Friday, July 16, 2010

Book Swapping

About six months ago, I joined Paperback Swap. For those who've never heard about this program, it's a website devoted to helping people swap books - not only paperbacks - with other like-minded people. It's a great solution for what to do when you have a pile of books you know you will never read again yet cannot fathom throwing away.

I've tried taking unwanted books to the used book store, but the problem with this option is an overabundance of credit. My local UBS has a policy that all purchases can be made with no more than half credit. So if you have a purchase worth $20, the most credit you can use toward it is $10, the other $10 paid in cash, check or charge. Given the hit-or-miss nature of finding items I'm either looking for specifically or just find browsing, it takes me forever to use up my credit this way. I think between my daughter and myself, we have close to $100 of credit just lingering indefinitely.

I also took a stab at taking some books over to Half Price Books. They buy back used books, CDs, DVDs, etc. While it was nice to get cash for the items I'd brought in, I didn't really feel that I got their true value's worth - they paid me only a fraction of the cover price of each book using some formula they say is based on book popularity and current inventories. Whatever. I walked out of the store feeling slightly ripped off.

So I figured I'd give Paperback Swap a try. Basically, you post books you are willing to give away, a minimum of 16 titles to start off with, adding books as you have them. The books have to be in good condition, with no water damage or writing on pages or beat-up covers. You can post paperbacks, hardcovers, even audio books. Then you wait to see if anyone requests one of your titles. When that happens, you print out a pre-prepared "label" that includes the requestor's address and a suggested postage amount to send the book via media mail. In theory, the labels can be used to wrap up the book for mailing, but I find it a lot easier to use Tyvek envelopes which also add a level of waterproofing. You then trot yourself off to the post office and mail the book, paying the postage yourself.

Once the requestor has received the book, he or she alerts the PBS people that they are to give you a book credit, generally at the rate of one credit per book. Ostensibly, you will find books that you'd like to have and you use your credits to "purchase" them. The current owner pays the postage to ship it to you, theoretically creating a postage expenses wash all the way around.

The selection is a bit better, I would say, than what I find at my UBS. It's easy to browse since you can search via genre. The site's front page is a listing of newly posted titles, and I tend to find my selections there. One nice option is that if you want a particular title that no one is currently offering, you can put a wish call out for it with dibs on the first copy someone posts. Of course, some books have a waiting list.

To date, I've mailed out 13 books. One of these books got lost en route and never made it to the requestor, so I was out not only the book itself but the postage I'd paid to mail it and the book credit I didn't get since it never arrived. I've requested and received 9 books, most of them YA titles.

It's a good system, and my only real complaint is the hassles involved in both printing the labels and obtaining the postage for mailing out the books. For some reason we struggle to retain a working printer in this house, so I'm always having to hook up my laptop to a different machine to print out the labels. And it always seems that I print out any requests I have only to put away the printer just in time for another request to come through.

I've taken to prepurchasing media mail postage stickers in $2.50 amounts so that I don't have to go to the post office every time I need to mail another book. As long as your package weighs less than 13 oz. you can just drop it in any old mailbox. Otherwise it has to be mailed from the post office due to 9/11 security policies. Just this week I mailed five books to a person using a military address which required my filling out a customs form.

Another dumb problem I have is storing my PBS books before they are requested. I've pulled them off my bookshelves and have them neatly placed in a fancy basket, but the basket sits next to my desk in such a way as my husband is constantly asking when I'm going to put my junk away. I like to keep all of my shipping supplies together, and since I don't have my own office room, I haven't found the solution for storing this out of the way yet.

In the end, it's nice knowing my books are finding their way to a place where someone wants them. And I'm finding this is a great way to try out books by untested authors or that maybe I'm on the fence about yet can't find at my library. If you have a stack of unwanted books, I suggest you give it a try. It does require a small investment of time, but it's worth it.

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