How To Stop Buying Books

bookmooch_logo.gif I’ve been a member of the book trading site Bookmooch since not long after its inception, in August 2006. In that time, I’ve mailed off 82 books I no longer wanted, and received 119 in return. That makes me a relative veteran, so I thought I’d share my experience with the site.

To get started, you create an inventory of books you want to give away; the easiest way is by entering ISBNs and letting Bookmooch find them in Amazon. You can search the site for books you want, or, better, make a wishlist. When someone adds a book to their inventory that’s on your wishlist you’re alerted by email. If it’s a popular book you have to step lively to get it before someone else does, but I’ve been pretty lucky with grabbing wishlist books (I’ve set up my email software to make a loud ping when Bookmooch mails me an alert). I used to keep a reading list in my notebook, but now I find myself using Bookmooch as an online “books-to-get” list instead.

The currency in Bookmooch is points. It costs a point to mooch a book, and you get a point when you mail one off. As incentives, you get a tenth of a point for listing a book, and the same for leaving feedback when you receive one. Feedback is quite important, as you often have a choice of people to mooch from, and need to judge if someone’sbookmoochsnap.gif going to send the book promptly or if they’ve abandoned the site. I’ve gotten perfect feedback so far, probably because I’m careful to note the book condition, and I usually take the trouble to wrap books in brown paper before they go into a padded envelope. The book sender pays postage, but for most books sent via US media mail that’s only a couple of bucks.

One nice thing about Bookmooch is that’s a very international enterprise. I’ve sent books to Hong Kong, Finland, Norway, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Serbia, and Uzbekistan (a New Zealand guidebook, that last one). I’ve received them from Canada, the Czech Republic, England, Finland, and Singapore. It costs 2 points to mooch a book from overseas, and to cover the extra shipping cost the sender gets 3 points. To me that’s pretty reasonable, with US Global Priority 5-day shipping at $5 and $10 for mass-market and trade paperbacks respectively. Unfortunately the US postal service is canceling economy surface mail soon, which may discourage people from shipping to countries not in the Global Priority network.

It’s instructive to compare Bookmooch with the CD-trading service LaLa, which I also use and like. LaLa effectively chooses which CDs you get; you list what you want and wait for random people to decide to send them to you. LaLa supplies mailing envelopes, but charges you a buck plus postage for each CD you receive. In contrast, Bookmooch gets no cut in any transaction, and in fact couldn’t, because it doesn’t even collect your credit card details. You pay your own postage, and the site simply hooks you up with people who want your books. The founder of the site, John Buckman, seems to have already made his dough back in the dot-com era, and isn’t particularly in it for the money–there’s no advertising, although Amazon presumably gives a commission on click-throughs for people who want to buy rather than wait for a trade. Also unlike LaLa is the personal nature of each Bookmooch transaction; the site initiates each transaction with an email on your behalf, and subsequent email communication is person-to-person, bypassing Bookmooch completely (whereas LaLa uses a cumbersome onsite message center).

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, Bookmooch is good, but not perfect. Sometimes you get books that are a bit scruffy, with underlining or damage the sender neglected to mention in the condition notes, but you always have the option of leaving negative feedback. Other times I’ve received books in pristine bookstore condition. A few people try to scam the system, but there are plenty of volunteer moderators who respond to reports of abuse. The site also has a slightly amateurish feel to it, with cruddy typography and very basic design, but it’s a work in progress, with features always being tweaked and added, often in response to discussions in the site forum.

If you regularly purge your books, and especially if you’ve ever unloaded them for a pittance at a used-book store, I recommend you give Bookmooch a try. I find I hardly buy books anymore, new or used. And that’s something I can’t imagine myself saying a year ago.

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