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He Traded Reading Habits

Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Newspaper) - 4/17/2005 by Doug Nurse
An unabashed bibliophile, Lenore Dunlap of Boca Raton, Fla., once visited used book stores every two or three weeks. Now she goes only once every couple of months.

And she says a south Forsyth County man is responsible for changing her habits.

Richard Pickering founded an online book-trading club, paperbackswap.com, that is feeding Dunlap's literary addiction.

"I looked at a couple of competing Web sites, but paperbackswap.com seemed the most friendly to members," Dunlap said. "It's a way to get books for free, or at least the cost of postage. It operates on the honor system. No one has sent me a [bad] book. If you have any problems, Richard takes care of it right away."

Pickering said he came up with the idea last year while traveling the country and having to pay full price for books with no good way to trade them back in. Other products are traded online, he thought, so why not books? With a few friends, he worked out the concept and designed the Web site.

"I was so frustrated with eBay and having to pay for books," Pickering said. "A regular book club would just trade them with their neighbors. We just extended the neighborhood concept a little bigger to include the United States. In today's Web-based world, it just made sense to use the Internet."

The Web site, which began in November, offers more than 10,000 titles.

"We're a virtual library," Pickering said. "You can get whatever you want. One member in California posted 600 books. She ships two or three a day."

Dawn Troke, an accountant in Alpharetta, said she's used paperbackswap.com to find new mysteries, romance novels and travel books. She also used it to acquire fiction by Dan Brown.

"They've got everything you could want," she said. "You can even ship books to friends as gifts."

The project started slowly, promoted mainly through friends and neighbors. Now it adds 10 to 20 members a day.

The Web site has a place for reviews, discussion groups, a spot to recommend books and chat with other members.

Here's how it works. You agree to put up nine paperback books for swap. In exchange you get three credits worth one book each. The Web site tells what titles are available. You click on one you want, and it alerts the current owner. If he's still willing to part with it, his computer spits out a paper with your address in the right spot, a place for stamps and a return address. The paper serves as wrapping, and with $1.42 in stamps, it's ready to go. It costs the recipient a credit, and the former owner gets a credit.

Pickering, who is chief operating officer for a small software company, has developed a system to follow up and keep track of scofflaws. He said he's had to kick out only one person for falsely claiming not to have received books.

Membership is now in the thousands, in all 50 states, Pickering said, and he believes it has the potential to reach the tens of thousands. Once the site is more established and all the bugs are worked out, he said, he might start charging annual dues, of $10 to $20.

Dunlap said that every day is like Christmas as she awaits the arrival of the mail carrier. "You keep thinking, 'What's the gimmick?' It's like opening presents all the time."