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The Art Of Reading Is Alive And Well -- Online (Newspaper) - 1/27/2008 by JANE AMMESON
With shelves full of paperbacks she didn't know what to do with, Lynn Garrison of Munster decided to search for an online way to exchange books.

The site she found,, was free and advertised that they had almost a million books available for trading.

"I thought I would try it," says Garrison who works in human resources in Chicago.

"That was in April of 2005, and so far I've gotten about 200 books." was developed several years ago by Richard Pickering and Robert Swarthout. It now has nearly 2 million books available to members.

"It started off as a family thing," says Pickering during a phone conversation.

"And it's taken on a life of its own; it's grown crazy. I think what happens is that people see this as a great way to use the Internet and still read books.

"It all works."

It's free to sign up, and after meeting the initial requirement, which is listing nine books you would like to trade, you're given three credits. Each credit is worth one book so immediately you can search out the book you want and request it.

There is a long catalogue of books that are available through the site and also a wish list, books that you want but aren't available yet.

You also get one credit for each book you send out, so, therefore, you're doing an even exchange -- a book for a book.

And the only cost is the media mailing rate of $1.59, which is paid by the person sending a book out.

"We also have a feature called Box-o-Books, which allows you to send multiple books to one person, reducing the mailing rate to less than 50 cents per book," Pickering says.

"We're trying to keep the costs down for everyone. We even have printable postage -- you deposit money into an account, and then we pay the postage. It's all about making it as convenient as possible."

Pickering says their Web site is unique.

"The difference between what we started and other trading sites is that they were one to one trades while we use the credit system," he says.

According to Pickering, members exchange more than 35,000 books each week.

"We have heavy users who use the site five times a week," he says.

"I'm addicted," says Nancy Hoffa of Gary who has been using for the last two and a half years.

Hoffa says she read an article about the site and decided to log on. She's liked it so much she convinced a neighbor to sign up also.

"I either receive a book a week or send one out," she says.

"When the journalist Molly Ivins died, I went online and found five of the six books she'd written and ordered them. What I like is that it is so simple to use.

"And you're either trading a book you've read or didn't like for another one."


How it works

Since I love books and have shelves full of paperbacks, I decided to become a member of Paperbackswap.

Besides, since I was writing a story on the club, I thought I should have first-hand knowledge of how it works.

After logging on, I followed the instructions for signing up. It's free, though a disclaimer reads they might start charging an annual fee of, say, $15 to $20. But so far, no fee.

I was impressed with how sophisticated the system is. I had selected nine paperback books that I wanted to list for swapping and had thought I would have to type in the book title, author and publisher.

But instead, all I had to do was write the number. After doing so, a window popped up showing me the cover of the book and all the pertinent information and asking me if it was correct.

The next step was to certify that the book was in good condition (they particularly don't want water-damaged books), which I did.

Richard Pickering, one of the founders of told me the club is based on integrity and honesty.

"We do tell members that books should be in good condition," he said, "but we leave it up to their discretion."

Since I don't read in the bathtub, my books were in good shape, and I felt okay about listing them.

Just by doing so earned me three credits (each credit is worth one book).

Within moments of listing my books, I received notice that two of my books were on someone's wish list, and would I agree to send them out. I clicked yes and was told to print out the label, which also served as a book wrapper.

The label had my name and return address already printed up as well as the name and address of the person who I was sending the book to.

It also was stamped media mail, which meant the cost of sending it would be $1.59.

Now here I ran into the only glitch I encountered with the site. You are supposed to use the two pages that get printed to wrap the book in, but that seemed too unwieldy to me (it would mean taping the 8-by-11-inch sized pages together and then wrapping them around the book), so I instead slipped the book into a manila envelope and taped the return label to that. After posting the books, I clicked that I had done so.

It was all simple -- I immediately felt like part of the club.

All the benefits of an old-fashioned book club

Cofounder Richard Pickering said the Web site's success encouraged them to offer other member services including an online chat room where members can discuss books, a writers' forum for posting poetry, short stories and other written musings, an audio book section, an area for home-schoolers as well as a place to play games such as "20 questions," where participants try to guess the name of a book or author.

"Members of the group don't get an opportunity to meet each other in person, but by using the site they can have book discussions and create a sense of community," Pickering says.

"It's like a book club, but it's nationwide with people all over the country sharing."

Audio and visual

Paperbackswap recently branched out to both CDs and DVDs.

"Our DVD site has gone crazy," cofounder Richard Pickering says.

"We just launched it a month ago and already we have 33,000 titles. Blockbusters only has about 75,000 on their shelves, so it is amazing."

A quick perusal of their offerings shows the selection includes movies such as the teen favorite "John Tucker Must Die" and "The Da Vinci Code," as well as such children classics as "Garfield: The Movie" and "Madeline."

Lynn Garrison has traded numerous CDs for new ones.

"It's nice to get rid of the old ones and get something that you havenít heard," she says.

Online booklovers "club"

Who hasnít formed an opinion of someone by perusing their bookshelf and noting the titles of whatís on display?

Now, on, which calls itself an interactive social media site for book lovers, allows you to create a virtual bookshelf by selecting titles of book youíve read, would like to read -- or want people to think you have read.

After selecting your books (whose covers will appear on your "shelf"), you then can join discussion groups, post reviews and recommendations and become part of an online book club.

Itís easy to use and free. The site also doesnít have ads and makes its money if and when you actually want to read a book and link to an online bookseller like Amazon to buy it.

"People love to talk about books with friends and like-minded individuals, but it is close to impossible today to have a discussion about books unless you are in the same room with them," Josh Hug, Shelfari's founder and CEO is quoted as saying.

"Shelfari brings back the social side of books, allowing friends to discuss and discover great books even when separated by thousands of miles. Not only can you reunite with old friends, but you can also begin to discuss and discover books with new people who share your tastes."

Shelfari users now can also interact with Facebook at

"This platform represents a seismic shift in the way people are using social networks to express themselves, and new applications like Shelfariís will enable Facebook members to instantly engage with a large community of readers," Hug says.

"The Shelfari application is unique, because it not only enables Facebook members to quickly share their reading lists but also provides an avenue of exploration via the Shelfari site, which is deeper than what can be provided by an independent third-party developer whose applications are disconnected from a larger, vertically oriented community."
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