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Press & Media » Shoesstring Magazine

Cheap Reads: Swapping Selling And Renting Books

Shoesstring Magazine (Magazine) - 11/17/2009 by Melissa Massello
Book lovers lament that "no one reads anymore," but four websites are proving that millions of people worldwide do still crave the tangible tome they're just getting smarter about how they acquire them.

We're not just talking about Google eBooks and Amazon Kindles here, we're talking about real, book-smell-smelling books with a spine and the seriously active social communities who love and are willing to share them both in review and in the pulp.
The original book swapping site, Paperback Swap has been serving up bookworm bargains since 2004. What started as a private friends and family service has grown to over 200,000 active members worldwide (out of more than half a million total members), sharing over 4 million books, and has spawned sister sites for CDs and DVDs appropriately named and

The "a ha" moment came when founder Richard Pickering was traveling all the time for his previous job. "Every airport I would go through, I'd buy a book, and I accumulated a large library of gently read exactly once books," Pickering said. "I had a massive collection, about four or five boxes, and took them to a used bookstore. The proprietor pulled out about four or five books and said, 'These are the only ones I need.' I couldn't understand it. I took them home and my neighbors scooped them up by the handful."

The service is simple and efficient, allowing members to sign up for an account and then list each of the books they want to swap by simply entering the ISBN number and Paperback Swap does the rest. New members receive two credits towards a future swap for the first 10 books they list, and once they've entered their home address into their profile, Paperback Swap holds activity until verification from the US Postal Service to ensure nothing gets lost in the mail. After a swap has been successfully arranged through PaperBack Swap, the owner of the book can print an exact book-size label, generated by Paperback Swap using the dimensions from the ISBN, that includes the receiver of the book's home address already on it. Members can opt for a premium service that includes pre-paid postage or they can pay for it themselves at the post office, making the service itself entirely free.

Simple, right? Downright addictive is more like it. When I tried it out in our own office, I had 12 books listed in under seven minutes, and within 30 minutes, I had my first swap request and another pending verification of a member's available credits. "A typical member will save on average $300 to $400 per year using just Paperback Swap," Pickering said. "If they're active and use all three sister sites, they can save thousands of dollars per year. We have members who have converted their entire family over to our sites instead of buying, borrowing, or renting books. This is real money, not pretend money not off the cost of a new book, but off a USED book. Our members have saved over $14M since we launched and that number is growing."

To compare the numbers for yourself, check out the Pulse of PBS, one of the many cool, free features on helping book lovers everywhere stay on budget and save money while enjoying life.
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