Bridges Sustainable Growth Fund III, which is managed by specialist sustainable and impact investor Bridges Ventures (“Bridges”), has invested £13m to buy a majority stake in World of Books, a market-leading ‘circular economy’ technology business for used books.
Founded by a group of book-loving entrepreneurs in 2002, World of Books has been a pioneer in the re-use and recycling of books that might otherwise go to landfill – which is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions in the UK. World of Books works with charity shops and recycling merchants to collect and buy used books, while also buying unwanted books directly from consumers through its proprietary Ziffit ‘scan and send’ app. The unique technology platform it has developed over the last decade enables it to re-sell as many of these books as possible (via its own website and others such as Amazon and eBay); while the rest are recycled to make corrugated cardboard packaging and newsprint. This allows World of Books to offer over 2m high-quality, low-cost used books for sale to a global customer base – while also reducing carbon emissions.
Charity shops have to dispose of an estimated 50,000 tonnes of unsold books every year. Previously they had to pay for these to be taken away via trade waste collections, a large portion of which would end up in landfill. World of Books now buys and processes more than 25,000 tonnes of these books, working with over 3,700 charity shops across the UK. Its investment in technology has turned what was once a significant cost for charities into an additional source of income – equivalent to an economic benefit of £11m in the last five years alone.
In the UK, the online used book market is worth c. £200m pa – c. 10% of the total book sales market – and is growing at about 15% pa. Roughly one in three books sold in the UK are second-hand, and research suggests that this figure might be higher if there was a broader selection of books available. World of Books aims to take advantage of this growth opportunity by continuing to expand its inventory, and through further investment in its infrastructure and networks.
Stephen Boobyer will lead this new chapter of the company’s growth as Chief Executive Officer. He will be supported by three of the company’s co-founders: Simon Downes, who has been promoted to Chief Technology Officer, Mike Laundon, who will continue to run the company’s rare books division (World of Rare Books) and Ben Maxfield (Operations Director). Bridges will also work with Stephen to make further appointments to the senior executive team over the coming months. All existing shareholders have rolled over part of their investment alongside the new investment from Bridges.
Chairman Kenneth Blair and co-founder Arthur Maxfield will transition from their current executive roles over the next 6-12 months. However, they will remain actively involved with the business as non-executive directors, so World of Books can continue to benefit from their strategic insight and industry expertise. Bridges Partner Oliver Wyncoll and Investment Director James Hurrell (who together led the investment on the firm’s behalf) will join the World of Books board, while an experienced non-executive chairman will be appointed in due course.
Spectrum Corporate Finance advised shareholders and acquisition debt was provided by Clydesdale Yorkshire Banking Group.
Stephen Boobyer, CEO of World of Books, said:
“We chose Bridges as an investor because we felt they shared our values, understood our sector and our vision of what World of Books can achieve in the future. We hope to draw on the experience of Oliver, James and the wider Bridges team to keep building the business and maximising growth – but also to help us develop the way we think and talk about our existing and future impact as a business.”
Oliver Wyncoll, Partner at Bridges Ventures, commented:
“Sustainable living is a key focus for Bridges, so we’re hugely excited to invest in World of Books. Its pioneering technology-driven circular economy model is not only incredibly impactful, particularly in terms of reducing waste and carbon emissions; it also directly benefits charities and provides the business with a market-leading position in a growing sector. There are many attractive growth opportunities open to the business, and we look forward to working with Stephen, his team and the rest of the board to identify the most attractive options and help them execute their plans – while continuing to maximise the company’s social and environmental impact.”
Guy Stamp, Director, Specialist and Acquisition Finance at Clydesdale Bank PLC, commented:
“World of Books is a clear market leader with a strong management team and proven track record. We are privileged to play a part in their unfolding story and look forward to supporting the business in its next stage of growth.”
Lizzy Chesters / Alex Bayliss, Redleaf PR
T +44 (0)20 7382 4745 / (0)20 7382 4755
For World of Books/ Ziffit:
Vicki Hughes, Fugu PR
T 01273 327 514; M 07775 513541
NOTES TO EDITORS
About Bridges Ventures
Bridges Ventures LLP (“Bridges”) is a specialist fund manager focused exclusively on sustainable and impact investing – using commercial investment strategies to generate attractive financial returns alongside positive social and environmental impact. In the last 14 years, it has demonstrated that by using impact as a lens to identify and engage with investments, it is possible to deliver outstanding returns for investors and positive societal impact. The firm has now raised almost £800m across its Sustainable Growth, Property and Social Sector funds in the U.K. and the U.S.
About World of Books
- 22 online platforms internationally, shipping to over 150 countries
- Sells c. 9 million items every year. In the past 10 years, its inventory of books has grown from 1,000 to over 2 million
- One of the largest employers in the Worthing area: currently employs c.500 people at its facilities in Sussex (Goring-by-Sea and Chichester)
- A few years ago, an Australian customer bought a book from World of Books to read to her children, and found her own signature inside. It turned out to be the very same book that her mother had read to her as a child many years earlier – a perfect example of the circular economy.
Ziffit.com is a free and easy-to-use website to sell unwanted books, CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays and games for cash. Up to half-a-million items a month have been sold on the site since it launched in October 2013, making it one of the largest trade-in sites in the UK. The service is easy to use via its free app (available in the App Store and Google Play) that scans bar codes and instantly offers the price for each item and shows the accumulated total for all items scanned. Once Ziffit.com receives and processes the items, payment is fast (usually within three days) and made directly into to a bank or PayPal account. There is also the option to donate any proceeds to charity through JustGiving.
Advisors on the transaction:
- Corporate Finance: Spectrum Corporate Finance – Simon Davies and Bilal Hasan
- Legal: Pitmans – Sean Kelly
- Financial Due Diligence: BDO – Andy Harris
- Commercial and IT Due Diligence: Parthenon EY – Paul Ahern
- Legal: Eversheds – Louise Finnie and Alex Mccarney
- Debt Advisory – Spectrum Corporate Finance – Ian Milne and Simon Sherliker
Clydesdale Yorkshire Banking Group
- Legal: CMS – Peter Crichton