President Obama at the White House Easter Egg roll, improving your business. Yes, YOUR business.
Less than half of children under five years of age in the US are read to everyday. That more than anything helps cement a love of reading and prepare kids for school. Even babies and toddler benefit from being read to. Studies show that two year olds that are read to everyday have larger vocabularies, more developed cognitive skills, and better language comprehension skills than those that are not read to. And that’s in kids that are only semi-verbal!
And the problems pile up over the years, resulting in kids falling farther behind with each grade. These problems persist for a lifetime and cost the government (and taxpayers) trillions of dollars. In some states they use the third grade reading proficiency scores to estimate future prison need. Why? 85% of prison inmates cannot read proficiently. Simply increasing the graduation rate by 5% would save the US $5 BILLION annually in prison related costs.
Every 26 seconds, a kid drops out of school in the US. Over their lifetime, each high school drop out costs the US government roughly$260,000. In adults, 43% of people that are not proficient readers live in poverty. Of those that are proficient readers, a mere 4% live in poverty. Over the course of their lives, those with lowest literacy rates cost the government four times as much in health care costs as the most proficient readers. Annually an additional $73 BILLION is spent on health care for those with low reading proficiency due to low literacy skills in the form of longer hospital stays, emergency room visits, more doctor visits, medication errors, and increased medication. US businesses spend $60 billion annually on remedial training, mostly on reading skills.
One in seven adults in the US can not read this post, let alone anything complicated like list of side effects on medication or the fine print on a loan application.
What does all this have to do with bookstores? The key to literacy is access to books. In low income areas, 80% of preschool and afterschool programs have NO age appropriate books for kids! In middle class neighborhoods, there’s roughly one age appropriate book per 13 kids between the library and private holdings. In low income neighborhoods, the ratios is 300 to 1.
A bookstore by its mere existence improves access to books for all people in a community. Even more than actually selling books, a used bookstore is a major book distributor to those that cannot afford to buy books. If you operate a used bookstore, you probably receive multiple calls per week about “will you just TAKE my books? I don’t want to throw them out!” A used bookstore serves as a collection and redistribution point for books of all types. Books that would never sell in the store and sell for pennies online often make it into boxes destined for prisons, schools, homeless shelters, literacy programs, and other places in desperate need of books. Even if you make faces at having a box of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books left on your doorstep, once they’re sent off to a new home at a school or prison, they can be a godsend.
Additionally, having various programs at the store can help boost literacy. Story hour helps kids learn to love reading. Even if they buy nothing that day, that can help boost literacy in your community which saves your business money (in the form of lower property taxes) in the long term and increases the market for books.
Obviously making kids books affordable and available has the biggest impact because of the ripple effect over time. Yet many used bookstores don’t accept children’s books. This is because they’re often hard to shelve, often are in terrible condition when the arrive, and often don’t fit the focus of the store. (and that totally ignores the issue of CPSIA, another major problem) Where do those books go? Some do get donated to places that need them, but even more end up thrown out. If you have a store, take them. Even if you give no credit or pay nothing for them, even if you don’t have space to put them on the shelves, many people just want to pass them on to someone. You can find them a good home with a group that truly will put them to good use… and remember your largesse. (and may be tax deductible too!)
While giving away books does not seem like it really helps your bottom line, that is because it has little to no visible impact when you focus on monthly or quarterly sales. However, over years or decades, it ensures there’s an ever growing market for your product. If you’re writing a ten year business plan, donations of books, services, or just plain money to local programs that increase the literacy rate should be part of that plan. Even if you allocate no money to it, as you are simply redistibuting overstock, simply making the committment to give away X number of books per year and hold Y number of story hours, it will make a huge difference in the long term viability of your business.
Now obviously this applies most directly to brick and mortar stores, but online only places can play their part as well. When you’re scouting books, consider buying some collections at a flat rate to take it ALL, even what you consider junk. You may well be able to get a better price by agreeing to take it ALL than picking and choosing the few volumes you want. Bundle up the rest and donate.
Schools and literacy focused programs are the obvious place to start, but adults need books too! Improving adult literacy improves the outcome for their kids too. Places like the local social services office, prisons, hospitals, rehab facilities, homeless shelters, and domestic violence shelters can all make use of these. In many cases, these are places with captive audiences that would never read for pleasure on their own (or could never afford to spend money on books)… but give them a book to read while waiting and they just may find it’s fun. Or may spend that hour in line sitting and reading to their kids.
If you’re willing to pay for postage and want to do something beyond the local area, sending books to military bases overseas is also an excellent option. A box of books can make a soldier’s day. They’ll be shared around, passed from person to person and unit to unit. Some units in low-conflict areas may also hand out children’s books to the local kids. When eventually the unit moves out, they leave the majority of the books behind. That dogeared, highlighted copy of a classic may be worth pennies stateside, but when left in a fa away land it may take an honored place in the local library’s English-language collection.
And all that eventually comes full circle. While book people consider books a necessity, in many places they are a luxury. By providing the books necessary to build an education upon, it increases the demand overall, worldwide. Increased literacy decreases poverty… and so there’s money available to spend on books. And lower taxes from increased literacy rates means more disposable income locally to spend on books… And higher literacy rates translate to more kids learning to love to read and consider books a necessity, not a luxury… And on and on…
Make the commitment to give books, money, or time to the cause of building literacy locally and worldwide and help ensure a better business climate for yourself for years and decades to come.