How much BookMooch costs to run

February 17, 2009

Donutmoney
BookMooch costs about $40,000 a year for me to run. A rough breakdown is:

* $10,000 a year to buy new server(s) as the site grows in popularity
* $8,000 a year for hosting the servers
* $2,000 a year for fees to have stands at book fairs, staffed by volunteers
* $20,000 a year to print and mail moochcards and bookmarks to my fellow moochers

In terms of revenue, I get:

* $13,000 a year from Amazon
* $18,000 a year from voluntary donation subscriptions (details)
* roughly $2000 in one-off gifts
* a shortfall of about $5,000

I crunched the Amazon numbers and found that in the past twelve months, I’ve received $13,192 from Amazon. In the 12 months before that, it was $10,854 (ie this year was a 20% increase).

Here is a chart of how much Amazon has paid since BookMooch started:

Monthlyamazon

Amazon pays 8% when you buy a book after clicking on the “Amazon info” button at BookMooch. Note that Amazon was paying quarterly back in 2006/early-2007, which is why the 1/5/07 payment is 3x larger than the others around then.

Since I’m asking for people to voluntarily give a little to BookMooch, I thought it would be fair to be transparent about how much it costs to run things and how much your gifts are helping (which is a lot!)

The current shortfall is quite small, just $5000 per year. I need 100 new subscriptions at an average of $4/month each (I currently have 293 subscriptions). Alternatively, if Amazon sales were as high every month as last month, that would do it too.

Until a few days ago (when I started asking for donations) I’ve been carrying the loss myself, and have spent about $70,000 to get BookMooch to the point it’s at now. I actually hadn’t intended to do that: I just kept writing checks when things came up (as they do with a new idea that grows like BookMooch has), and didn’t keep track. It wasn’t until tax time a few weeks ago that I added up all the receipts and said “wow!”

I’m not asking to earn that $70,000 back: that’s my contribution to getting BookMooch to this point. However, to make BookMooch permanently sustainable, I realized that I needed your help, and you’ve been really generous in providing it. If you haven’t given a little yet, maybe now that you see how all this works, you’d be willing to?

-john

87 Responses to “How much BookMooch costs to run”

  1. All-Seeing Books said

    May I suggest you make available media mail pre-paid postage shipping labels directly from our home computer and add a nominal fee for the convenience. This way people are only charged if they choose to use the service and provides additional income to you.

    Good luck.

  2. justelise said

    I’m totally in support of the above comment. I’d definitely print labels from home to support Bookmooch, and it would save me a trip to the Post Office at the same time.

  3. kgparkhurst said

    I would be thrilled to have pre-paid postage media mail shipping labels directly from your site. It is a pain to have to go to the post office several times a week. Sign me up!

  4. I third. I’ve never printed postage from home before, but I’d be *happy* to do so if I knew it provided a small benefit to BookMooch.

  5. I agree totally. I am pregnant and I have a 18 month old. It would save me alot of time to be able to print the labels from home and I am all for helping out Bookmooch at the same time!

  6. Renee said

    Happy to support this great site!

  7. Marshall Stowe said

    John,

    I don’t know if the above is possible, but if it could be done it would be great. I have often sent books Priority Mail, simply because it was so much easier to print the label out and drop the book in a Post Box. This is especially true with the limitations we now have with how much “stamped” mail can weigh to avoid having to visit the Post Office.

  8. Tina said

    Whatever you do, please don’t forget about your non-american users. Include labels from Canadapost if you’re going that way.

    Better yet, find a way to encourage more people to send books to Canada, and you’ll get more donations from your Canadian users. This is the only bookswap site that allows non-US members at the moment, which is a huge asset that you’re under-exploiting at the moment.

  9. sugarandgrits said

    Having the option to print labels from home is an AWESOME idea! Some days it’s hard to get to the Post Office during business hours. I would be glad to pay for the serivce!

    On the other hand, this option would be adding more costs to the $40K you mentioned above. If you could figure out a way to make it work w/o being too costly, I think LOTS of moochers would use the service.

    THANK YOU, John, for all you do for us here at BookMooch!!

  10. ericscottadams said

    Perhaps the solution is a strategic partnership with folks who use stamps.com or other similar postage websites, wherein, if folks indicate that they are affiliated with BookMooch, the online postage provider can attribute a portion of their fee to BookMooch, not unlike Amazon doing so if BookMooch drives purchases its direction. And it would also be a service to BookMooch members, where folks would have added convenience (and less expensive postage, in some situations).

  11. Leah said

    oh, what a fab idea to make the pre-printed postage available and you could make some money off of that. I would most assuredly be happy to do that. I think it can only be on domestic but what a great way to help fund things. Please exploore that if you would. thanks.

  12. moonshooter1 said

    I hope everyone who reads this takes a moment to imagine mooching books in an ad dominated IMDB type environment and ponies up the dough. I’ve always loved getting all this for free but if we have to pay to preserve the dignity of the Mooch we should be willing. And thanks, John, for opening the books on this. The graph was a nice touch.

  13. I think it’s also time to seriously consider some level of ad support as well. I for one would not mind having adds on the site pages if I know it will help you support the site. This might not fulfill the $5000 gap, but if it even filled 1/4 of it I think it would be worth it. What about an option to buy mooch points? What other small convenience services might you be able to add that could bring in enough revenue to run the site.

  14. Gill said

    What about “selling” points. There are people who need points and have money and then there are those that have some points to spare and would be happy to donate points to you, but cannot afford to donate actual money. The donated points could be sold and help towards the shortfall. This would not artificially increase the points in existence if only donated points were sold.

  15. Angel said

    Can’t do a subscription right now, but am sending in a one time gift. Will do so from time to time when I can.

    TNAngel

  16. Suzanne said

    I just sent in a donation. Wish I could do more but will send more as my budget allows. Thanks for everything!

  17. Heather19 said

    I wish I could do a monthly-subscription, but with my life, if I have extra money to donate somewhere, it ALL needs to be donated, or it will be gone next month! lol
    Thank you very much for showing us where this is going and how BM is handling finances, it really does help to see this and know what is going on.

  18. G said

    I am a member of another online site and they do both of the suggestions above. They also sell pens, tote bags, book covers, sweatshirts, and other stuff. You can also buy credits. Maybe something to consider also.

  19. Terri said

    John – I had NO idea that you got a cut of books we ordered from Amazon after following the link from BookMooch!!! Granted, I’ve been out of the country for the last 18 months, but I order from Amazon fairly frequently. I think you should advertise this more blatantly. From now on, I will ONLY order books from Amazon after clicking on the link from Book Mooch. You can expect a slight jump from me – I order books for work ALL THE TIME!!! πŸ˜‰

    terri

  20. Yaya said

    Please I’m begging you, whatever you do..don’t make us buy the points 😦

  21. Maggie said

    I for one would not mind ads at all. If they helped you out, I would learn to live with them.
    Also, prepaid postage would be a hit too.
    Maybe some tees/coffee mugs/etc. in the future for us to buy?
    Will be sending in a donation soon!

  22. rochanah weissinger said

    I support all the ideas above. You would buy points ONLY if you want to. I often buy point at my other “book club” (PBS). On this one–bookmooch– I have a LOT of extra points, which I’d happily donate if it meant extra income to keep the site going.

  23. Kelly.L said

    Oh no, please… BookMooch must not become like the other guys! Much of what makes BM great is that it is really and truly free to use – no transaction fees, convenience fees. Nobody here wants my credit card number.

    I crunched my own numbers a while back, and discovered that my BM books cost on average nearly half what the so-called-free books from some other place and its “conveniences” set me back. It was a period of only several months, but it looked like a pretty solid trend. When every click costs a nickel or a dime, it’s hard to count the real cost.

    As with all things, there are expenses, and we should all pitch in where we can until those are covered – I shipped bookmarks to Australia and Great Britain today. I’d love to see this brilliant model become self sustaining, and I hope the key is more people finding, and sometimes _buying_ their books, through searching it. Bookmooch has the only model which benefits everyone who uses it (except for John.. so sorry John! Thank You John-!!), and is in line with my personal values; it has even elevated my estimation of Amazon (if Amazon ran my local book store out of business, at least it made BookMooch possible… fair enough).

    If in fact you don’t mind paying service fees, well… online postage printing services can be had for $9.95 a month. Media Mail is supposed to be taken to a post office or APC box in any event, but beyond that I don’t have to leave my house to mail anything – and don’t remember the last time I approached the P.O. retail counter. No special equipment required, no stamps, it prints customs forms for international mail, and Christmas mailing is now a cake walk (I feel pretty smart cutting through the two hour line to get to the APC drop box). Sure, you’d have to order 15-20 books a month to rack up that much in service fees – but this at least is a complete service, at a known cost.

    And I say truly, on the day points develop a cash equivalent, I stop handing out bookmarks. Taking cash in trade for some other fellow giving his stuff away is a nice arrangement, if you can convince people that’s fair, I suppose. But then, member reliability comes into question, and time constraints for getting things mailed becomes an issue… enforcement and thinly veiled coercion become necessary. Doesn’t that sound fun? Any volunteers? LOL – no, I am not worried; I can’t see that day dawning here. We trust each other, and we trade books -just books- because we read. And it bloody well ought to be that simple, shouldn’t it?

    My apologies for the rantifesto -it was spawned by initial alarm at the direction the thread seemed to be taking. I love BookMooch. It will stand on its own eventually, I am sure… please send John a boost in some form, if you can, in the meantime.

    Cheers
    -Kelly.L

  24. Christina said

    Having people donate surplus points for sale is a great idea. I haven’t found a charity that needs any of my extra points, and I don’t anticipate being able to use them- I have had a hard time getting any books in the last few months.

  25. AC said

    You can print Media Mail labels from home if you have a PayPal account, doesn’t benefit BookMooch but at least you don’t have to wait in line at the post office and isn’t considered “stamped” mail. Just look for the Multiple Order shipping in Paypal. You can select first class package rate, Media Mail, Priority Mail and more.

  26. Mark said

    Maybe I’m naive, but couldn’t you save that $5K by cutting back on bookmarks? I mean, they’re great and all, but wow, twenty grand? Didn’t realize it was so much. I’ve been passing them out at my company and other local venues, but I wouldn’t mind paying for them myself if it would help keep BookMooch afloat.

    I’m kind of against subscriptions, just because I don’t like getting tapped every month, but I’m happy to send a check and it’s on the way.

  27. AC said

    You can print Media Mail postage if you have a PayPal account, just look for the Multiple Order Shipping link, usually in the upper left corner of your PayPal account. You can print Media Mail, First Class package, Priority Mail & more. It won’t benefit BookMooch, but it saves waiting in line at the post office (isn’t considered stamped, so any weight can be dropped in the bin).
    (sorry if this is a duplicate post, I tried posting earlier and thought it had, but it doesn’t show now)

  28. Amy said

    I agree with the others. I am in favor of printable postage. I currently mail from home for my website and various eBay sales for consignors and myself. I am on another book swapping site,will not mention name, they charge a fee of .50 for me to buy book credits, and then I think it is also .50 to add money to my account for postage. They have the option of using Paypal for payment, and a secure credit card service. If you can figure out how to do this, you start out only accepting Paypal payments. I use Propay for my website credit cards and they do charge a yearly fee, not bad though, but that is just one more thing for you to check into.

    Good luck and hopefully together we can all keep Bookmooch going. I would hate to lose it.

  29. Richard said

    Thanks for the insight…below are my thoughts.

    My concern is that unless additional revenue streams are identified you’ll be forced to turn to us for donations ALL THE TIME – and that will get old for you AND for us. Consider The Public Broadcasting System (PBS). How many of us tune out when the pledge drives turn on?

    1. Ads? Heck yeah. It’s a small inconvenience to users and can generate funds to offset some of the expense.

    2. Sell Credits? Heck yeah. We all get to the point at one time or another when credits are low and our wishlist is hot. Difficult to seize the moment when you’ve got to list a book and wait for the request. I’d drop a couple bucks from time to time to buy credits to ensure that I’d not miss a book I want.

    3. Membership drives/contests? Heck yeah. There is no limit to the things I’d do for a chance to win a free credit/book/gift card? (insert joke here). The competition’s membership posts ads on craigslist all the time. Guess how much that costs? Nothing. Nada. Nil. Zilch. Another book sharing site posts member-made bookmarks, markerting material, etc on their site for print and use personally or to use as promotional material in their markets. More members means more books, more click-thrus and more opportunities for BM to earn a buck or two.

    4. Ship packages, or buy postage or labels through BM? Heck yeah. Right now, I print a requester’s contact info from BM and then go to PayPal Ship Now to ship the book. Save me some clicks…let me do it through BM. I understand that that convenience will cost me something. If you made .10 (just a round figure for discussion purposes) a shipment and you averaged 25 shippers that used the service every day, then by the end of the year you’re nearing $1000.

    5. Buy shipping supplies through BM? Heck yeah. I’m looking for #2 Padded Mailers right now. I just as soon run the order through you as eBay or Office Max or Staples, etc. Partner with someone. Offer members a modest discount. Add a link.

    6. Banner ads? Heck yeah. There are probably a ton of members with personal blogs that would be willing to put a BM banner ad linked to BM on their site. Maybe this is available now, but I’ve not come across it yet. Again…it’s free.

    7. BM Newsletter? Heck yeah. A monthly eNewsletter keeps keeps the BM brand in front of active members and encourages the inactive members to return. Plus, it helps us non-forum/blog reading types from having to search for information.

    Lastly, I don’t pretend to know your business but the numbers you offer above are interesting to say the least.

    Do you expect to spend $8k every year to upgrade your equipment?

    What kind of return are you getting for the $20k in marketing material? I received a handful of BM business card sized advertisments printed on both sides on heavy card stock. I don’t know if they came from you or just a caring member, but I did wonder if this was representative of the quality of material that bm puts out. Very expensive I imagine.

    I’m sure there is value in making the booth material (stands, signage, etc.) available to the membership, but I’m curious to know if the exposure BM gets via this medium is worth $2k per year. Do away with the booth costs and you’re almost halfway toward breaking even. Just a thought.

    I appologize for running-on at the mouth (keyboard) but I was once a member of a now dead book trading site and am a current member of a dying site. I want to see BM become the premiere book trading site on the internet. I am confident that there is a business model that can achieve this and will:

    1. Allow for free, or pay for play, membership
    2. Put a few pennies in your pocket

    Keep up the great work.

  30. Sonia said

    I am sending “one-off” donations whenever I can too.
    I know John wants to keep the site free, but I would have been more than happy to pay a one off joining fee and then a smaller annual fee. This way John has assured ongoing income and as a bonus it would deter users than come onto the site, mooch a bunch of books and then disappear without ever having sent one.

  31. jeanne said

    I see that you spend $20000 a year to make cards and bookmarks. I think you could find a better way to spend that money they on those two items. I get those items stuffed in books from people all the time and just throw them away. I already know about book mooch and I have been a member for a while I don’t need someone to send me bunches of those when I am a member already. You would be better off to advertise somewhere else than on your own website. just my thought.

  32. Daniel said

    I’m for the pre-paid postage idea also.

    I also agree that spending a lot less on cards and bookmarks would be a good idea. If you’re running a loss in order to print them, then you can assume that method of advertisement has maximised its potential.

    As a follow-up to an email I sent you, I’d be willing to buy a mug with the BookMooch logo or web site art work. If produced via CafePress or some similar outfit, you would have no overhead to pay. And there’s probably a few t-shirt buyers in this crowd as well…

  33. Dovile said

    To Sonia:
    I disagree with you on this point. If this site wasn’t fee-free then me, and I’m sure many other people with limited means, wouldn’t ever be able to join it, as sending worldwide is quite expensive already. You’re right about the scammers, but fees would also deter many honest people who simply wouldn’t be able to afford or joining would be too complicated (no credit card, no Paypal account, or living in a country where checks aren’t used, etc.).

    To jeanne:
    The BM cards and bookmarks aren’t meant for you personally, but for distribution around your location (like school, friends, library, etc.), so you shouldn’t through them away, especially as there are many people (especially those outside the US, like me) who are always glad to receive them. I for example, always put a BM card when sending books to people on other book-swap sites, that I’m on, to let them know about BM, and also give some to my sister who leaves them for students at the library of the university she’s at.
    If you’d rather not be giving the cards/bookmarks away yourself, simply put them in your next mooch package.

  34. David said

    Count me among those that would buy a BookMooch Tee.

  35. Cindy said

    I didn’t realise you got money from Amazon, I buy from them fairly regularly and will make sure I go through Bookmooch in future as my contribution- I take it you still get the money if I buy from the Amazon UK site?

  36. Sonia said

    Re. spending less on card and bookmarks

    I agree with the above statement! Since the images are available for BM members to use (from the ‘tools’ page I think?), pretty much anyone can print them out if they feel like it. Your stock could be kept for the mooch stands sets. Just a thought.

  37. Cherrie said

    I’m up for all the great ideas here except for points for sale. The day people can buy points will be the day a lot less book will be available to mooch, since people don’t actually need to give away books anymore in exchange of the ones they take off the pool. People with money to spend will keep buying points and grab books without giving anything to the exchange.

    Unless the point is priced at the same value of an average used book + shipping material + postage, it will be unfair to people that actually earn their points by giving away their own books and pay to mail.

  38. Materialgirl said

    I always assumed the site paid for itself through Amazon referrals, as who is that altruistic ($70 000?!!).

    I would not be in favour of a subscription for the following reason:

    I am in the UK and I find that, when books on my wishlist become available, they are very often listed by members who will not send them abroad. In other words, I am finding it difficult to get my hands on the books I really want. I am just ticking over, mooching ok novels, when what I really want are art and craft books.

    However, I have built up a respectable number of points and would be more than willing to donate these if they could be turned into money.

    I think buying the postage and the mailing envelopes through BM is a good idea but probably wouldn’t apply to the UK.

    I could tolerate advertising if It kept the site free.

    I will definitely buy my Amazon books through BM in future and will spread the message.

    I do agree that the quality of bookmarks and cards is unecessarily high.

  39. Tim Bourne said

    Hi,
    Have you tried to get some sort of deal with the postal companies – they’re net beneficiaries of Bookmooch so perhaps some sort of clever deal could be done with them?

  40. LizA said

    Do you get money from all amazons or just amazon.com? I use amazon.de and so far always assumed that you did not get anything. But if you do, I will of course go there by this site. It would be helpful if you could explain exactly how it works somewhere – I appologize if you did that before, but I just looked at the about pages and the wiki and did not find anything on that topic. Would be useful!

    Is there a way to make one time donations via paypal? I cannot committ to anything regular at the moment (sorry) but I am willing to add a little whenver I can.

    I am torn as to advertising. I prefer an ad-free space, but I also see that it might help bring some money to have ads… ultimately you should not have to put out so much money just to keep us all happy, though.. whatever works!
    And I think some nice merchantise might be a good idea. Maybe also address labels, as we need them so often?
    Good luck and thank you, LizA

  41. TWolf said

    I buy from Amazon…a lot. Maybe there could be a link on the member home to click through to Amazon? Or do clicks have to go to a certain item? If so, maybe having a link to their Deal of the Day on your member home might be a way to do it.

    As far as merchandise, if you didn’t have any plans for it in the near future, how about offering t-shirts and other stuff (bookbags?) through Cafe Press? There is no out of pocket, the only thing you ‘pay’ is some time upfront setting up your designs. It’s so easy even I did it!

  42. June said

    Sending one off contributions is my way, a pensioner, and when I can do postage online great. Does everyone know about media mail from the states and tarif Livre from France, cheap. I’m sure most places have a rate for paper somewhere but the post office don’t like to advertise it. I also send audio books through Ebay this way, they were charging the earth until someone put me on to tarif livre, it’s still media.
    Keep up the good work John and co.

  43. Julie said

    Why not make business cards, and bookmark graphic files available for people to print off themselves? Bookmooch clipart? An entire box of business card blanks at the office supply goes for around $12, and you can print bookmarks on 8 1/2×11 cardstock no problem, and just cut them out.

    I would propose that you could have “contests” for points for folks that submit their original artwork for bookmooch business cards or bookmarks. I know that artist trading cards have become popular, it would be something similar to that.

    And I think folks are misunderstanding how fees work on PBS…you don’t ever have to pay anything unless you use their credit-buying function or their postage printing function. Costs are completely optional. I have no idea what their bottom line is for those functionalities, but I know when gas was $4 a gallon, it was well worth the fee to print the postage out.

    And to the girl who throws away her bookmooch printed material, why not just send it along to your next moochee..that’s the point.

    Just my two cents…I love this site!
    Julie

  44. DawnSky said

    I agree with Sonia that at least a one-time joining fee should be introduced, both to help bookmooch financially and to keep scammers away. The solution bookmooch has currently chosen to guard against scammers is to ban entire countries, so that no one living in those countries can ever join bookmooch. Entire countries with populations of Millions banned because some people (that can only add to a small minority) have been dishonest. And bookmooch will now not even consider giving people from those countries a fair chance to prove they aren’t cheaters just because they happen to be living in a certain place.

  45. Heather aka gargirl said

    Last month’s Amazon sales were especially good? Maybe a nice, obvious banner about it would help? I bet some folks don’t know about the deal you have there.

    Just a thought.

    Thanks for everything you do.

  46. Kim said

    What an interesting thread! Firstly, John, many thanks for your dedication in setting up such a great system. I use it more and more, having only recently discovered BookMooch.

    I would echo the thoughts of a number of people about the acceptability of reasonable advertising. However, I would make two caveats:

    1. If you need to do it, keep it as something like Google Adsense text ads which can be kept out of the way. Please don’t go the IMDB route of very “in your face” display ads and banners unless you really run out of money.

    2. Code the site so that if a user has a subscription to your site, then you don’t show the ads.

    I would echo MaterialGirl’s comments about non-USA users. Many of the marketing initiatives like bookmarks, cards, etc. are largely irrelevant to us because we can’t easily or affordably get them. In any case, I suspect that they mostly preach to the converted and are of limited actual marketing value.
    I would also agree that for non-USA users it is more difficult to attract subscriptions when many members won’t send out of their country. I entirely understand why they won’t or indeed can’t, it’s expensive, and intend no criticism for a moment. However, it does reduce the availability of books for non-USA members because (I am guessing here) the majority of members are understandably USA resident. As it happens, I have just set up a small subscription because I would like to see the site remain non-commercial if it is at all possible.

    Keep up the good work, John, but you really shouldn’t make yourself so out of pocket. This is a great service to the global reading community and it should be able to stand on its own feet.

    Kim

  47. Nina Wendt said

    Postage printing is a big plus. I no longer drive and being able to mail my books in a mailbox (over 13 oz has to go to the PO now – unless you use a pre-printed postage system) is a godsend. I am mailing my books with the mail to a friend feature at Paperbackswap.com and that is putting revenue in their pocket for books mooched on your site.

    The other ideas are great also. Nina

  48. Susanne K said

    I’m a member of the business contact platform called Xing. They’re having two memberships, a free one and another one which is offering a number of gimmicks in addition to the basic form for a fee. The site is entirely workable for free, and if a person wants more, let them pay for it. Would that be an idea?

    What’s the problem with advertisements? All you need to do is, overlook them. The ‘marbling’ group on Yahoo is run with ads. As I’m there to read and write messages the ads just don’t apply to me.

    I’m still sending world wide which very many moochers won’t or can’t. If required to pay a membership fee on top of postal fees, I’d drop out instantly.

  49. wulong said

    I disagree with people that suggest a joining fee.
    If you want to deter scammers, you only need to change the rule that every book in the inventory is worth 1/10. This way people will need to send at least one book before receiving any. Or leave this rule, but do not allow newcomers to mooch books before sending at least one. In my opinion (and other people have stated the same above), a lot of (serious) bookmoochers would have never registered if they had to pay a fee. I know I wouldn’t have, as in the beginning I was a bit skeptical that bookmooch would work for me. Still, after registering and filling my inventory, I still waited to send a book before mooching one. I thought it was kind of immoral to receive without having given anything. I believe that no “serious bookmoocher” would think “I won’t register if I have to send a book before receiving one”. Of course, this has nothing to do with solving the money problem. I would suggest, if you are going to add ads, you could start by considering some book links to amazon, instead of real ads. This might be easier to accept by members who really cannot stand ads. I personally don’t mind some simple no image adds (like google ones). I may still keep using bookmooch (only maybe not so often), even if you include images. Definitely, giving some more information on how can we “donate” every time we buy at amazon will increase the amazon fees.

  50. Hey,

    I’ve been trying to digest this whole “revolting development” for us all–the prospect that we are dying or losing our “dignity” or will become dejunct before our time. As Dickens said in his literary masterpiece . . .”These are the best and worst of times”; I believe by bringing these great ideas together in a logical plan, we can not only survive and avoid extinction, but thrive and be that incredible “premier book trading site” mentioned earlier.

    Keeping in mind the number of inactive members and sad real sob stories we see on our site daily, these ARE some of the worst times our nation has ever experienced. (Mind you, I’m no economist, just an American who loves books and other book junkies and as a first timer of any internet site, would hate to see this lapse or die.) I’m imagining it’s difficult for John to ask people for money, whom he knows have lost jobs, homes, and health. However, this is his and our reality. I, personally, can’t do much to help economically, due to my own real sob story, nevertheless, I beleive if we take the time to read all the 45 plus replies, sift and sort, collaborate on implementation, then we will get to a real workable solution.

    I’ve heard many smart solutions including: Ads, contests, opportunity to buy points (let’s make it optional). Ads can be discreet, and should only be related to literature and its off shoots: book blogs, merchandise, and services. Tutoring and educational institutions and publishers/writers (??)could get in on this too. Keep the ads on side and ban any flashing, shifting, crazy visual whirlygig ads. Those drive us all nuts. Hot mail has some that run down the side and are mildly irritating.

    Gosh, Unofficial Bob could even get in on the act w/ interest fees for lent points from his bank. What about determining user status: If you are purely mooching books for your personal use, you shouldn’t have to pay a for use. However, if you are a commercial enterprise in even a small way, then said user should fess up and pay a one-time user fee or a percentage per book mooched or the fee could be based on monthly total. I have noticed many folks have built up a surplus of points (not sure how they do THAT; I’ve not the required self-control). These folks could donate their points which would be collected in a pool, much like Bob’s, and available for purchase.

    Gosh, we could even have bidding wars for “bundles” of points. Perhaps, we could attach more value to newer editions (this just came to me). I know from the huge wishlists attached to the newer releases–2007-present–that many would be willing to cough up more than a point for a new book they “must have” that would fetch $24.99 at any local independent bookseller. I’m not sure of the hows of this, but it could be fashioned, perhaps, after the E-bay model of the auction. Include a maximum bid so we don’t defeat the purpose of our feasibility appeal; say, no more tha $10.00/points for newer, hardbound editions. Just thinking out loud. In ties, first to click in wins, just as we do presently.

    Well, it’s time to bring in the wood before our next 6-10 inch snowfall up here in New Hampshire, so I’ll sign off for now. Hope this helps even a little.

    PS: I too am wondering about the cards/bookmarkers. Could we get these made w/ volunteer services and materials? Less gloss and money replaced by more heart and practicality? Not that I don’t love the cards–they alone make great bookmarkers. Some BMers even fold in half and glue magnets to them.

    -yours in literature,
    Commanda

  51. notinparis said

    I’m against the idea of introducing any kind of compulsory fee (like a joining fee or an annual fee) as so many people wouldn’t be able to use the site. I would also hate to have a cash-for-points system set up as that would mean a drastic reduction in the number of books available on the site.

    However, I for one would love some bookmooch merchandise! Sites like cafepress are very cheap and offer a wide variety of items. I’d certainly buy myself a mug, t-shirt or bag with the bookmooch logo on!

  52. notinparis said

    Oh – would it be possible to sign the site up with a search engine like everyclick that will give money for searches made? That’s a nice easy way that people could contribute without shelling out of their own pockets.

  53. Anita said

    Hi John,
    Just sent in a contibution and will sign up for monthly-Thank you so much for everything you’re doing-it’s a wonderful service!
    While the moochcards and bookmarks are really nice, $20,000 is a large amount to the total expenditures for this-are they really necessary and would the quality of the bookmooch enterprise by reduced if you cut out this expense going forward? I really don’t think so-
    Thanks again!

  54. Carrie said

    My two cents – I like BookMooch just the way it is πŸ™‚ I don’t want to see ads, or have special membership. I think that this is one of the reasons that BookMooch is as successful as it is.

    Selling promotional items such as mugs, tshirts, etc would be awesome! I also like the BM business cards and think they are great, but its easy to print your own, and while a home printer can’t beat a a professional, it will do the job.

    I think the biggest thing is the amazon link. I purchased a number of books from Amazon, and totally forgot to do it from BookMooch. The link is already there, but promoting that BM gets a cut of the money if the link is used might see an increase in revenue.

  55. Emily said

    I would LOVE to be able to print media mail postage from home and support bookmooch. We recently lost one of our cars in an accident, so I don’t have daily transportation anymore. Getting to the post office has become difficult, and it would be great to be able to skip that errand!

  56. aleesha713 said

    I agree with Julie. While the MoochCards are great, if you can save $20,000 a year by either selling them at cost or encouraging more members to print out their own, I am sure people would understand. I put together my own two-sided postcard with a little note on one side and BookMooch/BookCrossing info on the other and got them printed at VistaPrint.com. I think it cost me less than $10 for 100 postcards and address labels. (If anyone wants my source files to make their own, I posted them here: http://aleeshapunt.com/other/mooch/) =)

  57. Nancy said

    I belong to 2 other sites as well as this one. I am much more open to paying a yearly subscription than selling points. I like the fact that here you have to give in order to get. On the other site, you can buy your way through and I don’t like that. I may not circulate the exact same books through that I took out, but in order to get a book here, I have to offer one and have it accepted in return. I like that. $4 a month is $48 a year, and for me, that’s a bit stout. I think $10 or $15 would be about my limit. I too, have received the cards and such and think you could cut those out or down quite easily. I’d buy a T-shirt or a hoodie.

  58. Ed P. said

    Subscriptions? Ugh. I’d leave BM if I had to pay for it. I’ll gladly click an ad or buy stamps/postage through BM instead. I remember every once in a while to buy a book through here from Amazon. I mention BM to most people I know that read regularly. But, subscriptions? Ugh.

    There’s also that website that allows original artwork to be put onto mugs/mouse pads/clothing and the artist gets a portion of the profit. That might help a fraction.

  59. Susan said

    I am another person opposing the idea of selling points. That just seems to contradict the spirit of this site.

    I would be very happy to a subscription plan like LibraryThing’s, where people with more than 300 books in their libraries pay an annual subscription or buy a lifetime membership, both with sliding scales. I think it would be entirely appropriate to require frequent users of BookMooch to subscribe (such as myself–I’ve sent away just over 100 books since joining) but not require immediate payment upon joining, so that people can see what the site is like without feeling financially committed.

    Thank you very much for this post about how much BookMooch takes to run. I had no idea it was so expensive, and now I can really appreciate what you do to make this available to us. I’ll be putting a check in the mail tomorrow.

  60. AyaSuu said

    I think, some of the ideas here are really good. But unfortunately, they won’t really affect me. I live in a small country in Europe. I don’t have paypal (few people have here have it) nor do I own a credit card (I know this is unbelieveable for americans) nor can I send checks (really, nobody here uses them either). I’d love to send you some money via bank transfer, if that’s possible? Couldn’t you open a bank account for donations (UK account would be best for everyone living in the EU) and just post the data here? I’d even set up a monthly donation. But I just wanted to tell you that paypal isn’t an option for many people in the EU. I think this is a problem that continues when it comes to buying bookmooch merchandise etc. Please, just don’t forget about us non-USA-moochers! πŸ™‚

  61. Cheryl said

    I’d like to make my opinions known, just as another data point.

    I don’t want ads. They are not a deal-killer for me, but I suppose depending on the implementation they might drive me away.

    Many longer time users are awash in points. I certainly am, even though I’ve been pretty generous to charities on BM. Myself, I’ve given out more books than I have mooched, but even people who haven’t can easily be awash in points with the 1/10 per book listed, book marked received, and foreign mooch bonus points. Unless there is a much more comprehensive overhaul of the mooch point economic system, selling points is nonsensical. If nothing else, people will start unofficially selling their points at a lower rate than the official one and it won’t work anyway.

    I would consider a premium membership a possibility, but I have a hard time conceiving what services could be cut out for premium members without messing up the democratic/egalitarian nature of the site. Privileged wishlists? ugh. Privileged searches? also ugh. Better access to tools like hookups with LibraryThing? John has always freely offered programming tools, and I don’t like taking them away. I think I like voluntary memberships just for the prestige…which is pretty much what we have at this moment.

    I like the postage printing with a commission or fee, but have no idea how easy this would be to set up and make sure it didn’t loose money. If you’re willing to crunch the numbers and it’s not marginal, I would say go for it. OTOH, that could be a premium membership feature that I could go for.

    If BM promotional items make economic sense, I say go for it, but like postage, it might be not worth the hassle and cost of setting it up.

    I don’t like affiliate searches. I find pay for search sites creepy. It seems to me that these sites may or could get $ by selling data about searches, which could easily be hooked to personal data, despite TOS claims to the contrary. TOS are always subject to change without notice. Such sites have a $ reason to push the envelope, and I just on the face of it do not entrust such data any entity with an incentive to sell my data. If BM hooked up with such an affiliate site, I would be very very unhappy and close my account almost immediately. I’m not on Facebook, and I feel vindicated about this with all the news about FaceBook’s recent TOS issues; smaller sites have less of a media spotlight shining on them and might get away with more.

    One question: Is BookMooch officially an organization separate from you? I’m not sure I’ve seen info on the governance of the site. I assume it’s not a(n IRS recognized) charity, or you would be mentioning that for us US taxpayers so we could donate more and get a deduction.

    Thank you thank you thank you for BM and your thoughtful work on keeping it a great resource.

  62. JeanC. said

    Yes, sell postage. And sell points too. Both of those would be optional to the user and would bring in money.

  63. Rayhne said

    Making a note to self to go through BookMooch when purchasing books through amazon.com. Not that I do much anymore.

  64. Margaret said

    I’ve only been a member for a few months. After checking out numerous book swap sites, I liked BM. Mostly I liked the 1-4-1 idea with no hassles about anything else. I would not have tried it had there been a membership fee. The fact that you actually offered the 1/10 listing credit helped. Although I’d see nothing wrong in allowing new members to use those credits only after they have successfully swapped one book for ever actual 1 credit they’ve gained. To be honest, I’d be behind because from several estates and my own reading, I have a lot of books. I did earn most of my credits 1-4-1.

    I still will not pay a membership fee. My suggestion is to really advertise your Amazon.com link and the fact that it helps BM stay open. Even after several months, I did not realize you got paid if we ordered a book from them through one of your links – until I read this.

    Offering prepaid postage with a bit of profit might be good. I already subscribe to a site that I use for many types of mailings so I probably wouldn’t use it. But others would.

    You may be too generous with your expensive cards. I just received a box. I offered some for a point here as you suggested. I’ve also left others at the local library and plan to place them on bulletin boards throughout the community. Friends in other towns will do the same. I will take them to reading groups and writer’s meetings. I’m including them with mailings of books I actually sell, although I’m getting more and more out of sales and just trading for current reading material.

    This site has been wonderful for me, but I really doubt membership fees or selling credits (that really would rob the site from having a good selection for moochers) would do anything except kill it.

    Sell promos, sure, if it’s not too much of a nightmare to manage. I’d order a t-shirt. But t-shirt sales require huge investments and you could end up with a whole lot of t-shirts you can’t move.

    Other than promoting the Amazon links, I’d vote against ads unless they are totally non-obstructive. Amazon seems to pay fairly decently. I would let all members know–on every page, and also through a general newsletter.

    The book cards are wonderful and of truly lasting quality. Maybe suggest that people (including myself) only pass them along to non-Mooch members. Or, as someone else suggested, keep these top-quality ones for the book shows. Provide something easy enough for even computer dummies to print out on regular card-stock for Mooch mail-out purposes. Many of us already own card stock; not as durable, but good enough for people who already love Mooch.

  65. Noel Ster said

    Nthing the sentiments above, saying “find a way to encourage more people to send books to Canada.” That’s the only major shortcoming for me right now. I’d use the site more (and thus click through to more Amazon links) if there were more content potentially available to the Great White North, eh?

    I too would be in favour of the following:
    * buying prepaid postage through BM
    * buying shipping supplies
    * unobtrusive ads

    I haven’t fully thought out some of the other suggestions, so I won’t go there now. My $0.02.

  66. Mark said

    Ouch, those are some depressing figures.

    Subscriptions and paid memberships never seem like a good idea to me. I know if there was a fee to have joined this site in the first place I never would have given it a second glance – regardless of how low that fee was.

    Selling excess points seems like a no-brainer but with the mooch/request ratio in place I’m not sure how well that would work? Or even if there is a market for it as many people seem to claim an excessive number of unused points in their accounts?

    Sell ads. It’s just about the only thing which keeps a website afloat which any kind of certainty.

    As an affiliate marketer myself who has been making a reasonable full time living from online ad sales for the past 7+ years (and I guarantee my few websites combined are vastly less active than this one) I would say to get with a good affiliate network and get some real advertising put on the site.

    Whether it is with an affiliate network like Commission Junction or Linkshare, or a pay-per-impression deal for banners, or per-click like google’s Adsense program or through selling your own advertising space privately, I can see a site this size recouping those losses you talk about very quickly.

    Anything earned past that point can go into site improvements, charity donations or whatever. Hey, even your own pocket, heaven knows why anyone would begrudge that since you are offering them a great free service.

    Some sites even offer the option to pay a minimal membership fee to remove the ads for those who seem to find them quite so abhorrent.

  67. amberlianne said

    Selling points or selling privileged memberships would reduce this site to the level of every other site out there.

    Promoting the Amazon comission more would likely completely solve the problem. I mean, I already know about it, and I still forget most of the time when I’m buying books. If you take massive textbook purchases into consideration, you’d have several larger-than-usual income spikes during each year, which I can imagine would be very helpful.

  68. Fyoder Larue said

    I am totally unopposed to ads, esp. tasteful text ones. It’s nice that bookmooch is earning some real money from amazon, but clearly it’s not enough. googleads might more than make up the shortfall. I think it would be great if bookmooch could be self-sustaining.

  69. Dagne said

    I’d completely understand if BookMooch were to start displaying ads for revenue; you shouldn’t have to take a loss on this John! And I didn’t know about the Amazon link; I’ll make sure I go via BookMooch when purchasing there in future.

    Thank you for creating and sustaining the most amazing site and community.

  70. Jeremy said

    Ditto to most of the above: The prepaid postage idea is genius, and it would help me IMMENSELY with being more timely in getting my requests out. I’d be totally fine with ads if they would help your shortfall out, and I’ll ALWAYS buy from Amazon through Bookmooch from now on. Thanks for this fantastic service, John! It’s really a wonderful thing.

  71. Matt said

    I can’t believe this site is running at a loss! Put Google ads on and sell some t-shirts, man. That would probably be more than enough to offset the site maintenance costs if not the bookmarks and mooch cards.

  72. Scott (Canada) said

    while I’ve only been a bookmooch member for a short time, I do plan to donate shortly.

    I do have to agree that it would be cool to be able to encourage more people to ship outside their own country. It would be nice to have the option to split the shipping cost formally on the site since that seems to be the main hangup. I’ve had a few requests from overseas users wanting heavier books from me but spending $15 on shipping for a book that barely costs that at retail doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of the site (or my pocketbook)…..and I can appreciate others share the same concern. For myself, I’d be more than happy to split the shipping on certain items that might only be found overseas if it means getting it over not getting it at all.

  73. Nicole said

    Another vote for printed postage! I use another site that offers this. I don’t know what their exact commission is but it can be done. For BM, I use PayPal’s printed postage (for domestic shipping) and I’d rather see BM get the fees.

  74. justelise said

    Purchasing points is a horrible idea, and it would lead to an enormous imbalance in trading. People would just buy points and not have to trade any books, which would lead to books pouring out of the system, but no new books getting introduced to the system. It’s an awful, awful idea.

    Charging a monthly fee will drive people away. I will donate at some point just because, but mandating payments will drive people, traffic, and books away from the site.

    Ads are welcome, because they generate passive income, and they don’t really cause problems for people. The people that would leave because of ads probably aren’t going to support the site financially anyway.

    I think the Bookmarks and cards are a phenomenal waste of money, and also a waste of paper. You could prepare the art, and people could print cards on their own to distribute.

    If you want to simply grow the number of people on the site (and grow the number of books in the system), give people a point bonus for getting their friends to sign up. When your friend signs up, you get a certain number of points AFTER your friend trades a certain number of books.

    Printing postage, purchasing packing materials, and making shipping easier are all very good ideas. Since PayPal allows you to print Media Mail from your home, maybe you could strike a deal with them, because they would get a ton of new subscribers if people could print their postage (with a nominal fee) through PayPal.

  75. shelly said

    now i am totally in awe of pre printed media mail stickers..what i have i been missing?? is this available on other sites?

  76. Mr. & Mrs. Lewis said

    Hi, I’ve been on here, trading for awhile & believe I would like to use the postage through here instead of the post office also. I’m willing to help out by a donation and by buying through Amazon or getting bookmarks, etc. Please put a note out online so I know how to do either. This site is great! Keep up the good work. Thanks.

  77. June said

    I wouldn’t mind paying an extra 10 cents for printing postage, but not more that as I am on a limited income, as I suspect many of your other members are. The suggestion that you cut out printing of cards and bookmarks and let us print them is a wonderful idea. Go for it.

  78. Stephanie (smoorefu on BM) said

    I love the BM cards, and I’m shocked that some people are throwing them away. I agree with others who have said, if you don’t want to give them out to friends and family, then at least send them out with your next mooch book!

    Personally I love the idea of being able to donate points to someplace (maybe the Unofficial Bank of Bookmooch) and having them available for sale, but I see a lot of people are against it. I think that buying points is only useful when one is a newish member, but I remember times when I was very short of points and had tons of stuff on my wishlist, and I would have been happy to buy a couple of points for $10 or so.

    Because I’ve been unemployed a long time, I’m really reluctant to sign up for a monthly donation, but as soon as I’m employed again I’ll be up for it.

    Thanks John for giving us all the info so that we can see the bigger picture!

  79. Cheryl said

    justelise said, “The people that would leave because of ads probably aren’t going to support the site financially anyway.

    I totally disagree. I have signed up as a subscriber to support BM financially. I don’t want ads. I am a direct counter example to your statement, therefore your generalization is at least overblown if not actually false. Please don’t engage in blanket statements about other people’s actions and motives; they amount to straw-man arguments and serve no one.

    Also, the friends-signing-bonus you propose would IMO not be helpful…just adding more people will increase the demands on the servers, and may not result in high-value members. I think this kind of point bonus may be likely to increase fraud and abuse. At worst, I could see someone signing up for several accounts and dividing their inventory between them, pretending to be several roommates each having an account. BM is already awash in points for most purposes. Friend bonuses are not needed.

  80. Heather19 said

    WOW! Lots of comments here!

    I must agree with some others, ads would NOT be a good idea, and would most likely turn away MANY otherwise-dedicated BookMoochers. Ads are annoying, unsightly, and can sometimes slow down older computers.

    I also do NOT think that making this a “Pay” site in any way would be a good idea. Donations are one thing, but pay-to-play or free-or-premium is simply NOT in the spirit of BM.

    I do think something should be done…. and I agree with others that the huge cost of bookmark/card materials should be examined and see if you really need to do that much.

    I can see the worry about buying points, but as long as the 2:1 mooch-ratio stays in effect, and the point-buying is secondary and NOT the main way of getting points, I don’t see it becoming a problem, so I think I’d support something like that.

  81. Leo said

    On the subject of ads, and amazon…

    Another website I frequent (which has absolutely nothing to do with books, btw) is also an amazon affiliate, and anytime I purchase from amazon, I click through the other website to make that purchase. He (the webmaster) has a 1″ square ad on the home page and a larger banner and an explanation of the affiliate program on a separate “support this website” page. (By the way, my last purchase on amazon was a $50 rice cooker; before that, a vacuum cleaner.) I think the affiliate ads on a separate page is the best solution; those of us who don’t want to be bombarded with ads on every page don’t have to be, but know that they’re there if we want to click through them for support.

  82. Margaret said

    I don’t like the idea of offering points for referrals. This usually leads to fraud…and also defeats the purpose of getting more books listed.

  83. Jeff S. said

    Like others, I appreciate knowing BookMooch costs. Also, I would hate to see a bunch of ads though. I had no idea about the Amazon deal either! I would push this big time! I buy lots of books for Grad school & could’ve helped a lot!

    Selling points – donated or otherwise – would lead to supply & demand issues. I’ve tried thinking of solutions but so far they all lead to less available books for Mooching.

    I’ve been Mooching for awhile and I love the people and the site’s environment. If Moochers need to donate, we should do it. *Moochers = Think of all the money you’ve saved by Mooching, not to mention friendly people you’ve met.* I like the idea of doing away with Mooch cards & bookmarks. I’m totally willing to print flyers on my own. (I like the ones with the tear offs at the bottom – there’s something left if people steal part of your flyer.) Those of us who are dedicated to BookMooch could spread the word as we see fit.

    Nice graph BTW, John! Consider something else in your expenses . . . your time costs! That would really push your costs up!

    Thanks for the info!
    Jeff

  84. galen said

    Seeing as how some people have been commenting on how much printing costs are, there is a solution – do what all large corporations are doing and outsource to Asia. Printing costs, along with almost everything else, is likely much cheaper here in Asia. Bulk shipping costs would only add marginally to the cost, I would imagine.

  85. thefinchers said

    I head of BM via a C-Net writeup some time ago. As an avid reader I made a mental not to join then forgot. a few days ago while we were gathering our old books to go hit the local Buy-Sell-Trade chain ‘The Book Nook’ here in Atlanta BM popped into the mind. I told the wife about the article, we searched on C-Net and found the site ‘again’ and immediately signed up. We have been members for 9 days now, but already have 80+ in inventory, have sent 10 and received 3 with more on the way. We love bookmooch and are telling all of our ‘reader’ friends about it.

    I would happily put down $20 ea for 2 well made bookmooch T-Shirts. That would draw more income for the site as well as help us with free publicity. The more users, the more books.

    I like the postage from home idea. However for me to use it all the time we hould have to be able to do Media Mail in addition to First Class. When I send one paperback, I dont mind porying up the extra $0.25 for 1st class, but when I send 3 book together or a hardback, there is a decent difference that adds up.

    I dont really want to see a bunch of adds on the site. I think that if there were a very select few TARGETED ADDS (think online used book stores with great prices and selction for when you just cant get that copy your desperate for) then that would be OK. But I would be turned off somewhat buy numerous obnoxious adds flashing all over ever page. I think it would cheapen the site!

    I would support a required membership fee of $5-10/yr per household though (through PayPal). How many members are there? At $5 each 1000 members would cover it.

    I actually like the ability to ‘buy’ points when you get started at least. If it helps the site then it helps us all. Say you in act the $5 membership fee but a user pays extra the can get some ‘get going’ points (say $10 gets membership +5 points but $20 gets membership +20 points).

    What about the becoming a non-profit? We could support reading for kids in schools, disadvantaged kids and literacy programs. Then that $X a year is a tax deduction.

    I think that with the brain trust of readers here we should be able to figure out a way to cover this shortfall.

    Come mooch from me!

  86. Tracey said

    I just discovered Bookmooch – and love it. This comment is to jump on the CafePress bandwagon; the profits don’t seem to be huge, but as others have said there is no overhead, and it would be a non-irritant means of advertising, both through the items created and used and through CafePress itself: people browse.

    Also – and this may be a non-starter but it’s worth a shot – if Bookmooch is a registered non-profit (and from the numbers above it is at least a non-profit for you, John!), something to consider would be Goodsearch.com. From their information page:

    Here’s a new easy way to raise money for your favorite -cause. Just start using Yahoo! powered GoodSearch.com as your search engine and they’ll donate a penny to your favorite cause every time you do a search!

    In addition, do all of your shopping through their online shopping mall, GoodShop.com, where you can shop at more than 900 top online retailers and a percentage of your purchases will go to the charity or school of your choice. You pay the same price as you normally would, but a donation goes to your cause!

    Here’s the web site β€” http://www.goodsearch.com. You can also read about GoodSearch in the NY Times, Oprah Magazine, CNN, ABC News and the Wall Street Journal.

    —Thank you!

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