BabelBooks is an online second-hand bookstore in Australia with a difference. The books aren’t only in English – many titles are French and what’s more 10% of your purchase price goes to Magabala Books to help them preserve the unique and precious indigenous heritage through the publication of bilingual books or books in indigenous languages.
The company was founded by Sabine Dejey. We chatted with her.
You founded BabelBooks, an online store selling second-hand books in Australia. You said that you founded BabelBooks because you weren’t able to find books in languages other than English that were affordable and convenient. You also said that it was after a conversation with recyclivre.com that you were pushed to create the BabelBooks website and company. Tell us a little about recyclivre.com
Recyclivre was created by David Lorrain and has been very successful in France. The principle is similar to BabelBooks: functioning from a basis of donated books, Recyclivre sells second-hand books and helps associations and programs fighting illiteracy, favouring access to culture for all and the preservation of our resources. The company employs people in integration, and has obtained B-Corp certification, i.e. a company that reconciles profit and collective interest. A real source of inspiration!
On the other hand, Recyclivre makes a good part of its sales via platforms such as Amazon France. Amazon Australia has not yet opened up the sale of second-hand books, so BabelBooks needs to make itself known in a different way.
You are also a philanthropist – you give 10% of your sales to the company Magabala Books, Australia’s first indigenous publisher. In this way, you help to preserve the unique and precious heritage, which they do by publishing bilingual books or books in indigenous languages. Tell us a little about this partnership.
Maintaining one’s language means preserving one’s culture and having the opportunity to share it with others. More than half of the Indigenous languages, and even more dialects, have disappeared in the last 200 years.
It took me a few months to choose Magabala Books, based in Broome in WA. I was looking for ways to support the written transcription of indigenous languages which are essentially oral: I explored many avenues, interviewed many people. I also wanted the association or company supported by BabelBooks to be run by people of Aboriginal descent, and to have the widest possible impact. Finally, the company had to agree to be associated with the BabelBooks story, which, in its own way, also contributes to the maintenance of another language in Australia: French.
Things were simple with Magabala Books: I hope to have the opportunity to meet the team on a trip to WA – which I don’t know yet.
How long have you been in Australia?
For more than 11 years already.
What were you doing before you created BabelBooks?
I’ve had several professional lives in fact, mainly in France, Australia and the UK: in corporate finance, insurance (AXA), volunteering with French-speaking associations in Melbourne (Alliance Française, Bastille Day French Festival), consulting with women-led start-ups, among others!
At the moment, you offer books in English and in French. Will you add other languages?
I hope to be able to add books in Spanish betwen now and the end of the year. I speak the language, which allows me to sort and classify the titles. The hispanophone community in Australia is as significant as the francophone community.
Adding a language is a heavy process as you need to identify book donation sources, and channels of communication with hispanophone communities, create a new interface and modify the online store… BabelBooks needs to take off with English and French, to fund this expansion and add other languages later.
Where do your books come from?
The books are currently donated by individuals who wish to give their books a second life. These donors are sensitive to the efforts we are making to support Aboriginal heritage and limit our ecological impact (re-circulation of books in Australia, recyclable packaging, partnership with Sendle transport which guarantees a carbon neutral footprint).
J’explore aussi les pistes des bibliothèques et associations.
When did you launch BabelBooks? How many books have you sold so far?
I took advantage of the long lockdowns in Victoria to set up the shop and launched BabelBooks in November 2020. The summer period was quiet as customers opted for new gifts and many Australians were rushed by impromptu border closures during this period.
To date we have almost 3,000 titles in stock. Sales of French books are higher than English titles, which poses the interesting challenge of renewing the collection.
On the other hand, French-speakers shop without necessarily consulting the English-language collection, which is the largest for both children and adults.
What’s your favourite book in French?
“Oscar et la dame rose” by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt: it’s a book which si both funny and very moving at the same time about a child with cancer who writes letters to God. I also saw the play in Paris a, um, long time ago.
In a completely different vein, I really like DOA’s thrillers, which I find gripping.
And in English?
With my book club I’ve just finished “The devil in the grove” by Gilbert King.
The book tells the story of the black American lawyer Turgood Marshall who was responsible for ending legal racial segregation in the USA in the 1950s and 1960s. It is a true piece of history, a lesson in courage, tenacity and strategy, which also helps us to better understand current racial tensions in the USA. Societal changes, beyond legal developments, unfortunately take place over several generations.
Anything else you wish to share with us?
We try to put more recent titles online, so I invite budding donors to visit our site if they wish to part with some of their book collection (in English, French and Spanish).
We thank Sabine Dejey for this interview
Visit the BabelBooks website here: https://www.babelbooks.com.au/