I received these books in error. Is it ethical for me to sell them?
February 8, 2019 8:27 PM   Subscribe

I ordered some books directly from a press. When the package came, I found it full of totally different books. The company that fulfilled the order does not want it back. I now have four copies of a fairly specialized textbook. Can I dispose of these books as I see fit? In particular, would there be anything ethically wrong with selling them, e.g. on a used books website?

I ordered some books from a university press. They were shipped to me by a third-party book distributor. The package I received looked to be the right size, weighed about as much as I expected it to, and was (obviously) addressed to me. But when I opened it, I found an invoice meant for another recipient and books that I didn't order. The company evidently put the wrong address label on this package meant for someone else.

I contacted the company, requested either the fulfillment of a new order or a refund, and asked what to do about the erroneously sent books. Regarding the latter, they told me they did not need them and wrote that I should donate or destroy them.

I have no use for these books (four copies of a textbook). Destroying them seems pointless. I suspect that donating them will require some effort, as they are relatively specialized and the most logical place for them, my nearest university library, is--I've have heard multiple times--swamped with book donations in various subjects.

Finally (and I don't think this affects the ethical consideration, but it is relevant to my decision-making), I do not have the books I wanted, and they are no longer on sale, so if I reordered them, I would have to pay almost twice as much. If I sold these four books, I would probably more than cover the difference between sale and full price on the books I want.

What should I do?
Does this go in "shopping," "society and culture," or "human relations?"
posted by a certain Sysoi Pafnut'evich to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I do not have the books I wanted, and they are no longer on sale, so if I reordered them, I would have to pay almost twice as much.

You did get a refund from the publisher though right?

As your librarian I say "Sell them." If you want to do someone a favor sell them cheaply around the time students would be taking a class that requires them.
posted by jessamyn at 8:29 PM on February 8 [19 favorites]

You offered to give them back and they said no. You’re free to sell them, in my opinion. Buy the books you want. If you feel bad, donate excess profits in cash to the library.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:39 PM on February 8 [17 favorites]

Hell to the definite yes, sell them!!

If you can sell them for a third or even half price to some poor student you will have earned a rung up into that Big Library in the Sky.

Bummer you didn't get what you wanted, so best go ahead and make lemonade out of the lemons.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:40 PM on February 8 [5 favorites]

You did nothing wrong or unethical to get these books, and you contacted the publisher when you got them in error, thus fulfilling your ethical duty to them. They are now your property, and they will do the most good in the hands of a student who needs them. Sell them.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:46 PM on February 8 [9 favorites]

They are rightfully yours (became so when the company said they did not want them back) and you may ethically sell them, just as you could for any other book you own.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:36 PM on February 8 [3 favorites]

Wait, what? They aren't fulfilling your original order at the original price? If you accepted a refund, did you know the price would double? I'd be pursuing this!
posted by kate4914 at 9:41 PM on February 8 [15 favorites]

To answer your ask, you have the right to sell the books.

I had a similar experience last year.
I called the intended recipient and said I'd repackage the books and forward them on to him. He contacted me a few days later, when he accidentally received my order.
posted by jennstra at 9:48 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

Agree with kate4914 - it's fine if they don't want the erroneous books back, but why didn't they fix their mistake and send you what you ordered?
posted by sunflower16 at 4:07 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]

Sorry, upon rereading I see that you requested either new books or a refund and it sounds like you got the refund. I'd contact them, explain what happened and say that the books are now twice the cost, and would it be possible to reorder them at the original cost. If they have good customer service, they should be willing to do that for you, as this entire situation was due to their mistake.
posted by sunflower16 at 4:56 AM on February 9 [4 favorites]

Regarding the latter, they told me they did not need them and wrote that I should donate or destroy them.

The way I would model this is that you are currently in possession of the publisher's (mistakenly sent) property, and they have specified how they would like their property handled: donated or destroyed, not sold.

Which is not to say that I wouldn't sell them. I would totally sell them, and cackle gleefully as I deposited the check. But I'm a bad person with unresolved resentment at textbook publishers, and you should strive to be better than I am.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 4:57 AM on February 9 [4 favorites]

Ethically I'd try to find the original recipient to see what they wanted, if they got a refund or are in your situation as well.

You may get lucky (they have yours, AND really really want theirs)
but the shipping cost depending on location may be expensive to revolve .
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:04 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]

The intended recipient will have settled up with the press separately; these books aren't theirs. If the press doesn't want 'em back, they're yours.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 6:28 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]

The publisher doesn’t want the hassle of handling the returned books, and isn’t compensating you for assuming that hassle: they don’t get to tell you what you can do with them.
posted by cardboard at 6:47 AM on February 9 [2 favorites]

You can sell them without ethical concerns, I think.

You are under no obligation to find the original buyer, if they even exist. This error may not be due to a swapped package and your time also has value.

If this really bothers you, Books to Prisoners is always looking for textbooks at all levels, specialized or not. That would be a good place to donate them if you feel funny about selling them.
posted by sockermom at 9:15 AM on February 9 [3 favorites]

Thank you all for the thoughtful responses. I'm happy to see that my ethical intuition seems to be with the majority here and that I can dispose of these books as I see fit.

To clarify my original post, the book distributor offered me a refund for the original purchase, but said they would not be able to re-send the books. I have had problems with this company on previous occasions, so instead of drawing this out, I think I will take my refund and buy the books elsewhere. And thanks, soccermom, for the information about Books for Prisoners. It doesn't seem like these books fit their preferred categories, but it is a great organization to keep in mind.
posted by a certain Sysoi Pafnut'evich at 5:36 PM on February 9

« Older Should I change my name back?   |   New Laptop, 2019 edition Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments