Members thoughts on Fortune Article

February 17, 2008

Leonard Richardson has written a very thoughtful response to the Fortune article about BookMooch that appeared recently.

You can find the original at but as few people are commenting on it on his blog, I thought I’d re-print it here and see what kind of conversation it generates.

Bookmooch optimization: Dude by the name of name Ledbetter had a bad experience with Bookmooch and wrote an article for Fortune about it. At first I skipped over the article because I’ve seen this time and time again, someone writes an article about an online community and all the users of the community pile on. I don’t want to get involved. But eventually I read the article and came up with a couple weblog entry ideas. I decided the world needs some tips born of experience on achieving good Bookmooch inventory turnover.

  • Don’t put out-of-date books on Bookmooch. I had a bunch of old O’Reilly books; I gave them to the thrift store. Sometimes people want old stuff (Rachel just asked me to mooch some 1989 Eastern Bloc travel guides for her), but those books are way down the long tail. If you put one of those books on Bookmooch you’re buying a raffle ticket the size and shape of a book, and you don’t know how long you’ll have to hang on to it. It’s not worth it.
    Ledbetter had a problem that he put a book on his list, not knowing there was a newer edition. Honest mistake. People were jerks about it. Lots of people are jerks. Sorry. (I’ve never encountered a jerk on Bookmooch, though.) As a practical suggestion, most of the book pages on BookMooch have cover photos, so you can usually avoid problems by matching up the photo with your cover.

    Contra Ledbetter, I don’t think wanting the most recent revision of a book “smacks of a professional interest in reselling.” Why wouldn’t you be able to resell the old revision? Because people don’t generally want the old revision. Ergo, they generally don’t want it on Bookmooch. You’re effectively reselling the book for a currency other than money, and the social mores of reselling apply.

  • Don’t put a book on Bookmooch if there are over 500 copies already on Bookmooch. In general, don’t put classics or best-sellers on Bookmooch. No one will mooch the suckers. More precisely, no one will mooch your copy. Again, you’re buying a raffle ticket.
  • Don’t put a book on Bookmooch if you should be selling it to the used bookstore or on eBay or whatever. Sumana bought an expensive multi-volume hardbound graphic novel (I name no names) and hated it. She sold it to Strand for like $15, which is much less than what she paid but significantly more than the estimated cash value of a Bookmooch point, especially given the cost of mailing that big boy out.
  • If you’ve got a book in bad shape, say the cover is torn or a previous owner wrote “CARTER” on the edge, don’t just say it in the condition notes. Ask the recipient to confirm that they read the condition notes. This avoids hassles later. I don’t mind getting a book that’s not keeper quality, and everyone I’ve asked did indeed see my condition notes and didn’t mind either. It’s a little extra lubrication of a transaction that lets you find homes for books that are perfectly useful, but that the used bookstore won’t take.
  • Give it time. Long tail. Yesterday I got a request for a book that’d been in my inventory for about 8 months.
  • Have a big wishlist. Long tail. Ledbetter has four books on his wishlist. My steady state is about 250. At any given time, maybe 3% of the books on my wishlist have copies available. A lot of this is probably because of rule 3, actually; most of the books remaining on my wishlist are either rare, or still command a high price at the used bookstore, or are new enough that they haven’t gotten into the used book ecosystem.

Ledbetter is suspicious of the point system because “booksellers would have no problem giving away hundreds of books they can’t sell in order to acquire books they can.” On the face of it this doesn’t make sense: if you can give away a book you could have sold it, unless someone’s mooching for Books by the Foot. But I think he might mean that booksellers can give away cheap books and use the points to get expensive books.

This is possible; I’ve gotten one book from Bookmooch that, if I was a used bookstore, I could sell for twenty bucks. I’ve given away books that a used bookstore could sell for eight because it was easier to mail them than to deal with the jerks at Strand and get three. But look at my first two tips. You can give away cheap books, and you can even give away books that are in unsellable shape, but you can’t give away out-of-date books (no takers) or common books (too many givers). The only way to amass points is to give away books people want but that aren’t overstocked; ie. to match supply to demand. You can try to arbitrage this, but it’s a sucker’s game–in fact, I suspect it’s the same sucker’s game as selling books for one cent on Amazon and trying to pay for your labor from the Amazon shipping charge. (Thank you, myriad suckers!)

The books I successfully give away tend to be those that are difficult to find used. Same with the books other people give to me. Sometimes I get lucky and get an expensive book. It works out the same either way; rarity becomes fungible with sale value.

But, Ledbetter’s article got me thinking about my huge point surplus. I’ve got 79.6 Bookmooch points right now. If I mooched every available book on my wishlist I’d still have over seventy. People want my books a lot more than I want other peoples’ books. The intuition is that this evens out, but Bookmooch isn’t a zero-sum point system based on a gold standard of book swaps. The system includes inflation; you get extra points for mailing a book to another country, for completing a swap, and for listing books in your inventory. But the costs of the only two things you can buy don’t go up as inflation is added to the system. So it’s possible that everyone will eventually end up with a bunch of points they can’t use.

This would certainly be a problem, but it has nothing to do with what people might do with your books after receiving them (like maybe selling them). I may do some screen-scraping and math and up-mashing to explore this possibility space in more detail.

I posted my thoughts on his blog, and I had this to say:

re: But, Ledbetter’s article got me thinking about my huge point surplus. … I may do some screen-scraping and math and up-mashing to explore this possibility space in more detail.

The economics of BookMooch are complicated, and while there are inflationary forces (such as the extra point for sending internationally) there are deflationary ones as well, such as the point created when 10 books are entered into the system. That counters inflation, because now 10 more books are available, which would “cost” 10 points to mooch, but only one point was created.

re: screen scraping

You don’t need to do that, the entire BookMooch database (anonymized) is available for download at : – one reason I had for making it available was so people like you could crunch the numbers and see if things are going well or badly.

re: points surplus.

In the “real world” many people don’t keep their bank account at zero. Some do, but most keep a “cushion” that they can spend later. Sometimes, you have a period of earning more at your job than you spend, and you keep earning and banking it in case you come up with something you want to spend it on. At BookMooch, for example, a large number of points are given to the charities

In your case, I assume you came to BM with a book-shelf of books you wanted to get rid of, that you had built up over time. It’s natural that in your case, you’d be giving away more books than you are mooching, because of the stored-up-books-over-time.

What I’ve found that’s interesting, is that there are many different psychological reasons for using BM. You actually sound a lot like me for your reasons, namely that selling to a used bookstore is unpleasant. I agree with you re: ebay/strand, that if you want to derive maximum cash value for a book, you should use a commercial venue, such as ebay or a used book store.

I’m not sure I agree with you about the ultra-long-tail. Definitely, there doesn’t seem to be a BookMooch demand for old editions of technical books, but there does seem to be a a demand for just about everything else. I’ve give about 550 books and found that the demand continues well after the original listing time. Usually, about 1/3rd of the books I list are mooched right away, but then it can take a year for another 1/3rd to 1/2 the books to be requested.

The BookMooch audience is still somewhat small: a bit over 20,000 active users. It grows daily, so I hope that there is ever more long-tail interest as the member base grows.

51 Responses to “Members thoughts on Fortune Article”

  1. Zillah said

    Another way people can use BookMooch of course is like a recommendations/library of sorts- I’ve never been able to understand how users can amass 50+ points since I’m always seeing books that might interest me on BookMooch. Many of them I’ve never heard of before. I’ve read so many this year simply through the serendipity of stumbling upon them on the site and mooching them. It’s fun to read and relist too, and keeps the audience growing for great reads.

  2. Mary Ann said

    I think Ledbetter is a complainer. He now has 4 points on BM which he can use to mooch books he wants.

    Wishlists take time. I’ve had books on wishlist for over a year before getting them.

    I use LibraryThing to catalog books I have and want. LibraryThing tells me if copies are available to mooch. If I see a book I want is available, and I have points, I click on over and mooch the book. I don’t mooch books I can get at my library. I’m thrifty that way.

    And, I’ve had success giving away mass market classics which are numerous on the market. I have had no problem giving away some Jane Austen titles when I finished them, even though there might be 50 or so available. Maybe that is because I have a history on BM and moochers are comfortable with seeing that reflected in my feedback.

  3. Shannon said

    I read the Fortune article and I have to say that I don’t think the writer gave BookMooch a fair chance. I think BookMooch works best if you offer up a large inventory and have an equally large wishlist. You don’t expect to get everything on your wishlist. You put everything on your wishlist that you could possibly want hoping you’ll find a few gems. My husband and I combined our wishlists to have an even larger pool to choose from, and I have to say we have gotten some wonderful books from fellow moochers. Bu that doesn’t stop me from making a trip to the bookstore if I really, really want something.

  4. alice said

    This is my reply on the original post:
    I agree with John. I think BookMooch is a great idea that is basically based on the good faith of people involved. I am in it for the books, not for the potential profit and I am willing to risk the occasional rip-off.

    So far my experience has been good. I am trying to get more Spanish readers into it so we can expand the trading base of Spanish books.

    I love BookMooch, I became a member looking for a book I just couldn’t find either in Mexico nor vía Amazon. I will bet on good faith and literature lovers over any ill-behaving or profit-seeking members.

    An here I want to add to what Shannon said, Bookmooch is just an additional resource, I still go out and buy books from the bookstore, Amazon or Audible. But I looove BookMooch for all those hard to find or out of print editions.

  5. Glenda Hamilton said

    I also think Ledbetter had impossibly high expections for very little effort and he totally missed the point. I am an older, widowed grandmother and this website has kept me young, mentally active and “in the loop” I faithfully read postings on the forum, which give me great ideas on good books to mooch and I’ve had the pleasure of clearing out an overstocked personal library and seeing some of those books go to others who will enjoy them. It’s not just about trading books quid pro quo, it’s also about communicating with other book fans, sharing information, personalized book reviews and finding a fun alternative to giving older books to libraries, thrift shops or leaving stacks of books for your heirs to have to deal with.
    So it’s Ledbetter’s loss and our gain. Smart people will take his criticism with a big grain of salt.

  6. Ben said

    Re: Old technical books
    I’ve given away a number of old technical books. They tend to be one edition out of date, and they tend to go to other countries. Anything more than one edition out of date gets trashed because no one will mooch it or buy it. Getting rid of technical books just takes patience.

    Re: Common books
    I’ve given away some dirt common books. They sit in my inventory for months and months, then one day I get a request. People who want a common book will get it from someone with a good history and detailed condition notes. Build a history. Offer deals on your junk books to get rid of them. Getting rid of common books just takes patience.

    Re: Expensive books
    In August through December of ’06, I got a number of really nice technical books. Books that were worth some money. Now, in order to give back, my nice books go into my BookMooch inventory. Since ’06 the really nice books are rare, and you do have to race the book sellers, but the books show up now and then. And the racing part is getting better. Getting nice books just takes patience.

    Re: Ledbetter
    I get the feeling that some people want BookMooch to be a magical portal to a world of suckers who want ratty old copies of Jurassic Park in exchange for obscure $5000 books of legend. If Ledbetter wanted a book, he would know the edition and worth. But when he gives a book away, we’re just supposed to be grateful for kind charity and not fret the details? bah.

  7. joshuadf said

    The Amazon search makes it really easy to add the newest edition if it has the same title, so I’ve gotten older editions when I was expecting the latest several times. Sometimes people will put it in the comments, other times not. I also got chewed out by a moocher once for (accidentally) putting a hardcover up as a paperback. Hard to tell from the picture.

  8. Pat said

    I am very happy with Bookmooch. After guiltily throwing away scads of overpriced potboilers that I read on airline flights, I tried, but I always felt that I was somehow littering. The concept of Serendipity does not play well in Hoboken, NJ. I also did not have time to trek my 40 pound bag of books to the used book store and my paperbacks never found buyers on either. I like Bookmooch because only the people who are genuinely interested in the books order them. I’ve found many books where I’d have to pay substantial chunks of change for free and my moochers get barely used hardcover thrillers that I cheerfully “freecycle” out. Win/Win.

  9. My situation is this: I live at the beach, in a small resort town, and guests perpetually (read: DAILY) leave paperback books in their rooms. These books are not only uninteresting to me, but are usually the same ten books over and over, since they all bought them from the airport or the newsstand, on their way here. I LOVE to read, but have no money. Bookmooch was MADE for me! I can list these left-behind books, and with each one mooched, I have every book in the world to choose from. My room is becoming difficult to walk around in, from the multitude of books I have mooched! Most of which are hardbacked, which I prefer as keepers. So this is a perpetual trade-up!

    Mr. Leadbetter strikes me as the sort of “journalist” who is looking for a negative spin, before even trying the thing out. That sort of sneering, “de-bunking” tone of voice is one of the easiest there is to maintain. Four books? Good grief!

    Hooray for Bookmooch! It was a good idea, and is working out beautifully! There are occasional problems, yes, but this is true of everything.

  10. Patience is a big part of the Bookmooch game. Patience till your books get mooched and patience till your wishlisted titles come up. There is far more to Bookmooch for me that just getting the books. It’s the thrill of getting them too. The surprise when someone wants something that has sat in my inventory for ages.

    A big wishlist also helps. When I first joined I thought I was a person with a never-ending want list of books – previously kept on scraps of paper. However when I transferred these wants to my Bookmooch wishlist there weren’t that many. And I’d already given away quite a few books. For a few weeks I started to worry – thinking perhaps I’d been foolish to join, perhaps there weren’t that many book in circulation that interested me.

    Then I started making a bit more effort to find out about interesting books – I followed Amazon recommendation lists – I browsed inventories of people with similar reading habits, I started reading more book review blogs and newspaper articles about recommended books. Soon my wishlist was growing and my shelves at home were sagging. And that’s the way it’s stayed ever since…

  11. Renny said

    My two cents (less than a “Fortune” but I hope still valuable in a vibrant community). I wish BookMooch had a queuing system like P****B***S***. I’m not on e-mail all the time, and I have never, ever gotten a popular wishlist book here and never expect to. At the other place, I regularly get offered a book from my wishlist. Frequently, I don’t have the points to spend, because I so often get books I want. By the same token, I know that EVENTUALLY someone will take my John Grisham paperbacks off my hands. I think the lack of a queuing system discourages people from using BookMooch. I have a hard time finding things to spend my points on at BookMooch but never, you know, at that other place. Were it not for that, I would be ever faithful to the Moochers, because I love the community over here. I also love the easy integration with Amazon and Library Thing. I feel like BookMooch favors people with a lot of time on their hands to surf possible books they want, lurk on their e-mail waiting for wishlist items to come available, list hundreds of things on their wishlists, etc. The mechanics just don’t work well for busy people. In my personal, personal opinion and experience.

    Smootches and mooches.

  12. Tammy said

    I haven’t read the Fortune article. Does it have an email in it for comments/responses? That would be valuable to have posted here. 🙂

    When I joined Bookmooch, probably about a month ago, I had one immediate problem. I listed an old version of “The Brothers Karamzov” any old way – typed in the name, an edition came up, I clicked ok… when other Moochers found out it wasn’t the edition pictured, they didn’t want the book. (And here, I thought a book was a book.) While nobody was really mean about it, they certainly were disgruntled, and it wasn’t a great start. However, I’ve had several mooches since and every experience has been wonderful. Also, having figured out that I too sometimes prefer earlier editions in my own books, sometimes later, I understand the significance of a precise listing.

    I think that it might be useful to have a “required” mini-tutorial, before a user can list or mooch books. Just highlighting some of the major keys – like the importance of listing the correct edition, how to list condition notes (and which ones, specifically), shipping “how to” and so forth. (I received books well-wrapped in sturdy paper, cut from brown paper bags, and wish I’d had that suggestion before I shipped out my own first book with a $1.50 envelope!)

    Yes… I KNOW there’s a FAQ page, but something like 90% of people try to do things WITHOUT reading the instructions. So a required mini-tutorial to “activate” an account may be one way of avoiding – or at least minimizing – complaints like Ledbetters.

    I’m still learning the ropes here, but I love Bookmooch. What a great idea, and the system really seems to work, to me.

  13. Lethe said

    Re: Classics

    I’m a new user to Bookmooch, but already I’ve mooched ‘Of Mice and Men,’ ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls,’ and ‘Jane Eyre’. There are people out there that want your classics! And ditto reading-only copies. I’m not picky about condition, so I try to mooch the more beat-up copy to leave the pristine one for someone to whom condition matters.

  14. Ginny said

    I’ve read Mr Ledbetter’s article (Fortune, Feb 8, 2008) and, I must admit, I am appalled at Mr Ledbetter’s slovenly research re Bookmooch.

    Only someone drastically math-challenged could write: “Sending a book gives you points you can then use to request one, thus ensuring that it’s hard to receive a lot more books than you give.” Or perhaps Mr Ledbetter failed to READ the explanation of how points are given??

    Mr Ledbetter also failed to comprehend the way the wish list works: “no one has sent me any on my wish list (which supposedly automatically sends an e-mail to anyone who’s offered up that book)” Well, no, Mr Ledbetter, the email is sent toYOU not to the person listing the book. Or did you not read that section, too?

    Mr Ledbetter bemoans the fact that folks were no longer interested in his book when they learned it was not the latest edition. Now it probably doesn’t make a difference if the subject matter is a novel, or mystery, but really, when it comes to a scholarly study or textbook it can make an enormous difference. Try selling an old edition of a college textbook back to a college book store, and see where that gets you.

    Mr Ledbetter is obviously much more highly educated than the rest of the Bookmooch members: “Maybe the books on my wish list are too obscure for my fellow moochers to own, or too dear for them to part with; maybe BookMooch is too small for ‘network effects’ to kick in. Or maybe I just got ripped off.” And we thought Mr Ledbetter actually wanted to share his (outdated) edition of his valuable book.

    Mr Ledbetter states that used book store owners are unloading their unsellable books (perhaps outdated editions) and “ have no problem giving away hundreds of books they can’t sell in order to acquire books they can.” To which I can only say, Yippee! If I’ve listed books on Bookmooch, it’s because I no longer want them. If a Book seller can sell them more power to them. You would be lucky to get 50 cents for the book at a garage sale or on ebay. This way, I can trade for something I do want.

    Frankly I am appalled that Mr Ledbetter would write an article on something he obviously barely understands. Whatever happened to “check your facts?” Perhaps a Bookmooch member has a book on basic research methods that they could send Mr Ledbetter? The edition date won’t matter.

  15. Ancora_Imparo said

    I joined Bookmooch to give my books to people who would really want to read them. I often gave my books to the library only to find out they throw many books away. No thank you.

    I was thrilled when people starting mooching my books! What a pleasure to spread around good reading. A bonus for me is actually getting books back. I love books, love to read, love the library and book stores. Love it all. And now Bookmooch is one more thing to love. Because I love mooching!

    I don’t think Mr. Ledbetter understands that there are people out there who simply want to share the books they own. I enjoy browsing Bookmooch and mooching authors I’ve never read before. It’s all in fun. And if it’s profitable for some … well that is fine with me. I just hope this site stays here for a long, long time.

  16. Becky said

    The biggest selling point of bookmooch for me is the ability to donate your points to charity. I have no need for scads of books – the library within walking distance of my house is fine, thanks – but I do seem to accumulate them anyway. And not your garden variety of paperbacks, either – Oxford Histories, Latin grammars and such. Donating narrow-interest books like that to libraries or Goodwill is a losing proposition because they’re so expensive to store. But someone out there must want them! And that’s been my experience on bookmooch. I knew I was on the right site when my anthology of women’s philosophy was requested.

    Like others have said, getting rid of stuff = good; other people getting something of value to them = good. And donating points to charitable groups makes it win/win/win!

  17. Leela4 said

    One thing I love about these online book swap sites is the potential to obtain impossible- to- find books. Sure the odds of finding one specific book are poor, but if you have a list every once in a while you find one. In fact the first two books I traded off were a privately published paperback (so no used bookstore wanted it) and a vintage library discard (ditto). Myself, I was able to obtain several books that my local bookstores simply don’t carry.

    I try to maintain an Inventory of 40-60 books, which with my collection averages out to giving away a book a week. Some on it are of dubious interest, but as long as I have a large enough percentage of “regular” books I figure there’s a chance some of the odder ones might get a glance. Part of the key is to describe them if Amazon doesn’t.

  18. I think I’ll skip the Fortune article, based on the descriptions here.

    In five months as a Bookmooch member I have exchanged over 40 books, with a few more sent out than received (so far). Works great for me. As an omnivorous reader I acquire books many places and don’t try to keep them after reading except for a few old favorites and ones used for classes. I can now triage my books. Those with enough value to justify the effort I sell on eBay. The ones that no one would want to mooch or have some damage or underlining I give to the thrift shop. The rest go on Bookmooch, and it is like found money when my mooches come in.

    When I want a relatively common book and several people offer it, I do look at their histories and inventories. Those who visit the site only every couple of weeks are not recommended to deal with. I check twice a day.

  19. Christie said

    I have never had anything but good experiences here on Bookmooch. My sending and receiving ratio is fairly the same. I put mostly contemporary books on my wishlist and if I get tired of waiting I simply buy them then post them for others. I think a site for people who love books and sharing them with people is a wonderful thing. Obscure books are hard to find in used book stores why would they be easier to find or give here? I’ve tried the other sites (Bookins, Titletrader) and have been burned by dishonest traders. People take advantage, it is a fact of life but the good traders on this site far outweigh the bad.

  20. Alisoun said

    I love Bookmooch! I currently have a surplus of points (nearly 80) but when my point tally gets high I donate to charity! I am also happy to send O/S from Australia so that helps to keep my tally high! It is frustrating when others don’t want to send to me though!
    I have found that it pays to have at least 50 books listed in my inventory and even popular and older titles get mooched eventually. I have also been lucky to mooch many books from my favourite authors which I then recycle back onto Bookmooch for others to enjoy! My wishlist is slowly creeping up to the 100 books mark so I am constantly receiving notifications of when I book is available to mooch. My bookshelf is groaning though from the books I have to read to I am restricting my mooches currently!
    I have found most people to have been lovely to deal with on bookmooch and have suffered few rejections and only recently had my first book that I was waiting to receive as a no show (lost!). On the whole I am loving this site and spreading the word to my friends! Keep up the great work and don’t let the negativity get yous down!

  21. Usedgood said

    I too feel that the author wants too much too fast. I have not mooched or given a ton (mooched abuot 8, given about 10) but I have had a good time! I got some great books that I wanted for free, and was happy to clear some space by giving mine away! Bookmooch, keep up the good work!

  22. rachelsmdai said

    Mr. Ledbetter’s article lifted my brow, made me laugh, and made me shake my head! Mr. Ledbetter – you’ve got it all so very wrong.
    Yes, BookMooch is a great place to get rid of books you no longer want or never wanted;
    Yes, BookMooch is a place to find books you’ve been wanting, started wanting now, or never heard of until you’ve traveled the blogs;
    Yes, BookMooch runs on points and the sender must pay the shipping (via media mail in the US, by the way);
    And, yes, BookMooch sometimes allows you to participate in a community of like-minded bibliophiles (though your community spirit is somewhat suspect when you begin with your glee at ridding your apartment of “a few white elephant volumes” and end with your resentment at not receiving instant gratification in the form of receiving your wished-for books from the site that “engaged (you) for several days” (Brother, Can You Spare the TIME).
    Aren’t you just so precious!
    To relegate BookMooch to the role of a book trading site that theorists may call an experiment in the “gift economy” truly misses the point. BookMooch is a community of booklovers who work and play together on this virtual site to talk about books, talk about the impact that books have on their lives, and to share with others their positive and negative reactions to books.
    I believe the “play” is pretty obvious, but what is the “work?” The work is the effort that members give to frank discussion of issues and problems that arise during the course of community interactions. It’s discussions of:
    The importance of sending books internationally;
    The need of many charities of the books we are discarding;
    Fairness toward other members;
    Threats of prejudice that might limit interactions; and
    The real and tangible pleasure of seeing a book onto another home where it will be read again.
    I, for one, treasure my freedom to read whatever I desire – and I fear daily that the current direction of society will impede my ability to do so. BookMooch isn’t about capitalism; it’s about community, transparency, and sharing. Perhaps that’s why it was so maligned in “Fortune.”

  23. jeniwren said

    Mr Ledbetter has missed the whole point. I have been actively mooching for almost a year now and love it. It is not a concept for financial gain but a global community of like-minded bibliophiles who enjoy the whole random act of exchanging books. I can see it as nothing but a win-win most of the time and having given a total of 69 books I have received 109 in return as I have been willing to post international from Australia. It is fun to chat with others about the books, get recommendations and the excitement you get with a wish-list hit. I also love receiving books with different international covers and just last week received a Richard Ford in hardcover from the US signed by the author. ThankYou Mr Buckman!

  24. Amelia said

    What on earth is the point of complaining about a system where you get things for free? I think if you really have so many problems with the system then you don’t appreciate it properly.

    Old books? I want to mooch them, all the time. Out of date? Them as well. You see, I just like reading. I don’t want an immaculate set of the same editions (though I have preferences) – if you want books for how they look then you probably should go and buy them new. Newsflash: books are for reading, before they are for looking at.

    New books are expensive. I am a student and I don’t have the money to spend at Borders – on top of that I like old, margin-annotated, cover-bent paperbacks. They smell nice and feel like a real book. Also, BM has the benefit of supporting recycling and not encouraging mindless consumerism. I’d use it for those reasons alone.


  25. Annika said

    I think my thoughts on Ledbetter’s article are better kept to myself as I fear they would be inappropriate in polite company. However, allow me to say this: BookMooch is a treasure! I’m not just talking about all the wonderful books I’ve mooched and all the pleasant people I’ve had dealings with, but also the comfort of knowing that your precious, but no longer needed books are going to someone who will take pleasure in them. It’s heartbreaking to think that the only place for some used books would be the garbage, if it weren’t for communities like this!

    I still buy books, second hand and new, but use BookMooch to complement my voracious appetite for books. Unless one is content with reading popular mystery books or classics, BM can’t satisfy every craving, at least not quickly. Finding gems (and they do pop up!) takes patience, but it gives me equal pleasure to list a new “hot” book and have it eagerly snapped up by someone immediately.

    Most of the books on my wishlist are either too new or too obscure to be commonplace on BM, but every now and again one of them makes their way here. Until then there’s piles and piles of other books I want to read and authors I want to try. Most of those books I won’t be keeping, so they’ll appear back on BM sooner or later, which is as it should be.

    BookMooch whets the appetite for reading, sharing, participating and discovering. We’re not hear to profit, we’re here because we love books. Thank you, once again, John, and every one else on team who do such a fantastic job running the site!

  26. iglcrair said

    I mooch books I want. I dont consider the value, because I dont intend to sell them.

    Im sure some people, who read books once and never again, consider the “profit” they could make. This is and remains a capitalist country. I, however, do not mooch what I do not want. If I want it, it means I read it, and if I read it, I keep it to read again later.

    A book is worth more as a book than its cash value.

  27. Andrea said

    I am willing the spend the postage to send out books that I KNOW people want and will most likely read. Ledbetter mentioned the library, but my local public library system is terrible at acquiring new books and the books I like to read. Thus, I end up buying them. I’ve donated them to the library when done with them before, and they usually end up getting sold in the library sale of donated and older books so that they might make 50 cents off of it rather than shelve it for 5 or 6 other people to read. I think book acquiring is a poor system in some libraries (not all, for our neighboring county has a GREAT system, it’s just a little too far for regular trips). Thus, I love BookMooch because, again, I know the book I bought is now going to someone who definitely wants it and will most likely enjoy it! Even if a used bookstore gets it, at least they’ll sell it to someone who wants it. Believe, I try to save money on my book obsession by using the library, but my local library makes it extremely hard!

  28. banriona said

    What I like best about Bookmooch is that is has more guidelines instead of rules (to quote Pirates of the Caribbean, bah).

    When I worked in a music shop, I didn’t get to dictate what CDs we stocked or that I sold (even if I had been the manager). I never commented on someone’s taste, I never refused to sell a CD because of what they might do with it, and I never thought any of that was remotely my business.

    I don’t see why Bookmooch should be any different, not if I want to receive positive feedback.

    I think the Fortune article was written by a moocher who seems to think that the mooching comes first and the swapping second (perhaps an understandable mistake given the site name). His thinking that listing a book on his wishlist meant that a copy magically materialised in his inbox reinforces this impression. I’m not fussy about edition or condition, but other people are, so we should be accurate and considerate, or risk negative feedback. He learned a lesson not very graciously.

    I really appreciate all the hard work the founders and administrators have put into the site.

  29. Trish Marie said

    Reading the “Fortune” article, the classic advice about the folly of looking gift horses in the mouth comes to mind. I love BookMooch. It’s allowed me to open up shelf space in my library, found homes both here and abroad for books I no longer have use for but someone else does, sent books from both here and abroad to my own door, and connected me with fellow booklovers. I’ve never approached BookMooch as a means to “gain” more than I “lose.” Instead I see it as a sharing site for booklovers as well as testiment to the good faith of people–because my experiene is overwhelmingly that most people here use the site in good faith and mutual good will. Those few bad apples who do otherwise create their own karma and I just don’t worry about it.

    Once again thank you John. (I laughed when I read the author’s dismissive contention that BookMooch is a “one man labor of love” and bemoans a perceived lack of revenue potential; you’d think he thought such generous efforts as John’s exist in excess in this world, sheesh.)

  30. John, I think your responses to Richardson on inflation, screen scraping, and points surplus are excellent.

    I don’t understand either Ledbetter’s or Richardson’s perspectives on BookMooch. I see BookMooch as a wonderful, fun way to get rid of books I don’t want, inexpensively obtain books I do want, and interact with an enjoyable community of book lovers.

    I was baffled by Richardson’s statement, “If you put one of those books [an out-of-date book] on Bookmooch you’re buying a raffle ticket the size and shape of a book, and you don’t know how long you’ll have to hang on to it. It’s not worth it.” What’s not worth it? Is he complaining about the two minutes it takes to enter the book and the inch of shelf space the book will occupy? I’ve listed dozens of out-of-date books on BookMooch. Several have been mooched. I earned points and mooched books I wanted. I don’t see that I’m out anything for listing books that may or may not ever be mooched. Nothing is perfect, but is anything gained by emphasizing imperfections?

    I love BookMooch. It’s fun. I get to give books to people who want them. I get to discover and mooch books I’ll enjoy reading. And I get to participate with a great bunch of people on the forum.


  31. Goodness!

    I love Bookmooch. I started using it when I discovered that some libraries I have dealt with hold over books from one book sale to the next. Hostage books! I didn’t know some libraries threw them away. Gasp!

    I’ve moved around a lot in the last ten years. Many libraries. I love and use my newest one.

    I am an extreme booklover. I like to trade. Given my choice, I would rather read than eat.

    I sometimes get freecycled books and put them up.

    I have noticed that getting things from my wish list takes a while. I’m retired, with a good library and plenty of books I enjoy rereading.

    I still buy too many books. I’ve gotten better between the local library, bless it, and Bookmooch.

    I really enjoy giving books to people who want them. I haven’t been in a used bookstore since I joined, though I do hit the library once or twice a week.

    I wish I had known of Bookmooch earlier when I was moving some of my moves.

    I have had a wonderful experience and, when I am feeling a little more flush, will add some more books to my inventory.

    I try to cull my bookshelves now and again. Sometimes I can admit to myself that really, I will NEVER read a book again, ever. It sometimes takes a couple of years.

    I also keep a few books as sentimental mementos.

    I think the fellow who wrote the Fortune article had some unrealistic expectations and impatience.

    This is a good group to belong to. I enjoy the glancing contacts and the blog.

    Sometimes I do send out of the country, more often than not. I have lived abroad and not been able to get the books I wanted, pre-Amazon days. I also lived in a place with dismal interlibrary loan policies.

  32. Laura said

    I’ve posted my response to the Fortune article on the forums, and won’t repeat it here. I think Leonard’s blog post is an excellent one. However, it does take time and attention to learn all the details about BookMooch trends that Leonard mentions. I’m an analyzer/optimizer too, but not everyone will or will want to analyze BM in this amount of detail. Each of us has different ways to use BM and different reasons to want to use it, and I don’t think we should expect everyone’s to be the same.

  33. amberlianne said


    Maybe this guy should talk with the 15-or-so people who have mooched textbooks more than 10 years out of date from me and been extremely pleased. Maybe he should talk to me, who has mooched extremely out-of-date textbooks and manuals and been extremely pleased.

    I say we bombard him with “free” copies of “white elephant, unsellable” books, just to show him our community spirit. Maybe then he’d feel like he got his money’s worth.

  34. Jesse said

    On old books, outdated books, and books in bad condition… as long as you state it clearly in the condition notes, I think you should list all books. I personally would rather have a copy that is written on, high lighted, dog-eared, and well-loved than a new one. I love seeing that a book I am now enjoying has had a history to it. I go out of my way to mooch books that have been written in, especially.

    Also, I’m a college student… and in high school and now we had books (classics) we were required to read, and bookmooch was great to get some of these for. Plus, I just love classics.

    It might sit there forever, but eventually someone will want it. Some of the books of mine that get mooched are the ones that I thought no one would ever want, and the ones I figure someone is just dying to read are the ones that nobody ever mooches!


  35. Zjanette said

    I have a second hand bookshop. English Romance Novels in The Netherlands. A lot of books are on bookmooch. I don’t care if I can sell them. It’s who comes first. Buyer or moocher. The shop is a hobby and not a living.
    But what I do hate is that when I put a book on my inventory list and BM says that “an email notification etc etc.” and after that nothing happenes!!!!! Nobody mooches the book. I looked into one moocher the other day. He had a wish list of more than 200 books and only one was available. My book! He has 194 points and he doesn’t mooch.
    I hate that. I really hate that.

  36. Glenda said

    I don’t have a lot of time to surf other people’s inventory, but when I do, I can find something I REALLY want and I only have to pay the cost $2-$3 to mail a book to someone else. Not bad. I love this system.

  37. Megan said

    I’m with Renny- I’ve had the same experience with getting a lot more books at the unnamed site because things come in order of request. I understand why Bookmooch doesn’t do that (it’s not just about getting any copy of your book, it’s about selecting the one you want), but I’d really like it if people had two days to exclusively decide if they want a book without anyone else seeing it going down the wishlists by date (so oldest wishlist gets two days to decide, if they don’t mooch, next oldest gets two days, etc.). It’s frustrating to have a gigantic list of books (175) that may or may not show up, when at the other site, I have a smaller list that shows up regularly. There are pluses to this site over the other- you get more of a say about condition, location, etc.- I just wish that the wishlist wasn’t so much about luck and checking two or three times a day (and still missing things sometimes).

  38. Christine said

    As with many things in life, you get out of BookMooch in direct proportion to what you put in to BookMooch. From what I can gather about Mr. Ledbetter from his Fortune article and his BookMooch participation, I think he has gotten what he deserves for his questionable attitude, hazy understanding and minimal effort.

    I really feel sorry for him and others like him. I am having a great time. Maybe it’s because I’m not overly concerned with whether the value of the books I am giving away matches the value of the books that I am getting, or because I’m not overly concerned with what the people who mooch my books are doing with them once they get them. I’m concerned with being a member in good standing of a community of book lovers. I’m willing to put in the modest effort it takes to build such a community. May others are as well, and as long as there are more people willing to build than there are eager to put down, BookMooch will thrive.

  39. EJ said

    I heard about BookMooch while listening to NY Public Radio. They were discussing just what to do with those old books stored in your basement. Well, I’ve given away 99 books so far (and mooched 20-something), and they’re old, like new, ex-library, with and without dust jackets, written in and everything else. I just enjoy sharing my books. I thought that was the point. Many I’ve given away are older, but they’re out of print, and I am pleasantly surprised when someone requests them. The only complaint (and it’s relatively minor) is when people are not listing the correct edition (paperback v. hardcover.)
    It’s too bad this journalist didn’t get the point of sharing.
    Long live BookMooch!!!

  40. LeeAnn said

    I have not read the Fortune article about Bookmooch.

    I own a huge collection of books that I added to exchange for the hard-to-find books that I have been wanting to read. I have over 100 points banked at the moment and I have a large inventory.

    There isn’t a week that goes by that I do not send out book packages and receive books. In many cases these are books that I have been unable to locate in my area.

    These are some points that I have found in the time that I have been a member:

    -Each of us make mistakes, take responsibility and make amends.

    -There are 2 titles that I have mooched over and over and have never received. (This can be frustrating. I have had people collect points & not send the book or suddenly “go on vacation” or just disappear. Let it go & report it. I have found the Bookmooch staff helpful and responsive to requests and complaints. Let them know when there is a moocher who doesn’t make good on their mooch.)

    -If you mooch a book be willing to wait, some people are not able to respond immediately. Be patient!!! Send a second email, be friendly.

    -Be upfront about the book condition, where and when you will send books.

    -Don’t add heavy or oversized books to your inventory. The postage is exhorbitant. It is not worth it.

    I have found some amazing books on Bookmooch that I couldn’t find elsewhere and corresponded with people from around the world. It can be a wonderful experience.

  41. Darien said

    If I just want to read a book, I get it from the library; if I want to own a book, and it is a fairly popular title, I am lucky to have several excellent used bookstores nearby. I use BookMooch in order to acquire harder to find books: since BM has such a large number of members, sooner or later the books on my wishlist will show up. I like to recycle: I take popular or worn books to the used bookstore, and I list on BM titles for which no copies, or just a few, are available. I feel a bit of a connection to the people I have mailed books to, and received books from, from 15 states and 4 foreign countries. And, as far as matching the book in hand with what the moocher is looking for, the ISBN does a great job, almost all the time, of identifying the exact edition. Lastly, I think BookMooch would be an especially wonderful service for anyone living in a remote area, far from used bookstores, or in a foreign country wanting to acquire books in their native language. Kudos to a service that is well designed, user friendly, and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.

  42. kathyP said

    Libraries and Bookmooch: I enter the ISBNs of books I am asking for on my wishlist or entering on my inventory (rather than the title) that way I am able to get the exact edition. If I am looking for a book in good shape to replace a withdrawn copy for my library, I mention that when I mooch it and it has worked wonderfully! I have probably added 30 replacement books to my library since I joined last fall. This is all done on my own, at my own expense… and I have come across several other librarians doing this as well. I can cull some books in good shape from the library book sales, and I can guess at what books may be in demand. I have also used Bookmooch to get extra copies of books for library book clubs, or book club in a bag kits. INVALUABLE! Thank you John, for this great resource.

  43. I love BookMooch because I live in a small town with no used bookstore. I’ve picked up a lot of books through rummage sales, book sales at the public library, and thrift stores. A few years back I was fortunate enough to pack and carry whatever books I wanted for free from a closed school that was being repurposed as a homeless shelter. I have only read 1% of my library, and need to do something with them because I continue buying books.

    When I saw the piece about BookMooch on NBC’s Today Show, I was excited. My first day on BookMooch I sent out seven books. I have a hard time keeping twenty books on my inventory. Also, I’ve only had one person not take a book because it wasn’t in mint condition (he really did want mint condition, the only thing wrong with the book was a bent cover corner.)

    The only thing I don’t like with BookMooch is inactive accounts. Waiting in limbo for a book, mooching it from another person, and spending 2 points for the book, is a pain. But, that’s like the rest of life. Some people take care and attend to their community, others only look to them when they want something. In that, BookMooch, Ebay, MySpace, and any other online community have their suckers and their contributors.

  44. Nderdog said

    My biggest issue with Ledbetter’s original story isn’t with the giving of his books but rather the getting of others. He has a very small wishlist (3 books when I had seen it, all of which were either never listed or rarely listed (as in 1 or 2 copies ever) and is unhappy because he hasn’t gotten those books. This seems like an awful small target to hit. Giving away books you don’t want to get some books in return is great. Giving them away in the expectations of getting a small number of specific books that aren’t commonly found, that’s a whole other story. It’s like going to a thrift store and expecting to find a specific piece of furniture such as an oak rocking chair with arms decorated with a diamond pattern supported by 4 tapered posts and an engraving of a sun on the back rather than going there for a light-colored rocking chair with an attractive look to it. If you’re that specific, you want a furniture store, not the thrift store. Once in a great while, you may get lucky, but odds are that you’ll end up disappointed, and overlook the many alternatives that can be as good or better than what you originally wanted.

  45. Debbie said

    I love bookmooch. I didn’t read the fortune article. Some people just can’t believe in altruism. Johns and other peoples. I don’t mind mailing books to other countries. Even though it can be expensive. The pros of getting books that I cannot find in Australia far outweigh any cons of sending to others. Keep up the good work.

  46. Sibilance said

    The real issue I had with Ledbetter’s article – and I wanted to respond to it right after I read it – is that he plugged the piece in one of the past discussions here, but did not provide his email, or another way for people to communicate (peacefully) with him, in order to explain the system better…and help him improve his experience here.

    Nor was there any way to respond to his article on the / Fortune site, to clarify the misinformation/misunderstanding.

    Frankly, when a newspaper published an article of mine, that mistakenly referred to the Yankees as the “Boys of Summer” – a reference in passing that had nothing to do with the article – you can bet we not only got mail… but a retraction from our editor. And you can imagine the TONE of the mail…grin… so I really don’t have much patience with a critic complaining at length about something he misunderstood, but avoiding criticism or corrections.

    I know he also has been criticized for discussions on money, portfolio advice, etc., which might explain why he didn’t want to share a way of getting in touch with him…

    But as a public person and journalist whose company benefited in traffic, page views, ad views, etc., from the article he wrote, after his plug here, it is disingenuous for him not to give a place for people to respond, and for the Bookmooch community to defend themselves to readers of his article.

    I’m thinking that people like, say, my dad – who has piles of books he needs to get rid of, but has never joined a trading site – are the audience for this article. They would get spooked by the negative tone and have no way of reading factual corrections from the thousands who have used Bookmooch safely and happily.

  47. Joe said


    I’m still relatively new to the BookMooch community, but I wouldn’t ever think of leaving.

  48. Brian said

    Here’s my 2 cents on the original article’s complaints, then a few tips and one complaint of my own:

    “I fear Internet entrepreneurs may be taking advantage…”

    If someone doesn’t want to give away a book, they wouldn’t have listed it in the first place. I personally have made a conscious decision to give away my books rather than sell them. I care a little if I’m merely stocking someone else’s store, but I can control that by delisting a book, or turning down a mooch request if I think the moocher is a reseller. I’ve never had to do that on any of the 3 book trading sites I’m a member of.

    This admitted NY provincialist also forgets that not everyone lives in Manhattan 3 blocks from a used book store. Amazon and the mega-bookstores have put the used bookstore out of business in many small towns, if the town even had a used bookstore in the first place. For some folks, BM *is* their “local” used book store.

    “So far, I’ve sent out four books, and no one has sent me any on my wish list…”

    You do need to have a very sizeable wish list to statistically have anything that someone else might also happen to be giving away. There is what I call a “new library” phenomenon on all trading sites: when you are fresh meat and list your books, odds are that somewhere among the thousands of existing traders are sizable wish lists that have built up over time, and your choicest offerings fly off the shelf in the first day. Then you have to wait weeks or months for subsequent requests.

    “[long, ponderous paragraph on having given more books than received]”

    This did happen to me on another trading site. I have 44 points over there that I can’t spend because there’s nothing posted that I would want. I’ve de-listed almost all my books from that site until I bring my points way down (which may never happen.) But in the end, it was my choice how much “bank” I built up, and when I de-listed my available books.

    [..have the moochers pay postage… …how do you insure that the moochee, having received payment, sends the book…]

    This may sound like a good idea, and I imagine new traders sometimes don’t understand why they not only have to give away their book, but also have to pay postage. But if you keep your mooch ration close to 1, in the end it’s all a wash. So why incur the cost of building an e-commerce system that handles REAL money? And James is writing an article for a financial magazine Fortune that’s syndicated to CNN Money and he’s never heard of the concept of “escrow”?

    Here are a few promised tips:

    I disagree with Leonard about not posting older editions of books. I’ve been dieing for a copy, any copy, of several O’Reilly books. I want to learn PHP and MySQL, and I don’t care if I start of learning older stuff. Yet, if not even the old editions are available, I’m never going to get to start learning (unless I go to Amazon the mega-bookstore and buy the book, which defeats the whole point.) So please post your old editions. If the requester has an issue with that, he or she can ask before you send it.

    Do keep a very large wish list if you hope to get anything on a regular basis!

    And now to my promised complaint:

    It’s almost impossible to browse for books on BM. The long lists of books alphabetical by author are impossible to browse if I’m not familiar with the author. Maybe I just don’t “get” the tagging system or something. If I don’t already know that a book exists and separately add it on my wish list, I’ll never be able to actually find an available book on BM. A typical hierarchical system would help greatly!

  49. Bookbear said

    L. Richards wrote:
    >”Don’t put out-of-date books on Bookmooch.”

    I think a better wording would be, “Don’t put out-of date Technical books and textbooks on Bookmooch”. But that’s not always true. Let’s say you have a copy of Adobe Photoshop 2. A book on Adobe Photoshop 5 wouldn’t be as helpful as an earlier edition meant for the version you have. On the other hand, a 20 year old encyclopedia would be pretty useless.

    He also wrote:
    >”In general, don’t put classics or best-sellers on Bookmooch.”

    I had a pile of Classics. I listed them up. They’re all gone now. Students grab them up, but some people want them for the same reason I bought them in the first place – they’ve heard about them all their lives but never read them.

    Best sellers: Today’s Best Sellers – yes, do post them. Last year’s Best Sellers… If there’s more than 5 copies, forget it.

  50. virginia emerson said

    I am happy to share with the world books which I can no longer use. I have, after a brief membership, obtained some really nice titles.

    I wish that I could find more titles on natural history, birds, plants. The browsing access is not as easy as one would like. I also wish that brief listings would always indicate if a title were paper or hardbound. I am generally most interested in hardbacks and condition is often a real consideration…bibliophile that I am.

    I have found this group immensely entertaining and am grateful for the NY Times article where it was described

  51. Lonewulf71 said

    I have been a member of BookMooch since August of 2007. I have been very pleased with BookMooch thus far, but I would like to point out a couple of things. First, there are some of us who don’t mind an older edition of a book. I love gardening books, but I can’t afford to go out and buy a bunch of them. Of course there are always new ideas in gardening, but an older edition of a book still may have useful information. Second, I live in a small town. There is no local thrift shop to sell used books, and to me, it’s not really worth the effort. I have found that with an inventory of thirty-some books, I have been able to get a steady supply of new (to me) reading material. used to be a good place to pick up cheap paperback books. Now that shipping has gone up, even a book priced at a penny will cost you $4 or $5. Pretty much across the country you can send out paperback books and even some hardbacks for less than $3. The way I see it, I get a book for between $2 and $3, read it, put it back on BookMooch, then the process starts again. I am generally not in a big hurry for books, so it’s not a big deal if I wait for media mail. There are plenty of us who just want a book for the sake of reading it once and passing it on. If the book is a little dog-eared or the cover is torn, it doesn’t make the book any less enjoyable. Sure there are people out there to make a profit, there are people who are jerks, people who have nothing better to do than write articles and complain about BookMooch. But I think that most of us just enjoy getting something new to read from BookMooch. You also have to stop and think that not so long ago BookMooch wouldn’t have been possible (without widespread internet use). Now we have the ability to not only trade books with people all over the US, but to trade with people all over the world. You have to wonder why one person would go out of his way to malign something (BookMooch) that gives so many of us a simple pleasure (sitting down with a good book). I say if you don’t like BookMooch or doesn’t work for you, don’t use it.

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