Donating Books, and All That

WP_20150801_11_05_31_Pro[1]I belong to lots of online groups that are related to books and reading, and one topic that comes up again and again is buying books from charity shops.  I’m always surprised at how much misinformation is out there: charity shops don’t want any more books because they have too many, charity shops pulp 70% of the books that are donated, charity shops shouldn’t charge so much because they don’t have any overheads (and that last one really gets my goat).  There are lots of misconceptions about what happens to books when they are donated to a charity shop and whilst I can’t speak for all charity shops, I thought that writing about what happens to books in my shop may help to dispel some of those myths.  (And when I say ‘my shop’, I of course mean the nationwide charity retail shop of which I am manager.  I’m not going to give away the identity of said shop for privacy reasons, although I will not be saying anything negative, nor passing judgement, but merely explaining the process).

WP_20150801_14_50_45_Pro[1]So let’s begin with those few I mentioned in the beginning.  Charity shops want your books!  In my shop, books account for more than 10% of overall sales, so they are not a small part of the shop and it means that turnover of stock is high.  So this nonsense of not wanting any more books is just that: nonsense!  In our shop in particular, we are always desperate for more books and just like the Dog’s Trust, we never put a healthy book down.  Which of course means that pulping 70% of donated books is an insane idea!  The only books that we discard are those that are unsaleable due to damage, being written all over (although a dedication or side-notes are acceptable – I do love to find these in second hand books), or occasionally because we have thousands of copies of the same book donated each month (50 Shades of Grey comes to mind, or perhaps The Da Vinci Code).  In fact, we don’t pulp any books, damaged or not, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Finally, this idea that charity shops have no overheads is a lovely idea, but an idea is all WP_20150801_11_05_06_Pro[1]it is.  Regardless of what you may think, charity shops still have to pay business rates, council tax, and rent.  There is still the electricity bill, the staffing costs, and the general costs of day-to-day running.  Yes, costs are reduced because stock is (for the most part) donated and the staff (for the most part) are volunteers, but prices are also greatly reduced compared to standard high street stores.  And yes, we’re a charity but we don’t exist to help people buy cheap books, we exist to help children in need/people with heart disease/cancer sufferers or whatever the particular charity.  Just a little thought for the next time you complain about paying a pound or two for a nearly new book!

To help you understand the process a bit better, I followed a bag of book donations through the day, to see what happened to its contents.

A Day in the Life of a Book Donation

WP_20150801_14_48_31_Pro[1]We’re extremely lucky that lots of lovely people donate their pre-loved books (and some not-so-pre-loved, as they look like they’ve never been read!).  Without those lovely people, charity shops would get nowhere (and you wouldn’t be able to bag that bargain – “The Girl on the Train for £1, when I’m 180th in the library list? How awesome!”)  So if you donate: thank you!

When we look through the bag to decide on what we’ll keep and what we won’t, we look WP_20150801_14_50_16_Pro[1]out for a few different things.  Loose pages and badly damaged spines are obviously a no-no, and likewise when a child has got hold of a Biro has scribbled all over the pages.  As mentioned earlier, we keep an eye out for books that keep turning up like rabbits multiplying, because no customer wants to stare at shelves upon shelves of the same book (and it seems the whole world has read them anyway)!  So we separate the books into two categories: keep and throw.

When I say ‘throw’, we don’t actually throw any book away and neither do we pulp WP_20150801_15_22_15_Pro[1]them.  Any unsaleable books (or anything else for that matter) gets put aside and bought from us by a third-party company.  In our case, that company is World of Books.  So we still make money from your books, even if we can’t sell them directly in the shop.  As for what World of Books does with them, I don’t know but what I do know is that they sell a lot of them on eBay and on their online store and as for those that even they can’t sell, I’m sure they have a viable waste alternative to simply throwing them away.  This 70% figure that I hear bandied about a lot is an odd one.  For us, at least, nowhere near 70% of our donated books get sold on; it’s probably more like 20-30%.

WP_20150801_15_21_12_Pro[1]The books that we keep then go through the pricing procedure.  We have strict guidelines on pricing and so when you ask how we decided on the price, the truth is we didn’t.  We just followed the rules.  Sometimes I agree with the rules and sometimes I don’t, but for the most part, they make sense.  We also separate books by department, so we have children’s books, general fiction, chick-lit and romance, biographies, and non-fiction.  Each has its own pricing structure.


Once priced, books are stored in the back room (possibly my favourite room in the WP_20150801_11_04_42_Pro[1]building, since it’s full of books) and are placed in categories for easy access.  When ready to go on the shop floor, we organise books into fiction, non-fiction, chick-lit, etc. but we take it a step further than that.  Fiction is categorised alphabetically by the author’s surname.  Non-fiction is divided into cookery, history, humour, and so on. WP_20150801_15_20_04_Pro[1]

On the shop floor, we take time with the displays and try to keep things interesting by putting bright price-point stickers on the front and putting book-marks into them, but if you’re looking for something that’s not there, just ask – there is a chance that it will be in the back room.  It’s always worth an ask, and volunteers are always willing to help.

The final step of the process, of course, is you!  So come in, browse, pick up your new friend, and leave a happy customer.  And if you need a book-mark, we can give you one of those too!

So you see, there is so much more to donating books to charity shops than people think.  And whilst we’re on the subject, if you’re a book lover then volunteering at your local shop will be a thrill.  Just think of all the exciting new reads you’ll discover!WP_20150801_15_22_54_Pro[1]


  1. Thanks for the article, hoping it won’t help people understand a bit more. I work and volunteer in a charity shop so I agree with all that you say.

  2. I spent a couple of years as an assistant manager in a charity bookshop, and my experience was very similar, except that instead of ‘World of Books’, our surplus stock was collected by a company who sold them in places like India and Eastern Europe, which apparently have a voracious appetite for English language books. Our paperback fiction was all the same price, but we looked up anything that seemed interesting on sites like ABE before pricing. We had some huge coups while I was there – notably the collection of Victorian novels by George Macdonald which went to an American dealer for several hundred pounds, and the complete edition of Clarendon’s History of the Civil War, including all the illustrations, published in the early 18th century and which sold at auction for around £2,000. Finding it at the bottom of a box of donations was a thrill I’ll never forget. Cheaper, but just as interesting, were the bags of pulp 50s sci fi and crime, which made a great window display and sold like hot cakes.
    Worst, apart from shedloads of Dan Brown and Danielle Steel? The very posh woman who came in dragging a big, filthy bag of the sort used to contain horse or cattle feed. It was crammed with books, almost all of which proved to be unsaleable because she hadn’t cleaned the bag first, and just rammed them in any old how. As we gingerly unloaded the wet, dirty volumes, she demanded to have the bag back.

    1. We use Abe too, and it can be exciting to find something worth money but I agree with how great the vintage sci-fi and noir novels can be. They make fab displays and actually, people lap them up – there is just something so kitsch about them.

      I understand your pain with the posh lady – although I’m sure that some people genuinely don’t realise how gross things like that can be! ha ha!

  3. Very interesting and timely, since our local Scope shop told me the books were selling very slowly due to e-books … maybe she was really told to shorten the shelf for some other reason? Or is it the competition from Oxfam?

    1. Our town doesn’t really have a great choice in terms of bookshops – we have a small Works that is mostly crafty stuff and toys, and a WH Smiths with a very small book section, but that’s it so that almost definitely helps boost our book sales – although there are a lot of other charity shops around us too. Perhaps the Scope near you genuinely are having trouble selling their books. I don’t think ebooks have affected us personally in that way – at least not to a large degree anyway but as I say, I am only really speaking from personal experience.

  4. I volunteer at a charity shop and get a lot of books from there…full price naturally. But, as I am an author, I’m in charge of the books. Heaven!

    1. Hehe it’s great isn’t? The book room in our shop is undoubtedly my favourite room! It doesn’t often happen, but when I get the opportunity to spend the whole day in there, I’m in my element! (Although admittedly, I don’t get much work done – I’m too busy reading blurbs and adding books to my ‘buy’ pile haha)

  5. I’m going to share this on Facebook, I think you have covered the whole topic well and lots of my Facebook friends buy charity shop books. I too have been a humble volunteer, I left when the police got involved ( nothing to do with me ) – that’s another story – but your shop sounds a great deal better! – I much prefer it when the books are in alphabetical order, though it’s also fun to pick up unknowns.

  6. Reblogged this on The Bookwormery and commented:

    #Flashback Friday! A look at what happens to your books when you donate them to a charity shop. Admittedly, I left my charity shop job over two years ago now, but this is how it worked when I was there and I can’t imagine too much has changed.

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