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Swap Shop For Readers

Powder Room Graffiti (Website) - 12/30/2009 by Brit Gal Sarah
Do you live in the USA? Do you love to read? If the answer to both those questions is ‘yes,' then let me predict your ‘next big thing' - www.paperbackswap.com. One of my fellow book club members tipped me off. I then discovered this site is donating 500 free books to the school I work for, after members donated their credits to us.

The premise is that once you're done with a book you can swap it for another. It's like the library has landed in your living room. Membership is currently free and all you pay is the shipping cost of the book you swap. The US Post Office has a ‘Media Mail' cheaper option for shipping, which makes this a highly cost-effective way to get more books.

After signing up, peruse your book collection and find ten or more you are happy to part with. Then using the ISBN number of the book, you list it as available on your ‘bookshelf.' After listing the required ten, you are then given two credits to get you started requesting books from other members. And then the real fun begins!

Literally within minutes of listing my books, I received a request from a member for one of them. By the end of the evening I had received three requests to get me off to a flying start. Each book you send gets you one credit to request a book.

The mailing system could not be easier and means you don't necessarily have to go to the Post Office. If you have a PayPal account, or are happy to credit your account with a card payment, then the wrapper for the book can be printed straight from your computer, with the correct postage and a delivery confirmation on it. I am all for making life easier, and so having a PayPal account, I just used this option.

Talk about amazingly simple. It preprints the wrapper for the book you're sending on two sheets of paper, with or without the postage, and with all the sender and recipient details in place. Then you take your book, wrap it in plastic wrap for a little waterproof protection, and enclose it in the two sheets with packaging tape. You can then either swing by the Post Office for postage, or just drop it straight into the mailing box as you pass.

One big advantage of using the wrapper with the postage pre-printed is you are given instant credit on your account for swapping a book. Otherwise you will just have to wait until the recipient confirms receipt and your account is then credited.

As soon as you have credits you can start ‘shopping' for the books you want. At the time of writing the site has over 4 million available books, so you are positively spoilt for choice. It has a similar search system to the online book stores and finding what you want is very easy. But if you need ideas there are also preferences you can set, which enables the site to recommend books in the genres you like. I also love the home page constantly updating with all the new listings for the latest offerings.

When you see a book you want there are various options available. If you have the credit you can just order it immediately and await confirmation from the owner. Or you can add it to your ‘reminder list' as one to come back for later. There are some books with waiting lists; these you add to your ‘wish list' and you will be allocated a number in the queue. When the book becomes available you will get an email notification, and then have 48 hours to either accept or decline it.

They do have book ‘standards' which they ask all members to observe. Books must have both covers, be clean, unmarked and no liquid stains. You only pay to mail books out, not receive them and the average postage seems to be about $2.50, which is much less than the cost of a new book. The book you receive is yours; you can keep it or swap it again.

Within two days of joining I had sent five books and requested four in return. I had no trouble finding books I wanted to read. The only warning I would give is that it's seriously addictive. It also makes you slightly paranoid about whether you have books others will want, or are you the Billy-no-mates of the book world?