earned, etc.

    The only thing that really stuck out to me was that the friend and board member interviewed had no idea what was going on. The board doesn’t need to micromanage, but if this is a significant source of income for the NP, the board should’ve known. Lax board oversight can lead to bad things, despite the good intentions of a visionary leader.

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  4. Robin
    Apr 30, 2007 @ 12:14:56

    Ah, I see what you’re saying JMC; my own personal experience working with a non-profit is that people don’t really care about the money until it’s almost gone. It’s very strange that a board member would be in the dark, though, which suggests to me that there’s very little reporting of any kind, which, yeah, can be a big problem, not because anything nefarious is going on, but because people are left wondering, which actually can be worse.

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