If your art and design library contains a sizable number of cello-wrapped, sticker-laden volumes whose pages are stamped with the names of their previous institutional owners (“Property of Wyoming Public Library” indeed!), then you have probably discovered the wonders of Better World Books. The online bookseller’s vast selection, low prices, commitment to social responsibility (from carbon-neutral free shipping to donating millions to literacy programs), and kooky brand image make it a must-click whether you’re stocking up on books by Steven Heller (collect them all!) or tracking down an out-of-print exhibition catalogue. The Mishawaka, Indiana-based company is about to kick off “Shop from Work Week” to encourage cubicle-dwellers to shop online when they should be working. “It’s not every day you have the green light to shop from work,” says Better World Books co-founder Xavier Helgesen (pictured), who scours the web for old bikes, bike parts, and interesting cookbooks when not busy with his duties as vice president of textbooks. “Although being in the e-commerce business, I get to call it ‘comparative market research.’” With the procrastination-themed sale afoot, we took some time away from our fashion week preparations to ask Helgesen seven questions about books, branding, and building a better world.
1. First—we can’t help it!—what’s your favorite book?
I love too many books to name for a whole bunch of reasons, but a classic that is really tough to beat is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I remember first reading it in eighth grade and literally falling out of my chair laughing when the Vogon is reading poetry.
2. And what are you reading these days?
On the fiction end, I devoured The Road by Cormac McCarthy in a few days. It was stark and harrowing, but completely addictive. On the non-fiction end, Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver is making me a much better cook and making me love Italy all the more.
3. Now that we’ve got that settled. How did better Better World Books come about?
Better World Books started with a single college book drive on Notre Dame’s campus in 2002. Our idea was to collect books that the college bookstore didn’t want and sell them online as a fundraising for the local community center. That is still the basic model we use today, though on a much bigger scale.