Ontario Textbook Recycling

Finding good home for unwanted books since 2000


I have a book I don’t want, but I received for free. Is it legal to sell it?

Yes.  By Canadian law, goods received unsolicited can be disposed of in any manner the recipient chooses.

Why did I receive a free book?

A free textbook – also referred to as “desk copy”, “complementary” or “instructor edition” – is a marketing sample produced by a publishing corporation as part of its advertising budget.

Publishers distribute unsolicited marketing samples with the objective of promoting their latest editions for adoption.

Who is responsible for deciding what should be done with the surplus generated by free samples?

Since these books arrive from outside the institution, no one within it officially has the job of dealing with them. It is not what faculty or staff are paid to do.

The final recipient of the free sample is technically and legally responsible, although administrators attempt to offer guidelines or create policies around book disposal.

It is helpful to understand these points:

  1. 1.Samples come from outside the college or university, not from within it.

  2. 2.Providing free samples as “gifts” to decision-makers is a common marketing strategy used in business.

  3. 3.Most recipients of free samples experience a confusing range of feelings, from gratitude and indebtedness to obligation, guilt and resentment.

  4. 4.Free samples are ungoverned by “binding contracts”, “unspoken agreements” or “understandings” between a publisher and a college or university.

The following article offers additional insights into the “rule of obligation”: http://westsidetoastmasters.com/resources/laws_persuasion/chap4.html

Can I sell a book I asked for, but no longer want?

If you agreed to hold on to an unwanted book until the rep returns for it, then of course you ought to abide by that agreement.  If the rep doesn’t return for it within a reasonable period, or declines to take it away, you are free to seek another option.

Why are notices about sale and copyright issues displayed on some book covers?

These notices are displayed to protect the publishers’ best interest, one of which is to prevent used books from entering the marketplace. There is no issue around sales, content ownership or copyright protection for samples.

Does putting book samples into the marketplace create other problems for publishers or authors?

According to an economics professor, samples in the marketplace likely account for less than 2% of sales. If  they impacted royalties and profits significantly, giving out samples would have ceased long ago.

What do publishers expect me to do with books I don’t want?

They hope you will adopt them or at least keep them on our shelves. A book in sight is considered exposure – a key marketing principle, which is why reps are not encouraged to come back to collect.

Unless a service such as ours is offered, most  review copies spend their useful lives cluttering up shelves, gathering dust and read by no one until moving day comes and they end up in the trash, often still in their shrink wrap.

What are the advantages of using your book recycling program vs other organizations?

You will know who you are working with and your contact will be accessible in person. The number of people coming on campus will be limited to one to two people, with Janie Upham personally on site and involved in each step of the process. If you are selling books for fundraising, you will have the reassurance that funds from your book donation is going to where it was intended. You will also be supporting a small Canadian business and the local economy. And you may feel good about the fact that we donate a portion of our proceeds to peace initiatives.

What do you do with the books you sell for fundraising?

We make them available, usually at reduced prices, to students at other schools, who need these books for their required reading. We do this by selling them to various wholesale textbook exchanges that supply discount markets.

What about donating books to organizations who collect them to send overseas, such as to Africa?

We suggest you request and examine the credentials of anyone claiming to do so, since administrators frequently endorse such operations without guaranteeing their authenticity. Distributing books to schools in developing countries is a sophisticated operation that requires extensive organization, funding and other resources. A  business card cannot be relied upon as evidence that your donated books are going where you hope they are.

We are a registered business. We provide documentation about our activities, and are transparent about our primary service, which is to buy and sell textbooks.

We plan to donate our books to the library. Isn’t that a good alternative?

Most library collections are being downsized and digitized. They often prefer to fill limited shelf space with books that augment current curriculums, rather than with introductory texts that are updated so often that cataloguing and magnetic coding become costly. Libraries often contact us to sell the books they don’t want.

I give extra books to my students. Isn’t this a better  option?

This makes sense if you are giving away an extra copy of the book you’re teaching from. Otherwise, perhaps not, because students have a hard enough time getting through their assigned textbooks, never mind additional reading.

With new editions coming out so frequently, it’s difficult for students to purchase assigned textbooks at used or discount prices. Our business supplies the discount and used markets.

If you want to help students, this is a more effective approach to getting the right book to the student who needs it at a reduced price, and you can use the funds you raise to help in other ways, such as giving to the student food bank.

What if there’s a policy about dealing with book buyers, which I do not agree with?

Our position is that we do business with individuals as independent professionals, and as per college policy about visitors, our presence on campus is by invitation. Most professors and staff have extended us an open invitation to drop by whenever we are in the area; still we consider all of our transactions private and confidential. Those who have concerns about doing business on campus ask us come to their home or meet in a coffee shop.

We hope to organize our own book drive for a developing community. What would be involved?

Although our role in book drives has been limited to supplying  books and funding, we are aware of most of the steps involved. The first step is to determine where a need exists and what books will be appropriate. You may have to create or identify an organization that is set up to receive and distribute the books once they arrive. Determine how you will get them there and who will cover the shipping costs. Be sure to do some background research and obtain credentials from any party or organization you intend to collaborate with. You may be able to arrange for free transport through your Provincial Police (such as OPP in Ontario) or Canadian Armed Forces, who have helped in the past with transporting books to First Nations Communities and Afghanistan. Unless you intend to do the work yourself (not advisable!), you will need to recruit a few volunteers to collect, sort and prepare books for shipping. Boxes, (and possibly sea containers) labels, and shipping documentation will be required. If you need to raise funds to keep the project afloat, there are several on-site assessment services such as ours in Canada and the US that we can recommend.  If you figure out how each step will be handled in advance, your project should meet with success.

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“Nothing is more costly than something given free of charge.”

~ Japanese saying