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May 18, 2017


Books are simply valuable. It’s a sustainable business, too.

In these days of E-books and Kindles, one would think twice about buying yet another book made from real paper. This is why a social entrepreneur from Japan started his business called Value Books. There were too many books being thrown away due to excess in printed copies. There were also books being disposed of by city people who simply did not have the space to keep them.

In 2007 Taiki Nakamura started by selling one book to Amazon. The rest, as they say, is history. He now counts two million books in inventory, in three warehouses in Japan. He has also become Amazon Japan’s biggest reseller of books.

His mission is simple and can be told in five Rs: Read, Rescue (or gather books), Reuse, Recycle and Relax. He wants every person in the world to be able to read and also be able to have access to books, even if they are recycled from other people’s libraries or closets.

Nakamura now counts working with 89 Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs), 67 Universities and 6 local government units. Here’s how they work:

  1. NPOs can accept donations of books. They can also benefit when Value Books resells books. In fact, some 70% of donated books proceeds goes to the NPOs.
  2. Universities benefit from book donations as well. Imagine all the books that schools can add to their libraries.
  3. Local government units benefit from donations as well for their public libraries.

Now, think of the Philippines. Do you know that in some public schools two students have to share a textbook? Yes, there aren’t enough books to go around schools and the population growth is higher than the number of books distributed, I guess.

Anvil Publishing (my publisher) and Lexicon Press (one of our printers) regularly send me textbooks to donate to areas like Carmen, Cotabato where a friend of mine, Gianida Lumanggal, is a schoolteacher. The funniest problem was finding the delivery point for Kabacan, South Cotabato. The local courier service could only bring it to a school or the municipality (municipio). There was no exact address given by Gianida but the books got there nevertheless.

In Sulu, I was going to donate books but our local champion, Princess Kumala Sug-Elardo, said “They wont need it. They cannot read anyway”. Oh my. Here we are presuming that book donations will address poverty issues. Not too fast. First, we have to address literacy in far flung areas—but Sulu is getting there. Recently, they graduated several youth from college and that is soon improving in numbers. Then we can donate books.

As Nozomi Torii relayed to us, Value Books must be the most sustainable “social” enterprise she has come across. Torii-san gave up her corporate job in Tokyo to run the charity program and raise funds for Value Books’ program called “Charibon”. She moved back to quieter Ueda City (90 minutes by bullet train from Tokyo) in Nagano prefecture and has never been happier. She finds more meaning in her career now, being a social entrepreneur along with Value Books founder Nakamura. She operates a café called NABO (Danish for neighbor), as the café used to be a Danish furniture store. In the café, diners and book lovers can donate books under the Fure Fure program. These books are then sold and 70% of the proceeds go to NGOs who benefit from people’s love for reading.

Nozomi Torii

NABO is an events place for the Ueda community and people come to just commune over books, coffee, and pastries while being ensconced in the two-storey “library” cum bookstore. The furniture are still the Danish pieces left by the former space owner, and the pastries are supplied by a famous maker in Ueda called Halita.

One cool afternoon, Torii-san found time to take us to one of their warehouses, where their systematic way of indexing and archiving books is so impressive you would want to work there. They even stock CDs, DVDs, and paperbacks or small books. The afternoon shift was busy preparing orders for shipping out while the evening shift was coming in to be briefed.

I must say a business like Value Books does not feel like work at all. You support people’s love for reading while helping book lovers dispose of their excess in a good and beneficial way. And this is why Torii-san feels like it’s the best career move she has ever made.

How I wish a book lover can start a sustainable book business like this in Manila. Any takers?



Photos by Chit Juan



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