Those who donate books to Lawrence’s Goodwill thrift store might be surprised to know those books could end up in the hands of readers thousands of miles away.
For the past year and half, the local Goodwill has been shipping their most valuable books to the Goodwill of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas’ main office, which then lists those books for sale on Amazon.com.
The change has been successful, said Stuart Hoffman, vice president of marketing and development for the regional Goodwill organization.
“Books on Amazon bring in a higher value,” Hoffman said. “For us, the more money we can make on our books, the more money we can pour into our mission.”
For 2012, the regional Goodwill expects to bring in $1 million from its online books, which is about 2 percent of its business. Goodwill’s proceeds go toward providing services and programs for those who have barriers to employment, such as those with disabilities or economic disadvantages.
A Goodwill store in Oregon was the first to make the transition to online book sales several years ago. Others around the country have followed.
For the Kansas City region, the switch to online book selling was part of a larger e-commerce program. The program includes putting higher-value items online that would be hard to sell at local stores, such as fur coats, jewelry and coins.
“It’s not something that is popular in the stores, but it is online,” Hoffman said.
Not all donated books end up online. When someone drops off their books at Goodwill, the bar code is scanned into a software program which calculates if the book has any market value on Amazon. Most of the time, Goodwill will price the book at Amazon’s suggested market price.
Those that do have an Amazon value are shipped to the regional facility in Kansas City and listed online. The rest are put on the shelves at the local stores.
Amazon won’t allow Goodwill to sell the books under their direct name, so the regional Goodwill uses the name Good Books Will Follow. The regional Goodwill has about 8,500 books online and sells about 225 books a day.
On Wednesday, the books varied from the best seller “The Help” to the educational book “Introduction to the Croatian and Serbian Language.” In between there was a “101 Cool Magic Tricks” and “The Anarchist Handbook.”
Textbooks and cookbooks sell best, Hoffman said. The most the nonprofit ever received for a book was $650. The book was about hacking computers.
While sales remain steady, Hoffman said there can be some unpredictable factors.
“Believe it or not, based on the sales over the weekend, I can tell what kind of weather there was,” he said. “If it was the dead of winter, when it is freezing across the country, people stayed in and bought books.”
Selling books online means those books aren’t available for customers to purchase at local stores, which has disappointed some shoppers. But Hoffman said those disappointed the most were the book buyers who are doing in the same thing Goodwill is, scanning bar codes to see which books Amazon will take.
“They were buying the books from us for 99 cents and $1.50 and then turning around and putting them up on Amazon,” Hoffman said. “I don’t begrudge them for having a business. But we are in business to make money. We need to be able to invest right back into our mission.”
Other local non-profit thrift stores, such as the Salvation Army and the Social Service League, haven’t gone to online book selling.
At the Social Service League, there is an entire room of books priced between 25 to 50 cents, manager Jean Ann Pike said. She keeps the prices low to keep people reading. And she has considered selling some of them online, but as the store’s sole employee she doesn’t know where she would find the time.
“I’ve thought about it and that is as far as it got,” Pike said.