Readers' Resource: Mail Order Book Swap
I love owning books. I currently belong to two book clubs and so my library card gets a steady work-out. And I feel so thrifty and resourceful when I use the inter-library loan feature online. But I still feel a mix of satisfaction and guilty pleasure when I shell out the bucks for a book to add to my own, personal library.
I was talking about this with my mother-in-law and she told me about this thing where you can trade books (for keeps!) through the mail with strangers who also love to own books. All you pay for is shipping, which is almost always cheaper than buying a new book. It sounded too good to be true. So I checked it out (no pun intended).
I'm now an official member of Paperback Book Swap. They do have a handy-dandy interactive video that takes you through the process. But it still takes a bit more involvement than I had expected. First, you type in the ISBN numbers of the books you're ready to give away. When someone wants one of your books, you receive an email from PBS (that stands for Paperback Book Swap, NOT the television station that shows Sesame Street. I kept wondering why PBS would be contacting me....) Anyway, I got three requests for my books within hours. All of a sudden I was feeling a little panicky. I mean, the pressure of knowing you've promised to deliver and there's someone out there waiting for you...expecting you...relying on you to come through. I was already having membership remorse.
I ignored the emails (I imagined them to be very loud and insistent) until the next day, when I decided to get the whole shipping thing over with. I had a few minutes so I thought I'd whip out the mailing labels and get the books out the door. I chose a pre-paid postage label so that the packages would be picked up by my mail carrier, saving me a trip to the post office. And this is when things slowed down a bit. I found out you need to have money in a special PBS account to pay for this postage. Makes sense, but I had to set that up, which I didn't have time for at that moment. This was to be my first failed attempt to check this whole thing off on my to-do list.
Later in the day, I went back to PBS, started over, and set up a spending account. Then I used that to pay for the shipping label and printed it all out. Buuuut, now I'm out of time again. I'm wondering if I should have clicked the "No, I can't mail this right now," option and made the person requesting it to go find someone else. Social obligation guilt made me keep going.
So now I'm back at it, and I've got mailing labels printed on regular sized pieces of paper with which to wrap up my books. I added a few sheets so that the books would be completely covered and taped them all up. Then I realized I forgot to first wrap them in plastic wrap for rain protection. This wasn't a requirement, only a suggestion made by PBS, so at this point, I figured that if these books had any chance of ever leaving my house, plastic wrap wasn't in the equation. Unfortunately, it was then that I realized one of the books I was sending was a hardcover and therefore weighed more than 13oz. Which means you can't just pop it in a mailbox and be done with it. You have to actually take it to the post office, which is what I was trying to avoid by paying for the pre-printed mailing label in the first place.
SO. Swapping through the mail is not a cure-all for those of us hoping that free books will just magically appear on our doorsteps. But I'm pretty sure it's still a cool idea and a great way to add books to your library without breaking the bank. And I think now that I've got the hang of it (and I've learned that it's called Paperback Book Swap instead of Hardback Book Swap for a reason), it'll be quicker next time. Although I haven't tried requesting a book for myself yet. And since most of these books will probably be sent at the Media Mail rate, I may not get one for awhile. In the mean time, I'm headed to my local indie book store for some instant gratification.
P.S. There are also a few other sites that coordinate book swaps through the mail, including BookMooch and SwitchPlanet. If you've used these or something else that's worked for you, let us know in the comments!