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Swapping Books Reaches The Digital Age

Ahwatukee Foothills News (Newspaper) - 2/1/2008 by Jason Ludwig
For bibliophiles with social graces and a mind for financial matters, few things make more sense than choosing to exchange books in lieu of buying new ones each time a tome is finished.

Book-swapping was a natural outgrowth of such thinking, but everyone has a limited social circle.

“They’d pile up in the garage or we’d try to get rid of them during a yard sale,” said Ahwatukee Foothills resident Lara Bruner.

Like so many other things, the Internet changed even old-fashioned book-swapping with PaperbackSwap.com. Even though she’s been signed up less than a year, Bruner says she’s already acquired at least 15 new books.

The free site was founded in 2004 by Richard Pickering, an Atlanta-based reader who was looking for an easier way to swap finished books with friends and family.

“It grew out of my personal frustration of having all these books I’d read exactly once,” Pickering said. “I took some to a bookstore, thinking they’d take all of them - we’re talking about 100 books - and they took four or five. And I’m sitting here with all these books!”

Today, the site boasts a listing of about 1.8 million books. Members log onto the site and select one he or she wants, and an e-mail is sent to that book’s owner. Wrapping can be printed out from the site; all that’s paid is postage.

For every book a member posts, he or she gets a credit (two credits for the first 10 books posted). After that, requesting a book costs one credit. Postage, Pickering said, is generally about $2.13, well below the cost of a desirable new book, and below even most used books.

“We trade about 35,000 books a week, and about 2.3 million have been successfully swapped,” he added. “Most people are getting 40, 50, 60 books a year for free, excluding the cost of postage.”

Pickering said a sort of social networking site developed organically among PaperbackSwap.com members, and today features an active array of message boards, live chats and forums where book lovers congregate.

“All of these things that allow people to form lifelong friendships and bonds even though their thousands of miles away,” he said.

Of course, you may not even have to go that far. According to Pickering’s records, Bruner is one of 10 Ahwatukee Foothills residents signed up to the program.

The design of the site is largely self-explanatory, but Bruner said other members always help out if confusion does arise.

“It’s doesn’t take long to figure out,” she said. “They always have a person, another member, who’s always available to answer questions.”

Bruner, who teaches psychology at Desert Vista High School, uses the site to refresh her fiction collection as well as stock up on hard-to-find educational material.

“They have a lot of home-schoolers, so you can get a lot of textbooks or workbooks,” Bruner said. “Even relating to teaching psychology it’s been great, because I’ve found old textbooks. I found one that overlapped with what I was teaching, so it’s helped keep a classroom supply.”

For information, visit www.paperbackswap.com.