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Press & Media » The Columbus Dispatch

Site Speaks Volumes About Swappers

The Columbus Dispatch (Newspaper) - 3/28/2007 by Bill Eichenberger
The Columbus Dispatch : Site Speaks Volumes About Swappers At first she'd open one after work, just to relax.

Soon she'd open one in the morning, too.

Or she'd leave work and buy one for later -- if she could wait until later.

One day, Victoria Bergesen faced her problem head-on:

"I'd been collecting -- hoarding, really -- books my entire life until finally I got to the point where there was no more room in my house for them," the Worthington Hills resident said of a home library she estimates at 15,000 volumes.

She needed help, but initially she didn't know where to turn.

Then she got lucky.

"I just stumbled on the PaperBack Web site," she said, "and I'm telling you: The club can be life-transforming for people like me -- people addicted to books.", which allows members to trade paperbacks, was launched in 2005 by Richard Pickering, an Atlanta real-estate agent with a book addiction of his own.

"I used to travel on business all the time," he said, "and it seemed every time I went through an airport I bought a new paperback -- until, over time, I had a fairly large collection of gently used paperbacks."

When his collection had reached critical mass, Pickering boxed several hundred paperbacks and hauled them to a used-book shop.

"I thought, 'This will be great: I'll get rid of a bunch of paperbacks and be able to buy a bunch of new ones.' The only problem was, she picked out six books and told me, 'I don't need the rest.'

"Then I went online and tried to sell the paperbacks, and that was equally frustrating -- people asking all sorts of questions about the condition of the books and so on. And, of course, when you buy a book online, you have to pay for shipping.

"I thought there had to be a better way."

The "better way," he decided, would be to create a database of books available for trading among club members -- and was born.

How it works: A new member lists at least nine books to trade; in return, he or she receives three credits. When another member orders a book, the new member mails it -- the typical shipping cost: $1.59 -- along with a sheet downloaded from the site and folded into an envelope. A member earns an additional credit for each book shipped.

Other swapping sites have been started in the past few years -- including, and Title

Still, PaperBackSwap dominates, Pickering said.

"We're the largest book-

swapping site by a multiple of four or five," he said.

In the first nine months of operation, the number of books available for trading at Paper rose from 10,000 to 300,000.

The club recently celebrated the 1 millionth book added to its library. (Members had mailed more than 1 million books to one another by the end of last year.)

Some of them came from Stacey Rauch, a homemaker and substitute teacher in Lancaster.

"I had books on my bookshelf that I didn't want and wasn't sure what to do with them," she said. "I'd never throw a book away. I'd give it to Salvation Army or my kids' school before I'd throw one away.

"I figured with PaperBack that the worst thing that could happen is I would lose nine books and maybe a few dollars in shipping. But it's turned out to be everything I thought it would be and more."

Rauch has received more than 50 books in the mail since joining the club in mid-


"I've gone through my shelves and my kids' shelves, and posted all the books I can," she said. "I'm going to start having to go to garage sales and the Salvation Army to find new books to post."

In addition to its still-free basic service, PaperBackSwap offers live chats, discussion forums and something called "The Eclectic Pen," a repository of poems and short stories written by members.

Michelle Graham, also of Lancaster, learned about PaperBackSwap on the Web site of a favorite author, Katie MacAlister.

"I think PaperBackSwap is an excellent way to take a chance on new authors and maybe try books that normally you wouldn't, due to expense," she wrote by e-mail. "It is also a good source for out-of-print or difficult-to-find books."

Graham, a swap veteran, has mailed 333 books and received 344 since July 2005.

Will sites such as PaperBack Swap put used-book sellers out of business?

"I don't think so," said Amy Wickliff of Karen Wickliff Books in Columbus.

"We've had customers looking for a rare book and suggested they might want to search for it online, and they just look at us like 'Huh?' They tell us, 'I'd rather come in.' I think there will always be people who want that hands-on experience." generates just enough money (through pay services such as its "Box o' Books" and "instant credits") to break even, according to Pickering.

The idea has had enough success that in the late summer he launched, which has 60,000 compact discs in its database.

Though busier than before ("My wife says I need to do more 'real' work"), Pickering still carves out time for his first love: reading.

"I have 12 books right now on my nightstand."

Purchased at Barnes & Noble?

"Are you kidding? Pay for a book? Nah, they're all from the club."
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