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WHSmith Introduces Buy-back Programme for Second-hand Books

By Julia Fitzpatrick

On Tuesday, 2 November, high-street chain WHSmith announced their BookCycle scheme, a buy-back initiative which invites customers to exchange unwanted books for credit to spend in-store or online. WHSmith has partnered with Zeercle, which provides resale services, to create the BookCycle scheme.

According to WHSmith’s website, each book’s voucher value has been determined based on “criteria such as its condition, the popularity of the title and its demand in the market.” For instance, a paperback edition of The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (Bloomsbury, 2017) is valued at £1.40, while Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (Faber & Faber, 2010) fetches only 48p. Some titles are deemed ineligible for the scheme because their values are “too low on the second-hand book market or because we already have too many copies.”

The scheme, which was chosen as Retail Week magazine’s “Initiative of the Week”, aims to protect the environment and incentivise customers to read more without the extra cost. Ian Sanders, WHSmith's commercial development director, said, “it makes great sense for our customers and our business to support a circular economy for books, as we aim to minimise our impact on the environment and support our local communities.” The BookCycle contributes to an industry-wide conversation about the environmental damage that publishing causes through deforestation, packaging and air miles. The Publishers Association’s sustainability pledge, launched in 2021 as “Publishing Declares”, now has 162 signatories, including major publishing houses such as Penguin Random House UK.

BookCycle has, however, been criticised by industry figures and environmental activists. Sussed in the Forest, a sustainability organisation, posted on X (previously Twitter) that “this sounds rather too good to be true with used books already flooding the market here.” Chris Edwards, the owner of the second-hand bookshop Skoob Books, told The Guardian that the scheme was essentially a “recycling service” launched to increase footfall in WHSmith stores because there is “no evidence to suggest there’s an increase in second-hand sales” of the commercially popular titles which BookCycle is likely to involve. Nicola Solomon, CEA of the Society of Authors, pointed out that as authors are not compensated for second-hand sales, “this initiative could be detrimental to author incomes.”

Head to the WHSmith website to learn more about the BookCycle scheme or to valuate a book.



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