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Swap Used Paperbacks For Newer Reads At A Simple-to-use Website

EastBayRI.com (Website) - 8/15/2007 by LYNDA REGO
EAST BAY - Hi, my name is Lynda and I'm a book-aholic. Books are like chocolate and potato chips to me. Given a choice between doing almost anything and reading, reading wins hands down. The fan of several dozen writers, I impatiently await their newest novels. And, I'm always on the prowl for a new author to add to my list. For a while, there was a book-buying moratorium in effect, but I wasn't strong enough.

Unless a book is the work of a particularly favorite author, which I collect, they get donated to local book sales, or passed on to my sister in Florida or a friend (and fellow addict) in Virginia. But, I have so many books to share, I decided to check out www.PaperBackSwap.com (PBS), a virtual library of paperback books. I thought I had hit the mother lode, but apparently there are other book-swapping sites (BookMooch, FrugalReader) out there, too. I glanced at a few, but PBS is the easiest, well-organized and doesn't charge any fees. The site has members from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Guam.

On March 2, the number of books available for swapping on the site passed one million. As of this week, it stood at 1,354,413. The website is simple to navigate and easy to search. Books are sorted by categories, such as non-fiction, history, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, etc. Or, you can use the search box and type in a title or author's name. Hardcovers and audiobooks are posted, too.

The process is easy. All you need is an e-mail account and a valid U.S. Postal Service mailing address. Fill out a simple form to become a member, post the titles of nine books online, and receive three free credits to get you started. Each credit can be swapped for a book. Then, each time a member orders one of your books and receives it in the mail, you get another credit added to your account, which enables you to choose a new book.

After joining, simply type in the ISBN codes next to the bar code on the back of your books. I entered 12 books I wanted to get rid of. The titles instantaneously appeared in a list just as it would on any book club or bookstore site, with the title, author, picture of the cover, number of pages, publisher's name, etc. Then, you have the option of adding a small review or your personal thoughts about the book. This is particularly helpful if the author isn't well known.

If the book doesn't have an ISBN, you can enter all the information in yourself (and even scan in the cover art if you want). The only other rule is that books must be in good condition, with covers intact, not stained, and not Advanced Reader Copies (ARC).

I posted my books onto my bookshelf on the website on a Saturday and received my first order on Sunday. An e-mail arrived to say that someone in Washington, D.C., wanted "The Finishing School" by Muriel Sparks, and the e-mail included a link to the website (or you can go to your account online). Once at your account, simply follow the instructions. It asks if you can mail the book within two days, if you click "Yes," then you have the option of printing one of three labels that allow you to mail the book.

If it's a paperback, you can wrap the book in the two pages that print out (the label is on one) and tape it really well. If it's a large paperback or hardcover, then I wrap it in brown paper before attaching the label. The label allows you to mail the book at a media rate of $2.13 (a little more for a hardcover or large paperback).

Once you mail the book, go back to your online account at paperbackswap.com and click the button indicating it was mailed. When the book arrives at its destination, the recipient goes online and clicks a box saying the book was received and, voila, you get a credit. With media mail, it can take anywhere from two days to two weeks for books to arrive. Mine average a week. A new delivery confirmation system implemented by PBS is 45 cents (it's more at the post office) allowing them to track the book via a barcode on the label, so you get a credit when you mail the book instead of waiting for it be delivered.

It was so easy, and I was so excited, that I immediately posted another half dozen books to my bookshelf. I received a second request on Monday along with an e-mail saying my first request had been mailed to me. Books have been mailed to at least a dozen states and received from just as many. (Buy the right combinations of stamps and keep some on hand so you don't have to wait in line at the post office). Things have calmed down a little and now I mail a book every week or so. It depends on how up-to-date you keep your bookshelf. And, how many copies of the same title are available to members. There are thousands of books by popular authors, such as Stephen King, and lots of best-sellers such as "The DaVinci Code."

Other website options put your account on hold if you go on vacation, create a Reminder List for books you want to order when you get more credits, and a Wish List, where you can list books not available on PBS at this time. If the book becomes available, you have 48 hours to order the book before it's offered to the next member on the Wish List.

There is a very social aspect to the website that I don't really have time to explore, but you can send messages to the member who mailed you a book, enter comments or reviews on any of the books listed online, and participate in a number of live chats and discussion forums that range from postal regulations, questions about the website and local PBS chapters to every book genre you can think of and a book bazaar where damaged books or ARCs can be posted.

There are other features too numerous to mention something for every type of reader. So, check it out. And, there is a tour guide online all the time who can answer questions not covered in the Help Center.

Co-founders Richard Pickering and Robert Swarthout have a runaway hit on their hands with this boon to readers everywhere. Their goal of being the world's largest virtual library seems certain.

BY LYNDA REGO

lrego@eastbaynewspapers.com