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Press & Media » Knight Ridder Newspapers

With, Readers Trading Half-million Books

Knight Ridder Newspapers (Newspaper) - 6/12/2006 by Sarah Sabalos
As a casual paperback reader and serious hardback collector, Walter Best is usually surrounded by books. And during the last four months, Best, 45, has had 100 volumes shipped to his house for free.

Best is a member of, a book trading Web site with a library of almost a half-million titles. Members put their used books on the site and pay the postage to ship them to other members. They browse for new (or gently read) others, searching by author, title or genre, then request the ones they want to read – for free.

"It's a great venue for exchanging many, many books with other people," said Best, who has widened his collection of first-edition Scott Turow hardbacks through the site.

Richard Pickering created the site a year and a half ago, when he (a frequent business traveler) was drowning in paperbacks purchased in airports across America.

Paperbacks that didn't resell well on eBay and Amazon.

"I thought, There's got to be a better way to do this," said the Atlanta-based real-estate investor.

"What if we had a virtual library online, where people could swap one book for free."

His idea worked. Thousands of people (mostly women) come online to search and trade thousands of new books a week ("We're as big as any library around," Pickering said).

Romance and mystery are the most popular genres, but Krista Persing, a Columbia stay-at-home mother, finds plenty of titles to suit her non-romance, non-mystery bent. She's usually in the middle of one book relating to homeschooling, one on a Christian/biblical topic and something just for fun.

"Right now I'm reading ‘North and South' by John Jakes," Persing said. "We just moved to South Carolina last summer, so I am enjoying reading books that deal with the history of the South- both fiction and nonfiction."

At first, Persing was skeptical of having to pay to send books but receiving them for free.

"Now, I realize this is actually one of the great perks of the program!" she said. "This way, you aren't sending money to someone and hoping they will actually send you the books you are asking for (unlike online auctions). I also like the idea that the books I am sending out are books someone has requested and really wants to read."

The site also has a "wish list" feature, a feedback button, discussion forums, live chat and lists of the "10 Most Recently Posted Today."

Liz Dolinger, 20, an English literature major at the University of South Carolina, also found a surprising level of customer service.

"It's fantastic- I had a couple of small problems, but when I reported them, the Pickerings called or emailed me right away," said Dolinger, who uses the site for textbooks as well as for finding her out-of-print favorite childhood series- "Dorrie the Little Witch" by Patricia Coombs. "I'd been looking for it forever and a day," she said.

Dolinger has done an equal amount of mailing out. "I've been trying to pare down my book collection and keep only stuff I know I'm going to reread," she said. "A college apartment only has so much room."

Members can also choose the "Box-O-Books" option and go offline to trade large numbers of titles at once. Valerie Hostos, a 47-year-old support coordinator at Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Columbia, clicked on "Box-O-Books" because she had a large library that needed paring down.

"Everyone's been very honorable," said Hostos, who also likes (a site that helps readers track books left in public places all over the world). Hostos had traded more than 100 books in the past year.

"I still have 40 books that I have to read," she said. "And then I can trade them again."


List at least nine or more books in the system to become an active member and receive three free credits to get you started trading.

Browse the online list of books posted by club members and use your credits to order books.

Selected books are delivered to you.

When other members order books that you've listed, you mail them and pay the postage (usually $1.59).

You get one credit (good for one book) for every book you mail after it is received.
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