Swap books; read more.
May 30, 2008 5:44 AM   Subscribe

You may have heard that reading is in a slow decline (previously). We now know that such reports were either exaggerated, or at least statistically questionable. On the flip-side of all this is the fact that reading as an activity has never been more accessible (or thrifty!) considering the number of reputable book swap programs available on the internet. There's no excuse now!

You may be wondering how these book-swap programs work. Your first thought might be that they run under a tit-for-tat rubric, but that would be a headache. Instead, many of them employ a credit-based system where you will earn a "point" for sending someone a book they've put on a wishlist, and can turn around and redeem that credit to then be on the receiving end. Don't forget if you're in the US you can take advantage of Media Mail shipping for all of this.
posted by tybeet (48 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Book swapping has many good things going for it, but compared to Inter-Library Loans it is hardly thrifty. Media mail is a few dollars typically. ILL works by just being tossed in the courier bag that circulates around the library system already, so the marginal cost is near 0.

I'm a little spoiled because I have access to the MIT library through work, but even my tiny town library has quite a bit of stuff from the surrounding areas. Granted, you can't get a lot of highly technical/specialist books that way. But you aren't likely to get a particular one via swapping either. (Even MIT's library often doesn't have exactly the book I was looking for.)

It's really incredible to me how many people spend money on bestsellers. Trust me, the library has it.
posted by DU at 5:55 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

Book swapping is a significant accessibility upgrade over...say...a library? For that to be true, mustn't all of the following conditions exist?

-you live in a small town with a small, self-contained public library system

-your public library system doesn't participate in ANY consortia or interlibrary loan programs

-the genre you prefer is significantly outside the public library's collection

-the genre you prefer is widely preferred among other other bookswappers

-you have no access to any university or other large, cooperative library system
posted by aswego at 5:57 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

There's no excuse now!

Apart from the fact Jeanette Winterson will be after your blood because bookswapping is EVIL.
posted by ninebelow at 6:08 AM on May 30, 2008

Nthing -- this is really only thrifty if you're swapping books with someone in your neighborhood. The cost of shipping a book somewhere may easily equal or exceed the cash value of the item itself. I guess if you're trading recent hardcovers, then maybe it makes sense.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:08 AM on May 30, 2008

Not everyone prefers the route that involves borrowing books, especially when you can't (ethically) write in the margins of the pages, and then decide to keep your book with your notes for later reading and meditating.
posted by tybeet at 6:09 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lastly, the study spends a few pages bemoaning the decline in book spending, by 14% for the average consumer in the 20 years after 1985, after adjusting for inflation. But this may mean people are finding ways to spend less for the same book...

I think this is true. I know that I read just as much as I did when I was a child, but my family spent less and less money on books as the years passed. I distinctly remember going to the book store when I was in elementary school (right before the internet hit) and my mom would just buy me $60 of books, more if she had it. After that, though, we started spending more money on computers and other technological things, and cut back on actually buying books. It makes sense that other families probably did something similar; whatever money you can spend on recreation ends up going heavily towards technology because you can get books for free from the library. If you buy a TV, a DVD player, a video game system and some games, and a computer (or a handful of computers) that's a lot of money that isn't being spent on books. It doesn't necessarily mean you don't still spend hours reading if you have those things. I know my circle of friends still read a lot even when we had those things.

Not to mention books have gotten more and more expensive. Whenever I buy a book, half the time it's from a used book store. Of course people aren't going to be buying books new if they can help it.
posted by Nattie at 6:12 AM on May 30, 2008

posted by Plutor at 6:18 AM on May 30, 2008

I notice LibraryThing mentions borrow in addition to buy / swap / view. How well does that work in actual practice?

I've got a rather large (well over two hundred) collection of finance and economics books and routinely entertain queries from colleagues to borrow titles. Who help me out in return, when I ask. In fact, my research group at University maintain a page on our department intranet detailing books and journal articles we each have.

I wouldn't mind extending this, especially so if I could borrow books in return, but I've got several titles that were very, very expensive when published (several hundred pounds a copy).

As many of these are no longer published I'd be very hesitant about pitching them into the unknown. So how do these book borrowing sites account for the value of the tome?
posted by Mutant at 6:20 AM on May 30, 2008

Another stats distortion is audiobooks. My "reading" has actually skyrocketed lately, while my library hauls have gotten markedly smaller. Reason: I got an MP3 player for Xmas and can get to piratebay from my web browser.
posted by DU at 6:20 AM on May 30, 2008

LibraryThing's bookswapping feature is very cool.

Bookcrossing seems to be innovating a lot of social "book 2.0" ideas (below is from the FAQ):

Bookring - Person #1 has a book to share and posts notice of a bookring in the Bookring and Ray forum. Interested parties will PM her, and a bookring begins. The book is mailed to Person #2 along with a list of everyone in the ring--without including anyone’s mailing address (for privacy reasons). When Person 2 receives the book, he PM’s Person 3 for his/her address, reads the book as quickly as possible, and mails it off. Two to four weeks has become the standard for keeping a book.
My personal suggestion is that if you need it longer than that, you a)let the founder of the ring know, and/or b) send it to the next person, unread, and request that your name be added to the end of the list when you may have more time.
Person #3 repeats the cycle. Eventually, the book returns to the original owner.

YokoSpungeon made a very detailed, beginners handout of how to do set up for a bookring. Since a ray is just a ring that never comes home, it should be helpful.
Here it is in rtf and in .pdf.

Bookray - This works exactly like a bookring except it is never returned to the original owner. Much like a paper ray of sunshine, the book travels forever. When the last person on the ray list finishes the book, they can post it on the wish list forum for more BC readers, or they can release it into the wild.

Bookbox - Person #1 gathers together a bunch of books, This can be as few as 8 or 10, or as many as 30 or 40 paperbacks. The books can be themed (sci-fi, chick-lit, romance, children's, etc) or just random books. After posting a message on the Bookring/Ray forum, s/he gathers a list of interested participants. Box is mailed to Person #2, who takes out a couple of books and puts the same amount back in, then mails it to Person #3. Eventually, the box will make it back to Person #1, who has a lot of new books to read!

Virtual bookbox is like a regular bookbox, except instead of placing books in a physical box and shipping it from member to member, where shipping costs play a heavy role, the books are collected in a list online, made available to participants, who then pass books from the list to other participants when requested. A good explanation is in this article by PokPok.

Bookspiral involves ringing or raying a series of books (such as the Stephanie Plum mysteries or Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books one at a time, passed in order to the participants so that when participant one finishes with a book, it is passed to the next participant, and the next book in the series passes to participant one, and so on.
posted by stbalbach at 6:31 AM on May 30, 2008

As a follow-up, in case anyone is interested, here's some information on some of the swap programs that I could dig up:

~75,000 members
26,000 books listed
802,000 books traded
point system: 1 point per domestic book shipped, 3 for international

50,000+ (as of 2006)
? books listed
10,000 books traded (as of 2006)
point system: Our system automatically assigns point values to each item. New releases, best sellers, popular titles, award winners and classics are worth more points. Less popular and inexpensive items are worth less.

point system: The worth of a book on WhatsOnMyBookshelf is based upon the new book price. For every 20 USD the book increase in value by 1 credit. We use this system rather than a 1 point 1 book system since we recognize that all books are not created equal. The new book price reflects binding type (hardcover/softcover), number of pages, and book type (textbook, romance, non-fiction, etc.)

Title Trader:
point system: For each item you send to another member, you will receive one point that you can use to request items from our collection. You will receive your point for an item after the item has been shipped. You can also purchase points.
180,000 books swapped.

Read It Swap It:
179877 books listed.
point system: no points, uses tit-for-tat.

Readers United:
point system: The credit value of a book is set automatically based on its retail price, condition and estimated postage cost based on size and weight. If a book is posted internationally then extra credits are added to cover the increased postage cost.

Swap Club:
point system: The recommended credit value is based on the item being in good used condition. You can reduce the default credit value if you want to earn the credits quickly or the item is less desirable. It's up to you.
posted by tybeet at 6:42 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I like those Bookcrossing ideas. These must be new since I last visited (or I didn't notice them at the time). I found the site from one of the books someone had left out. It was a The Saint book. I dropped it off somewhere....and then never heard from it again. :(
posted by DU at 6:42 AM on May 30, 2008

I've been a user of ReadItSwapIt.co.uk for about 6 months now. It has mostly worked well. Mainland UK is perfect for this kind of thing because postage cost is very low - a smartly package paperback can be shipped 2nd class for about 70p.

I prefer it over the library because it is easier - the books come to me - and I get to keep them until I am done with them. No time pressure. No cash penalties if a book doesn't get picked up or returned on time.

The downside is that some people have different ideas about what "excellent condition" or "like new" mean. Also smokers ruin their books and don't realize it.
posted by srboisvert at 6:45 AM on May 30, 2008

I've used PaperBackSwap (listed under LibraryThing's "other sites") for nearly a year with excellent results. This isn't to say that I don't use the similarly excellent libraries where I live, but neither my husband nor I are particularly great about return dates, since we read in the same way - voraciously but sporadically, five or six books at a time.

It might take me six months to get through a book, and owning it (albeit temporarily, since I swap 99% of the books back after I've read them) is easier for me than paying more than Media Mail postage in library late charges.
posted by timetoevolve at 6:56 AM on May 30, 2008

To all the naysayers: I've been a member of bookmooch for almost 2 years, and I would sooner part with my MeFi account thean my BM one (which is saying quite a lot).
It works like this: I'm in Chile, and a professor at the largest University here, so yes, I have access to a library system. However, said library system doesn't have as many English language technical and S.F. books as I require. Plus, some books you need to own, not just borrow.
So I put my old books into BM and they get mooched. I pay between USD$10-20 to send one, say some crappy Steven King novel my brother picked up at an airport, to somebody outside Chile, and get credited 3 points. I then take just 2 of these points and get a nice big fat technical book, for instance 'Programming Python', which, if it was available at all, would probably set me back over USD$100 here in Chile.
I have sent out 26 books and gotten 40, and my life is richer for it.
posted by signal at 7:06 AM on May 30, 2008

The downside is that some people have different ideas about what "excellent condition" or "like new" mean. Also smokers ruin their books and don't realize it.

Well, first of all, this is a subjective call -- I'm a smoker, and my books are just fine, thanks -- but more to the point, why are you worried about the general condition of a book ("excellent," "like new," etc.) that you plan to swap when you're finished with it anyhow? If the pages are all there, I'm not sure what else you're really looking for.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:12 AM on May 30, 2008

Why is a decline in reading books something to worry about? Is reading books inherently more virtuous than watching TV or surfing the internet?
posted by Dec One at 7:23 AM on May 30, 2008

Thanks for doing the legwork on those sites, tybeet. For the most part I have discovered that ILL works amazingly well for me, but my county doesn't have everything I'd like to read and I've been looking for other options.
posted by artifarce at 7:23 AM on May 30, 2008

The cost of shipping a book somewhere may easily equal or exceed the cash value of the item itself. I guess if you're trading recent hardcovers, then maybe it makes sense.

The economy works for 3-4 books at a time. 1 at a time, not so much.

The internet, in general, MUST be improving literacy, annoying LOLROFLWTF!!!1!isms notwithstanding. I refuse to believe that now that kids spend hours per day READING stuff online they're not getting more literate, no matter what the content is, than recent previous generations.
posted by rokusan at 7:24 AM on May 30, 2008

Is reading books inherently more virtuous than watching TV or surfing the internet?

Usually and it depends, respectively.
posted by DU at 7:44 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

This reminds me of something I read, somewhere.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:47 AM on May 30, 2008

The cost of shipping a book somewhere may easily equal or exceed the cash value of the item itself.

This is, quite frankly, totally false, unless you're including "overseas" in "somewhere". I do Paperback Swap, and the books there are a steal -- it's a little over $2 to send almost any book via media mail, including heavy hardbacks. People sometimes order multiple books at once, which brings the price down to less than $1.50 per credit. And they give you two free books just for listing ten of yours.

In contrast, the local used-book place wants half of the cover price for books. That's more than twice what it costs to swap, for even the cheapest non-public-domain paperback book! They have started to charge modern prices for older books, too. Used books at online stores like Amazon are even worse: the shipping alone is more than you'll pay to get the same book from Paperback Swap.

As usual, mefi's urban bias is showing -- not everyone lives in a big city with cheap used bookstores and extensive libraries (mine doesn't have Das Kapital, and it hardly carries any non-young-adult paperbacks at all; you really think they're going to have Dan Abnett's latest Warhammer 40K book?) For those of us who don't live in the city, these swap services are brilliant.
posted by vorfeed at 7:51 AM on May 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

The Jeanette Winterson link was interesting, ninebelow. It would be really excellent if these sites also included, on each book's page, a paypal link that could be used to make donations to the author.

It's a fascinating thing to watch, the way the internet is gradually causing us to revert to a strange version of the renaissance patron/artist relationship. I feel bad for the artists now, as we go through the shift, but it seems that it will be better for them -- both creatively and financially -- in the long run.
posted by voltairemodern at 7:52 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

FWIW, the MinuteMan library system in MA sucks (esp. compared to BCCLS in NJ). I have completely given up on them.
posted by Eideteker at 8:05 AM on May 30, 2008

Book swapping is a significant accessibility upgrade over...say...a library? For that to be true, mustn't all of the following conditions exist?

All five of those are true for me, pretty much. We have no consortia in Vermont, my local library doesn't do ILL [and interlibrary loan can take WEEKS under the best of circumstances from a nearby library] and ILL just shifts the cost for shipping to the library which means it's distributed among the taxpayers, not just borne by me. I like to read techie books and esoteric old histories. I can drive about 30 minutes and use the local community college library which is good for sci-fi which I also like but I can get Ubuntu books easier via paperbackswap.com [which is one of the social tools you can add in your MeFi profile] than I can by going to a library. The swap sites are also good for books that have decent value to others but none to you. I could also donate them to the library booksale and sometimes I do.

Thanks for the post, tybeet.
posted by jessamyn at 8:10 AM on May 30, 2008

Just as an example, here are some of the books I've scored on Paperback Swap in the last year, for about $2.13 each:

Europe: A History (in hardcover!)
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
The First World War (also in hardcover)
All of Tim O'Brien's novels (the local used book place wanted $7 per book for these, because they're trade paperbacks)
An entire collection of Asimov's novels & short stories, in hardcover
The difficult-to-find Watership Down audiobook
Three or four $20 gaming books (note that the library doesn't carry these)

I also got tons of paperbacks, and replaced a couple of my favorite hardcover books after my cats ruined them. And the best part is, I got about 50 credits from some old tech books my boss was going to throw away at work. Who knew there were still people looking for a copy of Beginning Forth?
posted by vorfeed at 8:23 AM on May 30, 2008

As usual, mefi's urban bias is showing

That's kind of more of a western world bias, isn't it? But re: the cash value of the books -- books presumably become less valuable as they are read and their condition degrades; the half-off cover price point is pretty typical of most used bookstores, and the books tend to just get cheaper from there. There's also the matter of the generally epic slowness of media mail -- do you count long periods of time waiting for your book(s) to show against their value? If so, then it begins to seem less of a bargain. But yeah, I'll concede that if you're nowhere near a brick-and-mortar reseller, or in Paraguay and looking for books in English or what have you, these services could be okay.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:26 AM on May 30, 2008

...ILL just shifts the cost for shipping to the library which means it's distributed among the taxpayers, not just borne by me.

But "the cost" is lower when it is charged to the library. For one thing, they can move a bunch of books at the same time. For another, they often have a car going that way anyway.

For instance, my town and the next one over have a car that drives back and forth every day, because so many people borrow at A and return to B. Adding a few ILL books to that costs basically nothing.

But maybe you object to taxpayers paying for "your" stuff in principle, no matter how miniscule the cost. For my part, I'm more than happy to help make sure my fellow citizens are literate, educated and informed.
posted by DU at 8:34 AM on May 30, 2008

Is reading books inherently more virtuous than watching TV or surfing the internet?

Yeah, people who read books like to give non-book readers a hard time, it seems to be a current cultural trend. The first novel that middle Protestant America was "allowed" to read was Ben-Hur, prior to that good Christians stayed away from theater, novels and other diversions, reading only the bible (or preferably, having it read to them on Sundays by a hell and brimstone preacher). So now reading, reading at all, has become "virtuous". Times change.
posted by stbalbach at 8:57 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

For those of us who don't live in the city, these swap services are brilliant.

See also: anglophones in non-Montreal Quebec.
posted by Shepherd at 8:58 AM on May 30, 2008

But "the cost" is lower when it is charged to the library. For one thing, they can move a bunch of books at the same time. For another, they often have a car going that way anyway.

Mine just puts them in the mail, the same as I would. I agree that in larger systems, this cost is lower and distributed better and more efficiently and makes total sense. In tiny towns, it's basically having the library paying for postage or paying for it yourself. I'm not at all opposed to ILL services and think they're one of the US's great hidden wonderfulnesses, but as a librarian I always feel a little weird using it extensively because I know what the library budgets are and know that lots and lots of ILLing drives up the cost of doing business, especially as the price of postage rises while media mail discounts shrink (vanish?)

As a librarian, I encourage patrons to use ILL to get books they want, whenever they want. As a regular old person, I can often get them myself in a more timely fashion with lesser expense from paperbackswap. It's misplaced responsibility to be sure, but it's something I think about a lot.
posted by jessamyn at 9:04 AM on May 30, 2008

Aww, Jessamyn, you're not old. *hugs*
posted by Eideteker at 9:11 AM on May 30, 2008

I don't see what all the hubub is about. I'm illiterate and perfectly happy. I like to use my orginal Whitman notebooks to dry my armpits after a shower. The Brother Karamavoz is especially absorbant, too.
posted by valentinepig at 9:11 AM on May 30, 2008

Dangit, wrong button - personally I love the 10/$1 garage sales. I've got 37 copies of The DaVinci Code. I've only read 15 of them, though.

I work for a large company and from time to time folks purge their libraries onto the community table in the break room.
posted by valentinepig at 9:18 AM on May 30, 2008

That's kind of more of a western world bias, isn't it?

Not in this case, no. "The western world" includes many, many places where there are no used book stores, and the libraries are not great. The "local" half-cover-price used-book place I was talking about earlier is an hour and a half's drive from here by car. There are also a couple of tiny and usually more expensive used bookstores forty-five minutes from here, along with some big-box bookstores. Unless I want to drive, my choices are limited to a local library that never seems to have the book I want, a tourist shop with new & expensive local-flavor books, and a Christian bookstore that mostly carries Bibles and your choice of one of a hundred different angel, flower, kitten, or kitten-angel-with-a-flower bookmarks.

Compared to these, or to waiting 2-8 weeks for interlibrary loan, Paperback Swap is amazing. The whole "in order for this to work, five problems which are quite common outside major cities would all have to be true! Boggle, flabbergast, you must be in Paraguay, etc!" thing is kind of funny, really.

There's also the matter of the generally epic slowness of media mail -- do you count long periods of time waiting for your book(s) to show against their value?

Media mail here in New Mexico is not much slower than first class. It typically takes about a week, which means that I usually get my swaps faster than I get books ordered through Amazon's "Super Saver" shipping. And, again, "Interlibrary Loan requests may take 2-8 weeks to fill", so it's not like I have a faster option. The whole instant-gratification thing is already off the table!
posted by vorfeed at 9:20 AM on May 30, 2008

Well, my town is about 11k people. Maybe your town is smaller and/or Vermont is weird and mails books between libraries. AFAIK, ours just has a guy who drives a loop around the surrounding area every day.

Also, the form I (used to) fill out for ILL had a thing about "if there's a charge". There never was one. But maybe NH is just unusually progressive about libraries. (hard to believe given a lot of the other crap here, but it's possible)
posted by DU at 9:24 AM on May 30, 2008

Good post--I had never heard of PaperBackSwap before. Also, the Winterson piece was interesting.
posted by everichon at 9:47 AM on May 30, 2008

I really don't think writing people off is generally a good idea.

That said, the exception to that rule for me is if somebody derisively sneers, "I don't read." That will get them written off faster than Mike Huckabee's presidential ambitions.
posted by baphomet at 9:47 AM on May 30, 2008

The biggest problem I've had with libraries is the limited time on checkouts. I've had university library books recalled on me hours after I checked the thing out. From public libraries, I've been frustrated with 1-2 week deadlines imposed on trying to get through a dense Gene Wolfe work, or trying to cram all of the knowledge in a 500-page nonfiction work into my limited spare time. So the choice is to start racking up daily fines (and a temporary block on my checkout privs) or throw the book back into the system and put myself on the hold list again for another 2-6 weeks.

And for new releases, there is the irritation of having your access to the book dependent on the whims and constraints of a committee. So often I'll file a request for purchase and then walk a few blocks to a bookseller and put in an order which will be filled in a week. Usually the library process of buying the book takes a good month if I'm lucky.

I moved a few months ago and still have not been able to get into the library system. I've gone from a city where the library was on my walk from work to the bus hub home, to a city where the library branches are mostly tucked away in suburbia.

Media mail starts from $1.90 an item, flat rate U.S. domestic. Unless you are getting your books at Goodwill, that's pretty damn cheap.

Jeanette Winterson's rant seems to be, "Bookswapping is evil, except for the kind of bookswapping I do, which is a good thing that gets friends to buy authors I like."

kittens for breakfast: That comment about quality assumes that the point of bookswapping is just to roll the book onto the next swap. Generally when I hit the on-ground book swaps, I end up expanding my collection of vintage maps and technical illustrations. Or I'm looking for things like style manuals or reference works that will have an extended life on my shelf. And if its a really good book, I like to have a copy on-hand because I never know when I might want to pull a quote, because gee, booklovers sometimes still talk about books years after reading them.

I don't know why this is being set up as a library vs. swap situation. There are some very good reasons for participating in both, and IME libraries have been strong supporters of book swaps, used book sales, and donation programs. I don't know many bibliophiles who are not active collectors, swappers (usually informally and in-person), and library patrons.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:48 AM on May 30, 2008

(That last comment came out sounding more skeptical than I wanted. I'm really just more...amazed that a state as with-it as VT could run their libraries so inefficiently. Or possibly I'm amazed that my own state is doing the same, contrary to what I thought I knew.)
posted by DU at 10:07 AM on May 30, 2008

Vermont has really suffered from a crisis of library leadership at the state level for some time now. For all of their LIVE FREE OR DIE mentality, New Hampshire has a better state system with more things in place to aid the state's libraries as a whole than Vermont does. A little more money [partly because of larger population base, partly because of priorities] a little mre infrastructure and a little more commitment and things like ILL work just a little bit better. There are two vacancies at the State level right now and concerned librarians in the state are really going nuts trying to make sure they're filled with people who can really turn things around.
posted by jessamyn at 10:17 AM on May 30, 2008

I don't know why this is being set up as a library vs. swap situation.

I'll take some of the responsibility for that, as I was really only thinking of those using these programs for short-term usage of books. Obviously, things are different when you plan on keeping them.

The whole "in order for this to work, five problems which are quite common outside major cities would all have to be true! Boggle, flabbergast, you must be in Paraguay, etc!" thing is kind of funny, really.

The five "problems" I mentioned weren't all about geography. Many, many small towns have forward-thinking public libraries that have eliminated many of the issues that bookswapping supposedly cures. So eliminate those people. Then eliminate all the people who manage to satisfy most of their reading urges by just the books in their paltry, isolated systems. You're starting to look at a much smaller group of users left for whom the "accessibility" argument is relevant enough so that the particular "excuse" in the original post is gone. It's not urban vs. rural. It's a lot of people vs. rural AND unlucky AND of niche tastes. Maybe "niche" is a bit narrow, but definitely specific and demanding.

I do think these programs are cool for all the other reasons people have mentioned.
posted by aswego at 10:24 AM on May 30, 2008

DU: May I ask which is your library system? I'm curious about regional investment in libraries and there's no location info in your profile. Your blog is awesome, however.
posted by stet at 10:30 AM on May 30, 2008

The five "problems" I mentioned weren't all about geography.

I didn't say they were. I did say that all five are quite common outside of large cities, and I stand by that. In my experience, your assumptions about a "much smaller group of users left" don't actually hold; IMHO, the number of people who like stuff the library doesn't carry is pretty significant, even in relatively large cities. I have family members who live in Las Vegas who swap -- their local library branch doesn't carry the paperbacks they like to read, and swapping is cheaper than getting them from the used bookstore.

In particular, people into popular paperback genres like romance, westerns, and sci-fi often find a poor selection at the library, because many libraries are reluctant to carry paperbacks. It's no surprise that Paperback Swap is chock full of those kinds of books... seems like I can flip a coin as to whether a given member has a bunch of Star Trek books or Harlequins!
posted by vorfeed at 10:59 AM on May 30, 2008

As far as Winterson goes I think she's unhinged. Bookswapping isn't even remotely like filesharing and is neither illegal nor unethical. Libraries (which she approves of) don't produce revenue for writers, used bookstores (which she approves of) don't produce revenue for writers, and neither does loaning a book to a personal friend (which she also approves of). She appears to simply be reacting to the dread, evil, internet's involvement in bookswapping, which is stupid on the face of it.

Fun as the concept is enough people want a book right now, and people like me who keep them around and reread, exist that I doubt bookswapping will ever replace book buying, or even impact it that much. Hell, Baen has demonstrated that literally giving books away for free online actually improves their sales, so I really don't think bookswappers are going to force any writers into starvation, or even mild inconvenience.

What I want to know is if there are any good book *referal* sites, LibraryThing's referal service doesn't seem to provide much. I can't find good SF to save my life, and I'm starting to go into withdrawl. I've read everything by the writers I consider to be good, and I've had poor luck simply jumping in and finding new (to me) writers who I also like. Its dead simple finding new (to me) writers who I don't like.....

vorfeed It depends on factors other than "big city", though I'll agree that's most likely to be a deciding factor. Here in Amarillo, which isn't a big city by any streatch of the imagination, we've actually got a pretty decent library system. A couple of local oil billionares with a thing for libraries donated a hefty sum way back when, and continue to organize their fellow rich people to donate to the library. But, yeah, other than oddball cases like that you're only going to see decent libraries in big cities.
posted by sotonohito at 11:35 AM on May 30, 2008

One of the interesting side issues (to me at least) with the bookswapping sites is that supposedly some book dealers have started using them as a way to get desirable books by swapping out the stuff they can't make money on.
posted by drezdn at 12:55 PM on May 30, 2008

But book swapping is stealing food from the tables of the starving children of writers and publishers!

Sorry, that's not a very helpful comment. I'm just glad that books have managed to (by and large) weather the DRM storm so far, such that this is still allowed.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:42 PM on May 30, 2008

Libraries (which she approves of) don't produce revenue for writers ...

It sounds like they do in England. 2p a lend adds up!

"The great thing about public libraries is that they provide free reading alongside the Public Lending Right. 2p a lend may not sound much, but it adds up to valuable income – and in any case, the principle is important."

I pretty much agree with Winterson. It's no different than file sharing, it's just on a much, much, much smaller scale, i.e. 1 -> 1 -> 1 -> 1 sharing, not 1 -> many -> much more many. On the other hand, musicians have other (much better) revenue beside the product sales, i.e. concerts and merchandise. I doubt anyone's going to be buying up Margaret Atwood t-shirts for $20 a pop, or coughing up $100 for a front-row seat at a reading by Steve Erickson. (Maybe Thomas Pynchon could do it.)

That said, as an (amateur) writer/musician myself, I mostly don't care. I'll take most any content for free, just like the rest of you.

Is reading books inherently more virtuous than watching TV or surfing the internet?

"Virtuous" is a very loaded term, almost meaningless. I believe reading books is more stimulating and edifying than watching TV. And I do both quite a bit. I also think that when done right, reading can develop critical thinking skills that are beneficial to personal lives and to society as a whole.

Reading can challenge your belief systems (a very good thing, imo), whereas TV seems unlikely to do so. So, if pressed, yeah, I would say reading is more "virtuous" than watching TV. Though, again, "virtue" seems too subjective to mean much.

I also thinking reading (and writing) helps people develop better communication skills. I do not think TV generally does that.

"surfing the Internet" could mean anything from learning programming languages to watching lip-sync videos, so I won't comment there. At the least, it's more interactive than TV watching. You have to actively choose your content.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:10 PM on May 31, 2008

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