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Web Site Arranges Paperback/reader Marriages

The Providence Journal (Newspaper) - 6/8/2006 by Sarah Sabalos
As a casual paperback reader and serious hardback collector, Walter Best is usually surrounded by books. And during the last four months, Best, 45, has had 100 volumes shipped to his house for free.

Best is a member of PaperBackSwap.com, a book-trading Web site with a library of almost a half-million titles. Members put their used books on the site and pay the postage to ship them to other members. They browse for new (or gently read) others, searching by author, title or genre, then request the ones they want to read- for free.

"It's a great venue for exchanging many, many books with other people," said Best, who has widened his collection of first-edition Scott Turow hardbacks through the sight.

Richard Pickering created the site a year and a half ago, when he (a frequent business traveler) was drowning in paperbacks purchased in airports across America.

Paperbacks that didn't resell well on eBay or Amazon.

"I thought, ‘There's got to be a better way to do this,'" said the Atlanta-based real-estate investor. "What if we had a virtual library online, where people could swap one book for one book, free?"

His idea worked. Thousands of people (mostly women) come online to search and trade thousands of new books a week (We're as big as any library around," Pickering said).

The site also has a "wish list" feature, a feedback button, discussion forums, live chat and lists of the "10 Most Recently Posted Books" and "All Books Posted Today".

Liz Dolinger, 20, at the University of South Carolina, also found a surprising level of customer service.

"It's fantastic- I had a couple of small problems, but when I reported them, the Pickerings called or e-mailed me right away," said Dolinger, who uses the site for textbooks.

Members also can choose the "Box-O-Books" option and go offline to trade large numbers of titles at once. Valerie Hostos, a 47- year-old support coordinator at Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Columbia, clicked on "Box-O-Books" because she had a large library that needed paring down.

"Everyone's been very honorable," said Hostos, who also likes BookCrossing.com (a site that helps readers track books left in public places all over the world). Hostos has traded more than 100 books in the past year.

"I still have 40 books that I have to read," she said. "And then I can trade them again."

How it works

List at least nine or more books in the system (paperbackswap.com) to become an active member and receive three free credits to get you started trading.

Browse the online list of books posted by club members and use your credits to order books.

Selected books are delivered to you.

When other members order books that you've listed, you mail them and pay the postage (usually $1.59).

You get one credit (good for one book) after that for every book you mail.