Civic Consumption: What It Is and How You Can Do It.

At First Book, everything we do is focused on putting new books into the hands of kids in need; that’s the big idea. But there are some other important ideas that go into that.

One of these is the concept of ‘civic consumption’. If consumers, as a group, make buying decisions that support socially responsible and sustainable business practices, companies will respond to that pressure by changing how they do business.

Kyle Zimmer, First Book’s president and CEO, explains this idea in a new article on Fast Company’s Co.EXIST blog:
Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO of First Book, on civic consumption

[T]oday’s customer has a much more nuanced set of concerns that they are looking to address with their purchasing power. In addition to low price and high quality, today’s consumer wants to know how the goods are sourced, whether the manufacturer was fair to labor, what the environmental footprint is, and if the company is a good corporate citizen. The social sector has driven the cause of consumer consciousness to a level that is unprecedented, and very healthy for the marketplace and for the world.

Civic consumption takes this one step further, allowing those conscious consumers to band together their purchasing power and leverage that demand to ensure producers provide socially and environmentally beneficial goods and services at competitive prices

This approach is critical to how First Book works, especially in the First Book Marketplace, where we make a wide range of high-quality children’s books (and other resources) available to the schools and programs in our network.

As Kyle explains, the Marketplace is a great example of civic consumption in action.

  • The schools and programs in our network lack the funds of their more affluent peers, so companies have less incentive to cater to their needs.
  • But when 35,000 of them band together through First Book, the publishing industry sits up and takes notice.
  • By coming together, they are able to get quality books at prices well below retail.

Award-winning, high-quality books on the First Book MarketplaceAnother benefit? The publishing industry is much more willing to create the kinds of books these programs need when we can show them 35,000 potential customers; books like bilingual versions of award-winning titles, and “high-interest, low-level” books (titles that are written at a lower reading level for kids who are behind, but still focused on topics that will interest them; an eighth-grader reading at a third-grade level won’t become a strong reader if we can only offer him books about third-grade topics).

First Book’s success — we’ve distributed almost 100 million books over the past twenty years — is proof of the strength of this idea, and, as Kyle writes in her piece, the more we support this way of thinking, the better off we’ll be:

The rise of civic consumption will not only push businesses that are stuck in traditional thinking, it will also promote the development of hybrid companies that will thrive in the civic consumption marketplace.

Consumers are looking for a reordering of corporate priorities that is real and lasting, and the economy needs this kind of dynamic change.