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Press & Media » Tallahassee Magazine

A Million Possibilities For An Online Book Trade

Tallahassee Magazine (Magazine) - 1/4/2007 by Rosanne Dunkelberger
Tallahassee Magazine : A Million Possibilities For An Online Book Trade A little brick of a package landed on my desk at work one afternoon. Intrigued, I ripped off the taped-up wrapping and found a used paperback book inside and an offer I couldn't refuse.

Visit, it said, and trade books you've read for books you want to read for free. (OK, there's a bit of expense for postage and packing tape involved, but that's all.)

I was a little leery about the whole process. At first glance, it appeared pretty labor-intensive. But after giving it a try, I found it's easy, fast, pretty much idiot-proof and a bit addictive.

How It Works. Go to your bookshelf and find at least nine books in decent shape that you can bear to part with. Once you have listed them on the Web site, you are eligible to search the virtual library (right at 1 million books now) and pick up to three books that will be sent to you free.

Uploading books is a cinch; you just enter the book's nine-digit ISN number (usually by the bar code) and its information is automatically displayed, including a picture of the book's cover, its author and other pertinent information. You can leave a ranking of up to five stars and a review, if you'd like.

Site managers suggest posting several books to increase the chances someone will request your book. (I posted 60 and had mailed seven within the first 10 days.)

A site user who wants a book that you have posted can send in a request, which will be relayed to you. You mail the book directly to that person and, when he or she receive its, you get a credit to order a book for yourself.

The mailing part sounded like a hassle, but it's a snap. You print out a wrapper, which already has preformatted the address label with the name of the person you're sending to and estimated postage. (For most paperbacks, that's a Media Mail rate of $1.59 four 39-cent stamps plus three extra single cents.) Tape it up, slap on the postage and drop it in a mailbox. It's that easy.

Richard Pickering, co-founder of the site, said 25,000 books are being traded through the mail at any given time, and new features and services are constantly being added. Currently, books can be swapped throughout the United States and its territories. The team is working on adding APO and FPO addresses so books can be sent to service people overseas.

Also, the Paperback Swap has added a CD-swapping site (not quite free each trade costs 49 cents plus postage).

The Upside. Membership is free. Aside from the obvious pleasure of getting books to read for a song, the Paperback Swap site has a lot of features that are fun to navigate. There is a visual listing of the last 10 books to be posted and maps that show where you the books you have sent have gone.

It's amusing to check out the Top 25 lists, including the most-posted titles (John Grisham books take up 12 of the top 13 spots), most-requested books and most active swappers. (No. 1 is a woman in New Mexico who has traded nearly 1,200 books.)

There also are chat rooms and personal messaging that I haven't tried yet, but I can see where a person might find a kindred reading spirit and periodically check out that person's "bookshelf" to see what books he or she has posted recently.

The Downside. Because they are sent using the ultra-cheap method, it can take up to two weeks for a book to get where it's going once it is mailed. You don't get credit for sending a book until it is received and, if you are an immediate-gratification sort, a book can take what seems like forever to arrive.

Also, you have to have a trusting nature to have faith that some stranger is going to mail your book and be a bit trustworthy yourself, because folks are counting on you to ship your books promptly.

Not every book is available, although you can post the titles that you want to a "Wish List" and hope someone fulfills your request. However, if you're looking for "Freakonomics," you will have to get in line. It's the most wished-for book, and already there are more than 200 people on the list. Ditto for many of Rachael Ray's cookbooks.

Give it a whirl. I'm off to check the mailbox and see if "The Other Boleyn Girl" has arrived.
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