Usually, I try to limit the communities I belong to online because of the Internet (and I love it) being sort of a wormhole. So even though there are a plethora of fascinating sites out there for booklovers, I limit myself to LibraryThing for inventory and Goodreads for reviews and sharing. So when I first read about BookMooch in The Cheapskate Next Door (which, if you’re living on a writer’s/editor’s pay, should be just as important as your Chicago Manual of Style), I disregarded it. After all, I’m already a quite satisfied member of Paperbackswap. But when it was mentioned again in Writers Digest’s 101 Best Sites for Writers, I decided to take a second look.
For those of you not familiar with these sites, the concept behind both of them is the same: you list books you’re willing to part with on their system. If someone requests the book, you send it their way, and you pay the postage. In return, you earn a “credit,” which you can then “spend” on any book listed in the system. Both sites allow you to keep wishlists, and both sites will email you if a book you’re wishing for gets added to the system. So you can hold onto your credits as long as you’d like, until something you really want comes up.
Now, essentially, these books aren’t “free” — they’re the cost of postage, which is actually more expensive than most of the used books I buy (because I’m a frequenter of dirt-cheap, buffet-style library book sales). But to me, it’s totally worth it because the system “watches” for the books I really want, and because I know my books are going to places where they’ll be wanted and read and, most likely, kept in circulation.
So once I thought about it, I really couldn’t see the downside of belonging to two of these sites. If my wishlist is posted in two places, it only increases my chances of getting the books I want — and likewise, my chances increase of finding good homes for the books with which I’m ready to part. So, I signed up for BookMooch. Before I did so, I sought comparisons of the two, and now I’m here to offer my own (after that long preamble).
Paperbackswap has a much more streamlined swapping process than Bookmooch, their site is easier to navigate, their search engine is faster, and their inventory is larger. It’s also more “controlled” than Bookmooch; time limits are placed on when you must send a requested book out in order to receive credit for it, and you don’t receive said credit until the person on the other end has that book in their hands. People who have items on their wishlist are “queued,” and when an item they want comes into the library and it’s their “turn,” they have 48 hours to claim their wish before it’s released to the reading public. As far as I know, all swapping happens within the U.S.
Although it has a lot of the same features as Paperbackswap, it feels “clunkier.” Whereas Paperbackswap provides printable labels to facilitate the swapping process, BookMooch relies on individuals to address and package books themselves. And in general, there’s less “hand-holding” on Bookmooch, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It relies more on an “honor” system — you get a credit as soon as you agree to send a book out, rather than when it arrives at its destination, meaning that you could potentially sit on a book for a LONG time or not send it out at all and still get the credit. However, Bookmooch does allow feedback, which may provide some incentive for people not to abuse the system. It also allows international swapping, with increased credits required (and earned) in international swaps. I really like this feature, especially since it’s totally optional; you don’t have to send books outside your country if you don’t want to. You also get points for participation on the site. And moochers can share their points with one another (I got a point as a “thanks” for sending a book internationally, which was really nice!) or donate them to charitable causes. All of this leads to Bookmooch having a stronger “community” feel than Paperbackswap.
But the less streamlined process makes Bookmooch a little more frustrating to deal with, too. For me, the most frustrating aspects have been their slow search engine (which held true on several Internet connections, so it wasn’t just my rural connection for once) and (here’s the big one) their “first come, first serve” approach to the wishlist books. After racking up tons of points by sending several international books out my first week on the site, I was thrilled when a book I wanted finally came into the system. I opened the email two hours after it was sent and immediately went to the site to request the book … only to find that it had already been claimed. As far as I can tell, EVERYONE who has a book on their wishlist gets an email when it appears in the system, so the system clearly favors those who spend the most time online — something I try to limit in my own life.
So, if I had to choose one, I’d say that Paperbackswap is definitely my book swapping site of choice. As such, I’m going to list my books on Paperbackswap first and then add them to Bookmooch after a week to a month if they don’t go. But I’m still quite happy to use both sites, and be glad that I actually don’t have to choose. Happy swapping!