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Don't Toss That Paperback! Pay It Forward Online With Books, CDs And DVDs

The Radish Magazine / Illinois (Magazine) - 10/1/2009 by Michelle Tibodea Sillman
"Pay it forward" is the idea behind PaperBack Swap, an online book club that allows users to unload unwanted, used books as barter.

The concept is simple. Members order used books for free, and postage is paid by the sender. Membership requires each new member to list 10 used books to the PaperBack Swap (PaperBackSwap.com) library. In exchange, the new member can order two free books. Then, for each book a member sends, he or she gets another book credit.

The PaperBack Swap library offers more than three million books, including paperbacks, hardcovers and audio books, which cost two credits. If a specific title isn"t available, then members can add it to a "wish list." When the item is posted, the member receives notification that it"s available to order.

Begun in 2004 by Richard Pickering, PaperBack Swap started with only a few hundred gently used books from Pickering"s own library. As a frequent business traveler, he says, "I had accumulated a few hundred books from the airports I visited. I wanted to clear out my closet, so I carried boxes of gently (used) books to the used-book store. The woman came out and picked out four or five. She didn"t want any others."

That experience inspired him to create PaperBack Swap. The site amassed thousands of members in less than 24 months. "It"s a simple concept: mail one, get one," Pickering says.

Shortly after beginning the book site, he added a CD exchange site, SwapaCD.com, and last year he added a DVD exchange site, SwapaDVD.com. "You can get a DVD for less than two dollars," Pickering says. The CD and DVD clubs operate on the same principal as the book club: Each item is free to order, but members pay the postage to mail their items to other members. Membership requires posting 10 items to the virtual library.

Anyone who"s suffered the frustration of selling a used book in good condition for 10 or 20 cents can appreciate the book-for-a-book value assessed by the club. There are no handling fees beyond the media mail postage rate, which typically runs about $2.23 per book. Average transit time is about a week.

Pickering claims that it"s the largest library in the United States, though I"ve had a couple books on my "wish list" for a month. The choices, however, are vast. Members reside in all 50 states, and, according to the site, 61,000 books were mailed one recent week.

Internet access is a requirement for membership, as are valid e-mail and mailing addresses. To order a book, CD or DVD, members log onto the site and select the desired item. The system then notifies the owner of the item. Once he or she agrees to mail the item, an e-mail notification informs the requesting member that the item is on its way.

Sending books, CDs and DVDs is easy to do. A donor will receive an e-mail with an attachment that includes a mailing label that may be printed at home. Members also can purchase postage online and print postage-paid mailing labels at home. I"ve sent and received books and found it to be a surprisingly slick process.

With the downturn in the economy, the club has experienced significant member growth. "I had no idea it (was) going to get as big as it"s become," Pickering says.

Swap your stuff!