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Give A Book, Get A Book At New Swap Web Site

Herald-Citizen.com (Newspaper) - 2/17/2008 by Margaret Shuster
COOKEVILLE -- If you're an avid reader, keeping yourself stocked with reading materials can really eat up a paycheck.

While many book lovers have enjoyed amazon.com and the ease of selling books there, several Cookevillians have discovered a Web site that offers perhaps an even better deal -- the ability to trade books for only the cost of shipping.

"I see books in the bookstore and they cost like $20, and I think, 'Oh, that's so much to pay for a book, when you can trade one you don't want anyway and get the one you want in return,'" said Megan Trotter, a paperbackswap.com member who lives in Cookeville.

Membership at paperbackswap.com is totally free, with no fees to pay except for postage.

Here's how it works: Someone who has books to get rid of types the ISBN numbers (on the back of every book) into the Paperback Swap Web site, creating a list of books to trade. When another member requests a book on the list, the member who listed it sends it by Media Mail at his or her expense and accrues a point which is redeemable for any book another member might have listed.

Some members are surprised at what they can trade.

"I found some old college textbooks the other night that if you sell back you get like $2, and I paid like $50 for them," said Trotter. "I didn't think anyone would want them because they're old science and theology books, but I did trade about three of them on the site. At least on here I get another book for them."

Though the name "paperbackswap.com" would imply that only trade paperbacks are swapped, any kind of book is fair game, even oversized paperbacks and hardbacks. In fact, the site has recently launched DVD and CD trading services as well.

"I had one big hardback coffee table book that I think was a $75 book and it counted for one credit, and I also have some paperbacks that I've sent out that I gave 99 cents for at the flea market," said Coy VanMeter, another Cookeville member. "So a book is a book is a book."

A voracious reader who goes through two to three novels a week, VanMeter discovered paperbackswap.com when a local bookstore stopped accepting trades.

"I was widowed several years ago and I'm in the process of downsizing," he said. "I'm 64, and you can imagine over a lifetime with myself and another person how many books have accumulated."

He has already traded 83 books in his eight months as a member of the site.

"If the average paperback costs $9, by the time you pay tax and everything else, he's saved hundreds and hundreds of dollars," said paperbackswap.com co-founder Richard Pickering of Atlanta, who got the inspiration for the site when he had a job that required extensive travel and was constantly buying airport paperbacks.

"I took boxes and boxes of them to the used book store to trade in, and the woman came out and said, 'I'll take this one, this one, this one and this one.' I said, 'I brought 400 books and you'll only take four?' She said, 'Well, I already have all those other titles,'" said Pickering. "I tried to sell them on some of the bigger sites and found out by the time you pay for all the processing fees, handling fees and shipping charges, it's not even worth fooling with. So this way we actually do it as a club, and we just share the books with each other."

Pickering listed a few hundred of his own books on the site when he started it three and a half years ago, and it has since grown to include 1.8 million books listed by members from across the nation.

"It's just grown like crazy," said Pickering. "We've never advertised or anything; it's just been word of mouth. We've been featured on the Today Show and CNN, and that's probably why we already have 45 members in Cookeville."

With so many avid readers on the roll, popular new titles show up on the site fairly quickly.

"Within three weeks of Harry Potter coming out, more than 20 copies were exchanged," said Pickering. "People read them that quickly then turned around and reposted them."

Obscure books may take a little longer to find, but there's a wish list just for that purpose.

"If you find an author you really like and the book is not posted, you put it on your wish list, and when somebody posts it, if you're at the top of that particular list, you get that book," said VanMeter.

Pickering has been surprised at the social nature the site has taken on.

"Members in different cities come together and exchange books and have coffee or tea," said Pickering, "and the site has turned into a little bit of a social network as well because we have discussion forums, live chat and personal messaging.

"Members form really long-lasting relationships all over the United States because they have a love of a certain author or genre."

So if you love books or love to talk about them or just have some you want rid of, be sure to check out www.paperbackswap.com.