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May 15, 2007 3:26 PM   Subscribe

Netflix of Books? BookSwim aims to be 'Netflix' of books with a monthly subscription, 3 book-at-a-time with free postage. They are not the first, BooksFree offers a wide selection of 'beach books' and JiggerBug rents a wide audio book selection. Google tried it in 2005, and nearly got burned to the ground. Could libraries and local used book stores be marginalized (though never destroyed) as the local video rental store? Will Border's become the same struggling dinosaur Blockbuster has turned out to be?
posted by MiltonRandKalman (71 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hmmm...don't books weigh a lot more than DVDs?
posted by mullingitover at 3:33 PM on May 15, 2007


And you're less likely to catch bedbugs from a smooth plastic disc.
posted by hermitosis at 3:35 PM on May 15, 2007


Nice use of the "DeanKoontzBlows" tag. Definitely going to RSS that one.
posted by inoculatedcities at 3:40 PM on May 15, 2007


Call me old fashioned, but I like to rent DVDs and own books. I'm much more likely to loan a book to a friend than loan a DVD.
posted by ColdChef at 3:40 PM on May 15, 2007


I'm pretty tempted to sign up for this specifically because they rent graphic novels. But not if bedbugs will come with them.
posted by cmonkey at 3:42 PM on May 15, 2007


Order me an Old Fashioned, extra bitters, but me and my taxes go to my local public library.
posted by Dizzy at 3:47 PM on May 15, 2007 [5 favorites]


[nitpick] Borders does not have an apostrophe - the chain is not named after the word, but after the brothers who founded it. [/nitpick]

Also, think about what Blockbuster has been doing lately - offering a Netflix like service with the added advantage of being able to just go to the store and exchange DVDs instead of having to wait for the mail. Borders (and B&N, for that matter) would have the same advantage.
posted by booksherpa at 3:47 PM on May 15, 2007


It's not a bad idea, but also not a winner.

Personally, I like to mark up my books. And I own plenty of purchases from used book stores, so I don't mind non-pristine quality. But this reminds me of the shared text-books from primary school -- a single previous owner? No problem. Twenty? Eww.
posted by bardic at 3:47 PM on May 15, 2007


bardic speaks true.
Consider the booger factor.
posted by Dizzy at 3:49 PM on May 15, 2007


Selection is... lacking.

And though I sort of feel like a jackass for intentionally searching for books I knew they wouldn't have, you know what? I'm not the one who decided to make Netflix for books.
posted by roll truck roll at 3:51 PM on May 15, 2007


Consider the booger factor.

And snot-sneeze. And spaghetti sauce driblets. And crumbs.

(I like to read a book over dinner or lunch sometimes. I don't think I'm alone in this.)
posted by bardic at 3:54 PM on May 15, 2007


If I'm too busy to go to the library, I'm too busy to read. I don't see any advantage of this. Plus it's freaking expensive. What am I missing?
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:54 PM on May 15, 2007


It doesn't compete with Borders, it competes against libraries, and in that sense, it's gonna be real hard to win on price.
posted by swell at 3:55 PM on May 15, 2007


The only way that they can be making money on this is assuming that people will take a lot longer to read a book than watch a DVD. They're counting on people reading tops 4 books a month. This way, with media mail costing just $2 for an item, they can make a nice profit once the costs for books is taken into account.

This is still an excellent idea, especially for voracious readers, assuming that they have good turnaround times. It looks like their selection is pretty good, too.
posted by Deathalicious at 3:56 PM on May 15, 2007


Resolved:
BookSwim is evil.
posted by Dizzy at 3:56 PM on May 15, 2007


Books, like reality, have a well-known liberal bias.

Hence, why do they hate America?
posted by bardic at 4:00 PM on May 15, 2007


The Multnomah County Library system (in Portland) offers a mail service where you can put an item on hold via the Internet and it will be mailed to you when it's available for $2. You can either mail it back or drop it off. They also have a zine collection, which I think is pretty cool.
posted by Staggering Jack at 4:01 PM on May 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


I had this same idea when I first heard of Netflix years ago. Then I remembered that the library does this for free and smacked myself for being stupid. These people should have smacked themselves.
posted by Eddie Mars at 4:04 PM on May 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Bookmarking with boogers?
"Nasal passages".


(please don't cut me.)
posted by Dizzy at 4:06 PM on May 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Minuteman Library System in Massachusetts lets you browse, add books to a cart, reserve them, and have them delivered to your closest branch. You can then pick them up at your convenience. And it's all free. Granted, you'll probably wait a month or two for the latest harry potter, but ...

BookSwim might fly in districts with under-funded libraries that have few branches, but like most here I have trouble seeing it compete effectively with libraries, especially in districts that have layered e-commerce-like infrastructure atop their existing hold and ILL systems.
posted by xthlc at 4:09 PM on May 15, 2007


Someone should start a service like this but with magazines. I hate subscribing to magazines but I like to browse many different varieties. I hate buying them because they pile up.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 4:10 PM on May 15, 2007


I'm worried about the bathroom factor.

Booksherpa nitpicked [nitpick] Borders does not have an apostrophe..."

I'll be sure to add the Chicago Manual of Style to my queue.

The Corpse in the Library surmised
If I'm too busy to go to the library, I'm too busy to read.


And people too busy to drive up to the video store, too busy to watch a three 120-minute long movies?

As for comment about not competing with libraries, you would also have to factor in new books. While library do care the latest best-sellers, most go for books several years old, as one copy doesn't meet demand of the latest must-read. A rental service like this might be more apt to stock up on the latest Danielle Steele, John Grisham or Coping with Friends Who Read Shitty Writers for Dummies.

I was drawn to the idea, the best thing to do with a great book is to force it on a friend. I think a more tangible recommendation system than easily forgotten endorsement at a party, could do wonders for my reading habits. Something beyond Amazon's 'Reads who shelled out cash for this bought this' but more like the wonderful member-generated collections you see on Netflix.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 4:11 PM on May 15, 2007


I like to own my own books to show people how fucking awesome I am.

For example, when I walk into a girl's condo and she has no books, I walk right out. Unless she's naked. And not fat.
posted by four panels at 4:13 PM on May 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


"As for comment about not competing with libraries Borders"
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 4:14 PM on May 15, 2007


Local library: free, unless overdue.

No wait time if they happen to have the book at your branch.

Potentially helpful reference people.

In my county's system, there's a 256-book limit, you can renew up to 6 times by web or phone (and then you can physically bring the book in for a token checkin-checkout cycle and get another 6 renewals), and the overdue fees are just 25 cents a day up to $5 per book.
posted by Foosnark at 4:19 PM on May 15, 2007


You have to ship multiple books back and forth at a time, which seems to be defeating the netflix model of watch it, return it, get more while you're reading the ones you already had. Plus, their free postage only covers the first three pounds of a shipment, which doesn't sound so good if you have to send the books three at a time.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:20 PM on May 15, 2007


Foosnark quipped "In my county's system, there's a 256-book limit"

You have a 8-bit library.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 4:25 PM on May 15, 2007 [6 favorites]


"Grand dreams can rise or fall over mundane details, such as shelves for a warehouse that happens to be the basement of Siddiqui's parents' house."
That's NOT a whole lotta books!
posted by mike_bling at 4:26 PM on May 15, 2007


seems to be defeating the netflix model of watch it, return it, get more while you're reading the ones you already had.

RTA: For $15 to $20 per month, the company will send your top five book choices. Return three books in a prepaid envelope, and your next three choices will be mailed to you.

5 - 3 = 2 books to read while you wiat.

You can buy at a used price any book you want to keep forever too.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 4:34 PM on May 15, 2007


Marginalizing is itself quite popular. I bet that will happen. And the Republicans don't believe in Darwin! Pshaw.
posted by nervousfritz at 4:39 PM on May 15, 2007


Some of us are in a situation where we actually don't have a fucking library. I pay a crapload in taxes every year, but am located in an area that is covered by precisely zero libraries.

Well, public ones. I don't have that fifth bedroom for nothing. Which is why I buy my books. I am a card catalog, giant dictionary on a stand, and a ladder on rails away from my dream room.

I far prefer owning books, since I don't think I get nearly as much out of a book until I read it at least twice.
posted by mckenney at 4:39 PM on May 15, 2007


“(I like to read a book over dinner or lunch sometimes. I don't think I'm alone in this.)” -posted by bardic

No, I’m there with you bardic. I didn’t like your garlic bread last time though.

I would like some way to not have to store all the damn books I have. Libraries are great though.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:40 PM on May 15, 2007


The Multnomah County Library system (in Portland) offers a mail service where you can put an item on hold via the Internet and it will be mailed to you when it's available for $2. You can either mail it back or drop it off.

Damn. Another way Portland is more progressive than Seattle. You have to go pick up your online holds at SPL branches.

OTOH, on the UW campus you can have books sent to your mailstop from the library or from U Bookstore. I've used both services. It's part of the many reasons I haven't bailed for a higher-paying web job in the private sector even if they would pay me 50-100% more *sigh*.
posted by dw at 4:40 PM on May 15, 2007


The price is really the final nail in the coffin. 27 freaking dollars? You can buy five used books that price.

MiltonRandKalman typed "I was drawn to the idea, the best thing to do with a great book is to force it on a friend. I think a more tangible recommendation system than easily forgotten endorsement at a party, could do wonders for my reading habits. Something beyond Amazon's 'Reads who shelled out cash for this bought this' but more like the wonderful member-generated collections you see on Netflix."

You sound like someone who doesn't know about Librarything.
posted by roll truck roll at 5:03 PM on May 15, 2007


Obviously, that was supposed to go here.
posted by roll truck roll at 5:06 PM on May 15, 2007


Bookswim: $27 a month
Public Library: Free

No comparison, really. There's always IIL when you need it.
posted by cmgonzalez at 5:08 PM on May 15, 2007


I moved from one of the better library systems in the country ( San Jose City / San Jose State joint library ) to a county library system that is somewhat lacking. However, for $26 a month I could buy somewhere between 8 and 20 books a month from a fairly large (but not easily indexed) selection pool at various used book stores. This system is just barely a win for me financially on the months that I have time to rip through the selections they send (i.e. not tax season), but I probably wont sign up until the selection improves. As for owning books, it is overrated. If I owned all the books I'd ever read I'd have to pay 50% more rent, or ~25% more for a storage space.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:09 PM on May 15, 2007


booksherpa writes "[nitpick] Borders does not have an apostrophe - the chain is not named after the word, but after the brothers who founded it. [/nitpick]"

I think you have this backward:
Shop named after what makes good neighbors, plural, no apostrophe => Fences
Shop owned Milquetoast, possessive, apostrophe "s" => Caspar's
Shop owned by four fictional Russian brothers, possessive plural, apostrophe following plural ending => Karamazovs'

Shop named after one guy, no apostrophe, => Border's
Shop named after two brothers, possessive plural, no apostrophe => Borders'
Shop named after the edges of something, especially geographic regions, plural, no apostrophe => Borders
posted by orthogonality at 5:15 PM on May 15, 2007


Er, I copied "no apostrophe" when I meant "apostrophe" for the 2nd and 3rd to last.
posted by orthogonality at 5:16 PM on May 15, 2007


The Multnomah County Library system (in Portland) offers a mail service where you can put an item on hold via the Internet and it will be mailed to you when it's available for $2. You can either mail it back or drop it off.

And non-residents can get a library card (and, I presume, the $2 to-your-door shipping of books) for just $70 per year. That's not cheap, but it's cheaper than BookSwim, it seems.
posted by gd779 at 5:21 PM on May 15, 2007


RTA: For $15 to $20 per month, the company will send your top five book choices. Return three books in a prepaid envelope, and your next three choices will be mailed to you.

I RTAed, thanks. Did you see the part where I mentioned sending them back three at a time?

I don't think batching books up and sending them back three at a time offers the same feeling as reading one and sending it back to get another one. The five at a time plan doesn't really offer you a choice of five different books to read--much of the time, you'll have three different books to read, and two you've already read, and then you'll read one, send three back and only have two different books to read, etc.

A big part of what makes Netflix workable is that you can keep your on hand selection broad enough to have something you're in the mood to watch by having a few different discs in the house at a time. But if I'm often only going to have 1 (in the 3 book plan) or 2 (in the 5 book plan) books around to choose from, I'm probably going to want a lot more control over what they actually are than the netflix model offers.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:35 PM on May 15, 2007


None of this matters. We appear to have killed the site.
posted by JanetLand at 5:36 PM on May 15, 2007


I know people who read a book a day - paperback, romance stuff. Not everything is in the library. This would a boon for them. Paperbacks media-mail USPS is pretty cheap. It'll work, not a revolution, but it is one more "wedge" taken away from Borders and Amazon.
posted by stbalbach at 5:53 PM on May 15, 2007


I wonder if the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary will fit in one of those prepaid envelopes. I hope they don't mind if I rent it every couple of months.
posted by rolypolyman at 6:08 PM on May 15, 2007 [2 favorites]


None of this matters. We appear to have killed the site.

Yep. I did manage to get in and browse their selection, but it was running real slow. I did see enough to see that their UI sucks, though.

To see why, go to their 'advanced author search' (actually a browse, not a search). Try to use this to find out if they have any books by David Foster Wallace. Get frustrated. Try a search on his name and see that they do have books by him, but he's not listed on their list of authors.

Not to mention this charming error message when I clicked on a name in their list of authors:

"Sorry. Whatever jibberish you just searched for did not produce any book results. Please try again using our Advanced Search."
posted by Infinite Jest at 6:58 PM on May 15, 2007


The only reason I don't like borrowing books from the library is just that--it's borrowing. There's a deadline. I have to finish this book by such a such day and it kinda sorta spoils the reading pleasure of it and makes reading the book an obligation. Netflix is different, it doesn't take but a couple of hours to watch "Deuce Bigelow", but for me to tackle Ulysses in two weeks or so is asking a lot.

In other words, I don't think this will work.
posted by zardoz at 7:15 PM on May 15, 2007


And people too busy to drive up to the video store, too busy to watch a three 120-minute long movies?

Yes, I would think so. When I used Netflix it was because there weren't any DVD rental stores in my neighborhood with movies I wanted to see. Am I unusual in that? Do most people use Netflix to save time?
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:31 PM on May 15, 2007


Library holds and the interweb are the best combination evah. Still, this could be useful if your local library has a sucky selection/ no decent website.
posted by Artw at 7:45 PM on May 15, 2007


I think PaperBackSwap is a better deal. Every book you mail out gets you a credit, which you can you use to request books from others. You have to pay postage on books you send out, which with the new postal rates, will be around $2.13 per book (used to be $1.59 up until yesterday).
posted by fings at 7:47 PM on May 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is a big "meh" for me, personally.

'Course, I'm spoiled by the Boston Public Library, which buys every book I've ever requested, gets new stuff when it's truly brand-new, allows me to renew online, and lets me create a list of books I want to, er, bookmark for future reference via their Web site. I also love browsing at libraries, just as I might at (bookstore of choice). I discover all sorts of great stuff just by poking around for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon.

I also hate owning books. While I enjoy bestowing them meaningfully upon friends after I'm done with them, I also move too frequently to want to carry them from place to place to place to place. I've kept only my very favorites, and even those I tend to dispose of every few years. I can get 'em from the library if I want to read them again.

(Speaking of which, I hope San Francisco has good libraries.)
posted by mykescipark at 8:12 PM on May 15, 2007


OK, since the "Libraries Kick Ass" derail is in full effect, you'd e dumb to have a library card and not use Library Elf.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:16 PM on May 15, 2007


As someone noted above, you can pretty easily buy this many used books a month -- via eBay, Half, or third-party sellers on Amazon, if there's no brick and mortar secondhand bookstore near you -- for about the same price, if not less (if not WAY less). The only major incentive I can see to this service is that you don't end up crowded out of your own home by rotting wood pulp. This is, for some of us (me), an issue.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:19 PM on May 15, 2007


I wish the library had this kind of service.

I thought the library was pretty convenient as a kid, but as a working adult it's a PITA. They only have hours after 6 PM twice a week, and they're open 4 hours on Saturday and closed on Sunday. Except in the summer, when they're closed all weekend. So getting there is an effort. And a month might be enough time to read a book, if I work at it. New releases are two weeks though. So I always end up with fines.

It's so much easier to just buy stuff from Amazon. I can just have a stack of books ready to be read at all times.
posted by smackfu at 8:47 PM on May 15, 2007


My goodness, it's a circulating library. I await the return of the triple-decker.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:58 PM on May 15, 2007 [1 favorite]


Also, how many of you library cheerleaders go to libraries with an actual good/great selection? *all hands go up* Ah, thought so. Some of us folks live in unfortunate places that have dismal pics...of course, that all depends on what you like.
posted by zardoz at 9:17 PM on May 15, 2007


Bookswim: $27 a month
Public Library: Free

No comparison, really.


Once the Republicans hear that libraries are putting a crimp in Free Enterprise, they'll become an endangered species.
posted by spock at 9:23 PM on May 15, 2007


I wonder if the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary will fit in one of those prepaid envelopes. I hope they don't mind if I rent it every couple of months.
posted by rolypolyman


I dunno, but I do know that as a resident of the state of Alabama, my taxes pay for free online access to the OED through the Alabama Virtual Library. Surprisingly cool, for an otherwise bass-ackward state.

Re BookSwim, meh. Book shopping is half the fun.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:34 PM on May 15, 2007


I thought the library was pretty convenient as a kid, but as a working adult it's a PITA. They only have hours after 6 PM twice a week, and they're open 4 hours on Saturday and closed on Sunday. Except in the summer, when they're closed all weekend. So getting there is an effort. And a month might be enough time to read a book, if I work at it. New releases are two weeks though. So I always end up with fines.

Thanks to the majority of taxpayers (in Connecticut and elsewhere in the US) refusing to endure the PITA of having taxes raised by an negligible amount so that public libraries can stay open for more hours, and city and town councils and county boards of supervisors being increasingly unwilling to give a piece of the dwindling resource pie to public libraries, that's pretty much the way things are.
posted by blucevalo at 10:15 PM on May 15, 2007


In my town we have this amazing thing called the library. You can go in there, borrow books, keep them for a few weeks, then bring them back and get new ones. Or you can just sit at one of the tables or in a comfy chair and read a book right there. If the book you want is not part of the library's collection, they'll order it for you, or they'll do interlibrary loan. And it's free!

Of course, you do need to get up and go there - they don't deliver books to your house.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:23 PM on May 15, 2007


There was a real down side to the whole public library experience in the states, and I think you know what I mean.

Not that I'd use this service... but it'd be nice to check out a book without having to actually step over sleeping homeless people in order to do it.
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:48 AM on May 16, 2007


This is different then using Netflix instead of the video store. The video store has close to none of the movies I want to watch.

The library, on the other hand, does or can order it for me.
posted by meta87 at 2:26 AM on May 16, 2007


On the "threat to libraries" scale, this ranks somewhere below "plague of locusts."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:36 AM on May 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thanks to the majority of taxpayers (in Connecticut and elsewhere in the US) refusing to endure the PITA of having taxes raised...

Well the old folks are the only ones who vote, and they don't care if the library is only open during the day. Curse them!
posted by smackfu at 6:06 AM on May 16, 2007


Once the Republicans hear that libraries are putting a crimp in Free Enterprise, they'll become an endangered species.

During a boring library school class it occurred to me that public libraries may be the last holdouts against privatization of formerly public institutions: cf. charter schools and for-profit prison contractors.
posted by scratch at 6:50 AM on May 16, 2007


Another day, another reason to regret selling books for a living.

For me, I would imagine they don't have the obscure books that I can't afford to buy.
posted by drezdn at 7:13 AM on May 16, 2007


One of the few nice things I'll say about Orlando is that their public library not only allows you to shop for books online, but they actually deliver them to your house free. You can renew online for up to 3 3-week periods, I think, and return them to any branch when you're done. It doesn't get too much more convenient than that.
posted by JohnYaYa at 7:24 AM on May 16, 2007


This is different then using Netflix instead of the video store. The video store has close to none of the movies I want to watch.

The library, on the other hand, does or can order it for me.


Yes, I agree. I used Netflix for the selection -- there are two pretty good video stores here in town but they don't carry a lot of the things I like -- ballets, operas, old tv shows, "classic" films, etc.

I'm lucky enough to work next door to the Maine State Library, which will interlibrary loan anything for me, and what with renewals I get to keep the books for about two months. This library, by the way, has had a mailing books program for a number of years, although not everyone qualifies.

I borrow books before I buy them because I'm not spending good money on books I don't like. They have to audition first.
posted by JanetLand at 8:22 AM on May 16, 2007


I like the experience of going to a brick and mortar book store or library. There is just something about walking up and down aisles of books to browse instead of browsing online. I live really close to a Barnes and Noble and a brand new library. However, when I lived out in the middle of nowhere, bn.com and amazon.com were the closest I could get to a decent place to find books.
posted by GlowWyrm at 10:15 AM on May 16, 2007


On the subject of taxes and libraries, here's a Newsfilter update from Jackson County in southern Oregon, home of Medford, Ashland, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, etc., etc., where voters apparently don't care that now not a single library will be open in the entire county:

"Property owners in southern Oregon will not be coming to the rescue of the shuttered public library system in Jackson County, voting down a tax that would revive what's considered the largest library closure in the nation.

"By a vote of 58.3 percent to 41.7 percent, voters shot down a proposal to pay an average $9 a month in property tax to prop up the county's 15 public libraries.

" 'We were amazed the vote wasn't closer,' said Kathleen Davis, who led the library campaign.

" 'I think people are still imagining that the feds are going to come through with some money,' she said.

"Federal timber subsidies that once paid to operate the $9 million library system dried up last fall. The county's main library in Medford and its 14 branches were shut in April."
posted by blucevalo at 12:32 PM on May 16, 2007


blucevalo, that is just so incredibly sad. I don't know what else to say.
posted by JanetLand at 6:28 PM on May 16, 2007


The ironic thing about buying used books online is that they are usually ex-library.
posted by smackfu at 6:37 PM on May 16, 2007


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