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You Give Me Yours, I'll Give You Mine

The Book Standard (Website) - 5/17/2005 by Rachel Deahl
Readers on the lookout for bargains on mass market paperbacks may now have the ideal outlet: PaperbackSwap.com. A six-month-old Website, PaperbackSwap.com allows users to swap books, pure and simple. Members post titles they'd like to get rid of and, in exchange for mailing them to other members who have requested them, they can search for the used titles they want.

PaperbackSwap was co-founded Richard Pickering, an Atlanta marketing executive who says he's spent much of his career traveling. Pickering says he has bought many paperbacks at airport bookstores, a habit that typically left him with stacks of unwanted books. He assumed there were other similar readers out there-people who don't have the time to sell their old books and always have a hard time finding cheap ways of purchasing new ones-thus was born PaperbackSwap.

The site, which works on an honor system, also grew out of Pickering's frustration with existing sites. "After I started buying [used] books off Amazon and eBay," he says, "I realized that after you pay the shipping and handling costs, along with the extra charges [applied by each site], you might as well buy a new book."

Pickering, who says his site currently lists more than 11,000 titles, explains that the goal of PaperbackSwap is to "provide convenience to the user." Likening his new venture to an expanded version of a community book club-members can also post reviews and discuss titles online although, as yet, Chardonnay is not available-Pickering says he doesn't intend to make money from this venture. And he does acknowledge on the site that, while membership is currently free, there may be a fee sometime "in the future" to offset "database, server and other" costs.

Richard Davies, publicity manager of Abebooks.com (an online marketplace that features new and used books), says Pickering is running "a pretty good site." Adding that PaperbackSwap follows the same template as Abebooks, Davies says Pickering's site isn't likely to cut into any of the retail book business. "[PaperbackSwap] is featuring the type of books that used-book dealers make the least amount of money on, since they're cheap and plentiful," he says. "Ultimately I don't think [the site] will affect too many used bookstores."

At any rate, PaperbackSwap still has a low profile: Five randomly selected bricks-and-mortar used bookstore owners have in common their reactions to questions from The Book Standard about PaperbackSwap: They hadn't heard of it.

Sabrina Ravipinto, a manager at The Strand bookstore in New York, said she couldn't see a site like Pickering's taking business away from The Strand because the nearly 80-year-old Greenwich Village retailer doesn't buy or sell many of the types of books PaperbackSwap features. Instead, her staff tends to purchase more hardcover titles. Ravipinto ultimately agreed with Davies, conceding that the site sounds like "a cool idea." She continues, "I think it's great to offer people a way to reuse books."

But Florine Deever, a buyer at Arundel Books in Seattle, perhaps best explains why PaperbackSwap may not keep used booksellers up at night. Deever says most of the mass market paperbacks sold in her store are purchased as impulse buys. Furthermore, most of Arundel Books' customers aren't likely to find Pickering's site anyway: "We still have a lot of people that just don't go on online."