I Love Books is on a mission to end illiteracy with the power of books. 50% of all profits go directly toward putting books in the hands of the students and schools who need them the most. In 2020, we worked together on design and language to launch this new brand with the energy of the movement it is. Chris Jackson recently met up with founder Jonathan Beatty over coffee.
Chris Jackson (CJ): Jonathan Beatty. Good to see you.
Jonathan Beatty (JB): Likewise. And in person!
CJ: Thanks for taking the time. I know you’re busy these days.
JB: Any time.
CJ: We’ll jump right in. I Love Books’s mission is to end illiteracy. That’s a pretty big statement. What’s the inspiration behind it all?
JB: When I was working in the financial district in San Francisco, one day during lunch, I saw a woman eating out of a trash can. It just hit me — there’s a problem, and I’m part of it because I’m not using my talents and resources to address it. Seeing rows and rows of our homeless brothers and sisters not having what they need and seeing everybody just walk by, it just wasn’t in me.
The connection doesn’t seem natural at first, but through lots of research, I learned that illiteracy was a root cause of many social issues, including homelessness. One main contributing factor is that kids don’t have books in their homes. That’s what I Love Books is going to change.
CJ: The shift that you made from the corporate world to what you’re doing now is not a small one. You would be just fine doing the corporate thing. But seeing that problem and being willing to step away — that speaks volumes.
JB: I grew up in a trailer park in Eastern Kentucky. I didn’t grow up lavishly, but I had resources. My parents worked diligently to make sure that my siblings and I had what we needed. I learned a lot from the corporate thing, but I couldn’t keep doing it. So I want to take it and apply it to addressing and solving a problem worthy of time, resources, and effort.
CJ: Can you tell me about what you’ve learned about the correlation between having books and a person’s life trajectory?
JB: Statistically, if you are not reading at grade level by fourth grade, your chances of ending up in prison one day significantly increases. They build prisons based on fourth-grade reading scores.
CJ: Wow. That is astonishing.
JB: I know. So, there are two things that we are fighting in this battle to end illiteracy. One is access. Research shows that the number of books in your home is twice as important as your parents’ reading level. Two-thirds of kids in low-income homes don’t have books. And it makes sense. If you have to choose between a meal and a book, you choose the meal. If you have to choose between a book and rent, you choose rent.
The second thing is underfunded schools and libraries. Taxes will not provide enough resources for schools in low-income neighborhoods. Their libraries aren’t up to date. And, as result, students don’t end up identifying as readers.
So, my job in building I Love Books is not only to address the access piece but to help kids and young people identify as readers by reading with them — and reading books that they find interesting. If characters that don’t look like you, or not where you’re from or talk like you, you won’t identify with them.
CJ: Right. How does I Love Books work?
JB: Of every purchase made at I Love Books, we use 50% of that profit to put books in kids’ hands and homes. Similar to Toms or Warby Parker, we’re a socially conscious business. Customers buy from us and we do the giving on our side, versus a nonprofit where you need consistent donations. We wanted to use business as a method for attacking this global problem.
CJ: How’s it going so far?
JB: Great. We’ve just finished our first month. We were able to secure nearly 150 books from an author named Wesley King, who worked with Kobe Bryant to create his book series called The Wizenard. We’ll be giving those books out over the summer to kids in Louisville, Lexington, and Hazard.
CJ: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
JB: We become what we think about. I learned that in a book called The Strangest Secret.
I am where I am because this is what I’ve thought about. It happened when I thought about crossing over a salary threshold, and when I thought about starting my first business. And, it happened when I thought about needing marketing help for I Love Books. I came across the Good Works program opportunity on Facebook, and here we are.
CJ: Rapid fire: What are your top three favorite books?
JB: The Alchemist is always going to be number one.
CJ: Great book.
JB: It was a preview of what was to come on the journey. Number two and number three: Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and Think and Grow Rich.
CJ: Oh wow.
JB: Which has nothing to do with money, oddly enough. It’s not talking about monetary wealth, it’s talking about abundance in whatever form that you want to manifest. So you can think it, then it happens. I’ve read it a couple of times and it’s — practical.
CJ: How do you prefer to read? Analog or digital? Do you want to listen, do you want a kindle, do you want a physical copy?
JB: Physical copy. Then I want to listen. I don’t want a kindle. I want nothing to do with that.
CJ: Digital screens are tough.
JB: I’m not a fan. I want to hold the book, smell the book, see the book.
CJ: Have you ever owned a kindle?
JB: I owned one. I never used it.
CJ: Fair enough. What’s your favorite piece of I Love Books gear?
JB: Ah, man.
CJ: As you sit here in an I Love Books t-shirt and hat.
JB: With a backpack and a mask and a duffel bag in my trunk. I love the hats. I think the stitchwork on the hats is really good. And, I love the backpacks. I love the duffels, too.
CJ: It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I can’t wait to get a hold of one of those tote bags. Let’s talk about our partnership. Where did you need our help? How would you describe that?
JB: I needed design help, which y’all smashed — I can’t wait for this to be the global sign for education one day. Two: the language, how to talk about the mission. And three: the brand voice, and how to distinguish it from Jonathan’s voice. Which means that it needed its own voice. That’s not a skill set that I have.
CJ: Last one. What’s next?
JB: End illiteracy. Book by book. Will Smith tells this story about how one summer, his dad and brother were building a wall. His dad broke the wall down and told them to build it back up. Will and his brother complained that it would take forever. And he replied, “All you need to do is lay one brick. Every day. Lay that one brick as best as a brick can be laid. Don’t focus on the wall, focus on the brick. And if you do that, you’ll have a wall.”
That’s where I’m at. I want to build this thing that can change the world. And I’m doing it, in my case, book by book. Until this becomes what it’s supposed to be, which is hope, inspiration, a solution, my job will remain the same. Build.