As you might have guessed from my frequent book reviews and my tendency to refer to myself a ‘geek', I like books. I don't, however, enjoy paying the prices that are frequently charged for books; at fifteen dollars for a paperback or a whopping thirty dollars (or sometimes even more) for a new hardback, I'd barely have the opportunity to read anything, let alone indulge my passion as often as I'd like. Luckily, there are methods to cut down the costs of books, some of which I've shared already.
One of those methods was taking advantage of a fairly new website, PaperBackSwap.com . I've been using it myself over the past several weeks, and thought that now was as good a time as any to share my experiences with the site. Is it a worthwhile way to keep your book costs down, while still being able to read as much as you'd like, whenever you'd like? Let's find out!
How It Works
The basic idea behind PaperBackSwap is, well, the ability to trade paperbacks with others from around the country (sorry, no non-U.S. residents yet, even you book-loving Canadians). You can create an account and post books you've read and are willing to send on their site. If anyone wants the books, they can request them after they've been posted (or, if they are part of someone's ‘Wish List', they will be automatically requested upon posting).
At that point, you can print out two sheets of paper that provide the postal information for sending the book, as well as some information about yourself for the recipient. You send the book via the US Postal Service (at their ‘Media Mail' rates; typically between two and three dollars per book), and when it arrives, the recipient confirms the arrival, and you have a credit added to your account, enabling you to request books of your own. (You get two credits for posting at least ten books you are willing to ship when you first sign up, so you can start requesting right away.)
Requesting a book works pretty simply as well: you search for a book you would like, enter the request, and when it is accepted by the next person on the list who is willing to part with the book, it gets sent out to you posthaste. You can have the book in your hands as soon as the Postal Service delivers it; my experience, both sending and receiving books, is that the elapsed time from when the book is sent to when it arrives should be less than one week.
It's Inexpensive: In case you missed it, it costs less than three dollars to send a book to another PaperBackSwap member, and it costs you nothing out of pocket to get a book from another person. Compared to the cost of new books, or even most used books, it's practically a steal. (If you don't have books that anyone else wants to swap, you can buy more credits, as well; the cost, at around $3 per credit, is still much less expensive than even most used books at bookstores.)
It's Social: Much like discussing your book selections with fellow library goers or bookstore attendees, you are able to chat with your fellow PaperBackSwap members, whether to thank them for sending the book or to ask for further recommendations. You're also able to hit the forums or otherwise converse with other members, adding an air of social mingling to what might otherwise be a rather dry book-related website.
You Can Clear Off Your Bookshelf…: Perhaps the biggest advantage, at least for those of us with so many books we almost need to rent another apartment to store them, is that you can take advantage of this site to help clear out some space. You'll also be able to help out other bibliophiles AND benefit further by getting new (or new to you, at least) books in return. (Which admittedly will leave you with even more books to find space for, but that's another issue.)
…Assuming Anyone Wants Them: There is a catch to relying on PaperBackSwap to clear off your bookshelf, though: you can only send out books when they are requested by others. If nobody wants your old books, you can end up posting them and having them sit there, waiting patiently for someone to stumble upon them. (Which does happen; in the few short weeks I've been an active member, I've had two books I thought would never be requested end up being requested by other members. Go figure.)
Popular Books are Near Impossible to Get: Flip side of the last point: if you're trying to get your hands on a fairly new, fairly popular book, you can find yourself waiting at the end of a long, LONG line. As PaperBackSwap gives each member 200 ‘wishes' for their wish lists, it's easy for dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people to request the newest books; add in how few people are willing to part with, say, a copy of The Hunger Games, and you'd probably get a hold of the book months or years faster by hitting your local bookstore or Amazon.com. (Which, by the way, I would highly recommend; The Hunger Games is a fantastic book.)
There's No Guarantee of the Quality of the Books Received: While PaperBackSwap has a policy that only books in good condition should be shipped, there is the possibility there are stray marks or other damage done to the book that you aren't aware of. One of the two books I've received so far had some drawing in it, which was a bit disconcerting. While you can report damaged books upon arrival, just be aware that you are essentially buying them sight unseen, so if you absolutely have to have a spotless book, you should probably buy one from the bookstore.
PaperBackSwap.com is a very interesting site, and a pretty interesting concept. I'm a fairly enthusiastic member, and I would, in general, recommend it to just about anyone. Just keep in mind my caveats, and don't expect to clear out your bookshelf of decade old tomes or get every book on the New York Times Best Seller List sent out to you tomorrow.
P.S.: If you do decide to join, please feel free to list me (amateurfinancier) as your referrer; not only can I pick up an extra credit if you do, but I'll be able to get that much closer to passing Trent Hamm as the top referrer.