June 2009 | Michael Lieberman

About Those Blue Book Donation Boxes

Have you seen those blue book donation boxes that seem to be popping up everywhere? Ever wonder what the deal is?

Well, here's how it works:

The boxes are are owned and operated by Thrift Recycling Managment (TRM), a for-profit company. This alone should bring into question the 'Books For Charity' mantra emblazoned on the front and sides of each box.

To date, about 15,000 boxes have been placed around the country.

51% of books donated end up being pulped. Think revenue stream.

25% go to non-profit organizations committed to various literacy and book-related causes with only a tiny fraction of those books ever making it back to the community they came from.

TRM keeps the remaining books to sell. They claim to be "the largest seller of used books on the Internet," In that process, they have become one of the most prolific penny-sellers in the online marketplace. Part of their mission is "to reduce the cycle of poverty by providing access to books to those in need." Unfortunately, they are also increasing the cycle of poverty for many traditional booksellers by sucking the value out of much their inventory.

And it is not only the booksellers that are suffering from this new disruptive model.

Derek Sheppard's piece in the Kitsap Sun, Donated Books Becoming a Sought-After Commodity -- Perhaps Too Much So?, looks at how these boxes have also been affecting the Friends of the Library book sale in Poulsbo, WA.

Maybe the boxes should be painted red.