Commercializing (or not)

February 22, 2009

Dogtongue
My recent blog entry on How much BookMooch costs to run generated a huge volume of comments, and I wanted to respond to what people suggested there. You might want to read some of those comments before reading the body of this blog post.

First of all, my recent request for donations was specifically so that I could:
(a) afford to continue to grow BookMooch,
(b) not have to “commercialize” BookMooch to continually raise funds
(c) focus on making BM free and great.

That fundraising effort has been totally successful, and I can say now that BookMooch is on a firm financial footing, and isn’t in any danger.

Many of you have signed up to give a little each month, and that has raised about $1700 every month. On top of that, I’ve received about $5000 in one-time gifts. Add to that the $12,000 I get from Amazon for books you buy there, and I’m looking at a yearly budget around $35,000. One of the reasons I focussed on monthly gifts was so that I could live within a dependable budget, rather than having to continually hit you up for donations.

As many of you noticed, such as in this comment:

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?

I agree. I detailed the costs of running BookMooch and my biggest expense has been printing bookmarks and mooch cards, an expense that I can cut way back if the budget doesn’t allow it. That’s what I’m planning on doing.

PRINTING CARDS YOURSELF

Many people expressed a desire to:
a) print cards and bookmarks themselves
b) print posters themselves

You can do this, as the graphic files for cards and postcards and posters have always been available. Here are some links:
Bookmarks: http://bookmooch.com/about/bookmarks_story
Mooch cards: http://bookmooch.com/about/cards_story
Posters: http://bookmooch.com/about/posters

I use postcardpress and nextdayfliers in the USA, and Printit in the UK. You can use them, or any printing company you like.

What I suggest for moochers in Germany, the Philippines and other countries who want cards, is that you raise money locally or from other moochers internationally and print them locally. I think this makes a lot more sense than me doing everything centrally, and also because printing costs are just too high for me to have cards & bookmarks printed all over the world.

PRINT STAMPS AT HOME

Several people suggested I add a feature to BookMooch to be able to print postal mail stamps from your computer. I’m not likely to do this for several reasons:

    a) paypal already offers this feature, and does it well. So does Endicia and eStamps. In the UK, Royal Mail lets you print stamps over the web. Since big companies already do it well, why duplicate the effort?

    b) it’s a lot of work for me to program, and since I’m the only programmer (and unpaid) it would take away from other features that could be added to BookMooch;

    c) it wouldn’t do anything for moochers outside of the USA, unless I also wrote digital-stamp software for other countries, and that’s even more work;

    d) if something technically went wrong with your printing a stamp, I would have to offer tech support and stamp refunds, leading to more work for me. And of course, things will go wrong. I use Endicia, and I often underestimate how many labels I have and end up losing a stamp (they no longer offer a refund for that case);

    e) I would have to ask for your credit card or paypal account, which would completely transform your relationship to BookMooch (into one where I charge you money).

As an FYI, Endicia does offer a referral program, with a small payment to the referrer, but I’m very reluctant to turn BookMooch into a “buy here!” and “click here!” and “great offer!” kind of site. Ugh.

I really like how uncommercial BookMooch is, and I feel that once you start pushing someone else’s company and products, it’s a slippery slope to crass commercialism.

SELLING POINTS

The idea of BookMooch selling book points for cash was also raised.

I’ve always been philosophically against this idea: I think the “golden rule” of “give and you will receive” should apply at BookMooch, and I don’t want people to be able to bypass giving by paying me money (which feels like a bribe to me, honestly).

Besides, if people could buy points and receive books without giving, that would deplete the overall diversity of the BookMooch book catalog, since books would be removed without any being added.

SELLING T-SHIRTS, MUGS AND OTHER JUNK

BookMooch mugs have been offered in the past, and I think I have sold 3 of them.

You might think that people want to buy mugs, but they don’t really. Two years ago I bought a dozen of them and sent them as xmas presents to my volunteers.

Also, the profitability on a mug is terrible: I make something like $2 of profit from each coffee mug and $1 from each travel mug. It’s much better to just ask you to send $3.

For those of you who want to buy a mug, there are two kinds of BookMooch mugs available:

I’d love to be proved wrong, and to sell a bunch of them <grin>.

ADVERTISING

Google is pay-per-click. With the same members coming every day, it’s likely that the ads wouldn’t get clicked on that much as the same people would see the same ads every day.

Also, if you look at how much information each page at BookMooch has to display, I would have to cut back on that pretty significantly to find space for advertising.

I thought about perhaps having ads on the non-member section of BookMooch, so that members wouldn’t have to suffer them. However, the vast majority of use of the site is by members.

I won’t rule advertising out in the future, but it’s something I’d rather not do.

I’d be much more likely to do something book-related, such as suggest a “best price” for each of your wishlisted books from used book stores on the Internet. That would add value to the site, by helping you buy books you want at a cheap price, and cause some revenue due to increased book sales.

And finally, I’d like to quote this comment:

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 completely agree, and the donations you’ve given have ensured it’ll stay that way!

-john, the Man from La Moocha

41 Responses to “Commercializing (or not)”

  1. Samantha V. said

    For what it’s worth, I would TOTALLY buy a BookMooch t-shirt and wear it proudly to spread the word! I’d spent 10 bucks on a T-shirt, for sure. Something to think about!

  2. Annabelle said

    I realized just how much Bookmooch has meant to me these past 6 months. While updating my blog, I outlined 2 milestones worth mentioning for the year 2008: my first trip to Paris in January, and my discovery of Bookmooch in August. Amazingly, I had written 4 sentences about Paris and more than 10 for Bookmooch!

    Thank you John, for all these stories at my fingertips.

    Annabelle
    The Philippines

  3. Bernadette said

    I don’t know if it’s feasible or not but is it possible for you to get referral dollars from sites other than amazon? I rarely use amazon due to the ridiculous cost of shipping from the US to Australia but I buy books from BookDepository.Co.UK all the time (they offer free shipping worldwide). I often search for a book on bookmooch, find it unavailable and go straight to book depository to buy it and it seems a bit sad that you can’t get referral dollars out of that.

  4. re: tshirts.

    I’ve made tshirts before (for Magnatune), and they typically cost $6 each in large quantities, or $8 each in small quantities. That’s before shipping (to me, and then to you) and sales tax.

    If someone is willing to pay $10 for a tshirt, BookMooch is likely to make absolutely no money at all, and in fact is likely to lose a dollar or two.

    So… you can see why I don’t see selling tshirts as a good way to raise money.

    If you really, really want to get a BookMooch tshirt, you can buy one for $18.99 from Cafe Press, and BookMooch makes $2 from it:

    http://t-shirts.cafepress.com/item/bookmooch-long-sleeve-tshirt/183373911

  5. re: referral fees from other than Amazon

    Yes, I have thought about integrating with other shops. However, this does take work on my part, both in signing up with each affiliate store, and also in doing the programming to read that stores API and data feeds. It’s on my to-do list, but it’s not a really simple thing to do.

  6. Aaron said

    Have you looked at hosting BookMooch in the cloud? From your cost numbers a few posts back, it looks like your biggest expense is hardware (once you stop printing bookmarks). I don’t know how much it would cost to actually run BookMooch on something like the Google App Engine, or over at Amazon, but it might be worth checking out. From what I understand of your database table structure, you tend to keep things relatively flat (un-normalized). That would be a perfect fit with Google’s Big Table.

    The drawbacks:
    1) Unknowns. Unless you (or someone) actually duplicates BookMooch in a shard type environment, you’re not going to really know what the service fees would be. I think it would be worth while to actually upload a bunch of existing BookMooch data one of these servers and run some tests. I might even try it, if I could get a week of free time.

    2) Time. It would take a lot of work to actually re-build BookMooch, but not nearly as much as it originally took since you know what you need. This would be a fixed cost and probably wouldn’t be too harsh.

    3) Dependence. Once you’re on someone else’s server, you depend on them. Some of the hosting services are more proprietary than others. If one changed their pricing or went out of business overnight, it might not be that easy to switch to something else. Planning could solve most of this.

    The big benefits would (or could) be cost reduction, and reliability. The cost reduction angle needs testing, but seems quite probable to me. The reliability could be huge. You’re looking at buying hardware to handle double the number of users. What if membership grew by 10x or 100x?

    Here are some fun (round) numbers:
    * 100,000 – current number of members
    * 100,000,000 – number of households in the US

    I remember seeing news stories a couple years ago saying that 1 in 4 people didn’t read a book in the past year. The good news is that means that 3 in 4 did. Probably 1 in 4 are “avid” readers and potential users of BookMooch. Let’s say people only need one BookMooch account per household. That’s 25 million potential members! Maybe I’m over optimistic by an order of magnitude and there are only 2.5 million potential users who would actually be willing to trade books online. With the right word-of-mouth, you’d still be looking at 25x growth in the US alone.

    What would it take for BookMooch to support that kind of growth? I bet it’s not simply a matter of throwing hardware at the problem.

  7. Heather19 said

    *sends TONS of thanks and love to John!!*

    I have to admit that seeing all of those commercializing comments/ideas got me a little on-edge. “will that ever happen? BM wouldn’t go that way, would it?” etc. It wonderful to know where you are with that and to know that BM is safe, both financially and un-commercially.

  8. Joel G said

    Great post, John! We’ll take your advice re printing our own cards and bookmarks here in the Philippines.

    Bookmooch always has two options: go the way of Enron and be there only for the short run, or go the way of the Red Cross (ICRC) and yes, Boy and Girl Scouts, and become an institution that’s there for the long haul. It’s uplifting to know you’re taking it to the better path, John. Rest assured you surely won’t be alone in that journey. Again, kudos! 🙂

  9. AdSense is pay per click but there are other advertising options. What about http://www.buysellads.com – they list your site and advertisers buy a month of displaying your ad, it’s not by click or impression, it’s by ad slot. Also, don’t underestimate the value to the advertiser of people seeing the same ads over and over – a lot of advertising is about building familiarity with a brand so that when someone does have a need for the thing, they remember the company they saw in an ad. You could approve the ads and only show tasteful book-related ones or whatever. There are a lot of ways to do advertising and AdSense is just one of them.

    Also, the slipper slope idea seems bogus to me – you are defining the slope, and you can decide where on it to stop. It’s a question of whether you believe in your own integrity. I think knee-jerk anti-commercialism is just as bad as over-advertising. For instance if you were well funded maybe you could get a usability expert to go over the site and make some suggestions? Or work on the search feature which seems to have some issues?

  10. Brian said

    I’m not sure when Bookmooch opened but I remember the day I was directed to it. November 21st 2008-ish. Anyway, it has been my personal experience that while Bookmooch is superb and well thought out, the one road block for most to overcome is the idea of parting with a book that one presumably paid money for, for nothing but a few points and then paying to have it shipped as well. Add a donation or two and the undertakig can get to be just as costly as a standard book habit like mine. I imagine the adjustment needed would be in convincing others that a grassroots, free site is the way to go even if we part a bit of cash from time to time. Besides, if we really consider what the value of cash is then books are a far greater commodity.

  11. John Gear said

    One thing I’m seeing now that intrigues me (and that made me think of BookMooch) are postcard/stickers — that is, it mails like a regular postcard but the front of it is a peel-off adhesive sticker (like a bumper sticker). I’ve been sent several of these from nonprofits I support lately —

    Seems like a cool way to provide a real value that mugs and small business-card-sized BM promo cards don’t — that is, if Bookmooch would get mass printing done with of the bookmooch card, you could sell these 4″x6″ postcard/stickers to BM members at cost-plus-markup. The markup supports BM, and buyers would get a handy postcard that make it easy to send the word about Bookmooch to friends for less — no envelope, cheaper postage.

  12. Maria said

    I can’t tell you how much I love BookMooch! I’d hate to see BM go commercial, so I’ve signed up for a monthly donation. Thanks John, for all your hard work.

  13. amber said

    I hope it’s okay, but I prefer to mooch bookmarks and then send a few out with each book that is mooched from me – especially when they’re mooched from other countries. Would you prefer that I offer some in my inventory?

  14. I was dismayed to read many of the recommendations on commercializing BookMooch that were added to your other blog post. I was pleased to read your post here. I agree with the decisions you’ve shared. As I read your cost analysis and the comments, one step seemed like an obvious and important thing to do. You need to mention somewhere prominently, like on the member home page, that purchases made from Amazon after following a link from BookMooch, help support BookMooch and do not increase the Amazon purchase price. I bet most members are not aware of those facts and would be glad to buy their Amazon purchases via your links. That one change could solve the cash-flow problem at the small cost of adding a little text to the home page. The Amazon income is passive income that should grow as the membership grows.

    Other steps that seem obvious are making it easy for BookMooch users to see that they can print their own BookMooch cards and bookmarks, and for you to stop paying to have them professionally printed.

    Thank you so much for BookMooch. After two years I still love it, although wishlist hits are now rare.

  15. Richard said

    Speaking of publicity…

    Is there a pre-written Press Release available?

    If so, please tell me/us where to get it. I, like I imagine many others would, would be willing to submit press releases to our local papers in order to promote the good BookMooch name.

  16. Elizabeth said

    Hi John! You are doing great! I always tell folks that BM is the best of all the swapping book sites out there. Thank you so much for looking so hard at all the options and suggestions. I’ll try to get my little bit in ASAP.

    Thanks for all that you do and all that you and BM have brought to my life!
    Elizabeth

  17. Megan said

    I completely agree with your points. I appreciate your dedication to this sight and I appreciate that it is free to me and the giving and receiving aspect. Thank you so much for all you do!

  18. Elise said

    Have you thought about selling BookMooch return address labels? I send out a lot more mail now that I do BookMooch, and I keep running out of return labels. It seems like something a lot of members could be into…

  19. DENNIS DE ROSE said

    JOHN- YOU ARE DOING A SUPER JOB. I CAN`T WAIT TO GET HOME FROM WORK AND CHECK THE SITE OUT. YOU ARE HELPING ME BUILD MY RETIREMENT LIBRARY! EVERYONE ON MOOCH HAS REALLY BEEN HELPFUL.

    DO NOT GO CIMMERCIAL. THAT WOULD RUIN A GOOD THING!

    YOU SAID POSTAGE IS AVAILABLE THRU PAYPAL. I THINK NOT. I HAVE SEARCHED AND NEVER FOUND A LINK THAT WAS ACCESSABLE UNLESS YOU ARE BUYING OR SELLING THRU EBAY. PERHAPS I AM WRONG? I HOPE SO….

    KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK AND GOD BLESS….DENNIS

  20. Misty said

    Do you have a banner that we could post on MySpace, Facebook, and ect? I have a business myspace, and get about 20-30 clicks a day. I know not a lot, but they all add up.

  21. Nancylou said

    I also tried to figure out how to print postage from Paypal and was not successful. Seems like you need to sell something on e-bay to do that. If I’m missing something, perhaps someone can print instructions on ‘how to get there from here…’

  22. Stevie said

    John, I posted your link on my Facebook wall as most of my friends are tried and true readers. I sure wish BookMooch had been around a few years back when I had to move and get rid of 800! books.

    Thank you so much for a wonderful site – and please, don’t go commercial.

  23. Richard said

    If you already have a PayPal account then you can simply login at the site below and start shipping – Can ship Media Mail too.

    https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_ship-now

  24. Valarie Gibson said

    Reply to Dennis DeRose and others on printing postage from PayPal

    The link to print postage at PayPal is hard to find. Another moochie sent me the link and I put in my bookmarks or favorites. Works great.

    https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_ship-now

  25. Joanna Collie said

    Hi John,

    regarding the difficulties of setting up referral fees from other than Amazon – speaking as another non-US moocher, please please pretty please consider moving it up the priority list a bit! For every book I buy from Amazon, I’d buy four or five from places like Book Depository. Maybe it’s worth putting a poll out there, finding out where us non-US moochers buy most of our books from, and targeting them first? Seriously, I think you underestimate the potential revenue stream that you’re missing out on. And much as I love BookMooch, the shipping charges from Amazon to us in the Antipodes is a real killer.

    On the subject of Amazon – do you get anything if we buy from an Amazon marketplace seller? Or only if it’s through the big cheese themselves?

    And I second requests that the Amazon-pays-BM-a-portion-if-you-click-here aspect be made more prominent – I know about it, but I forget to click through the site every time. (What can I say, sometimes I buy books before I have my morning coffee!)

    Much mooch-love.

  26. Melissa said

    I wish I had known before your last post that you received money from the Amazon links. I buy books from amazon quite frequently, usually when there’s something I can’t wait for and don’t want to wishlist, or if I need a brand new copy as a gift. I just bought like 6 books there 2 weeks ago. You could have had a piece of that. Wish I’d known. Will keep in mind in the future.

  27. THANK YOU BOTH FOR THAT PAYPAL LINK. I LOOKED FOR THAT 1 DAY FOR OVER AN HOUR!…D

  28. FYI-I HAD TO SEND THAT PAYPAL POSTAGE LINK TO MYSELF IN AN EMAIL TO USE IT MORE THAN ONCE. I TRIED TO PUT A SHORTCUT ON MY DESKTOP BUT THAT LINK TIMED OUT.HOPING THIS HELPS OTHER…..D

  29. Chelsea said

    Here’s a thought. If a person just wants to promote BM individually, have they considered VistaPrint. They’re always running specials and free items. Last year, when I had ordered a bunch of free stuff, one item was a car door magnet. I uploaded the Bookmooch Poster that I had downloaded to print out and it came out great. I had ended up spending around $13 for items that included a T-shirt for my son & a calender as a present for my mom. Those 2 items were worth the money to me & I considered everything elsea, including the BM Door magnet as freebies.
    And I’ve had people ask me about BM when they see the magnet and that’s when I pull out the business cards out of my pocketbook. Usually, I have to make sure I don’t talk their ears off about how great this site is & the pros as opposed to other sites. (And I’ve tried several others which I’ve dropped because they are not as efficient or user-friendly as BM)

  30. George Morris said

    John,

    I agree entirely with everything you said. Please keep Bookmooch just the way it is, non-commercial. As a concept and a service it is invaluable.

    As a frequent international moocher I tend to accumulate points (I pay for them in postage!!!) I especially like the charity options that you provide.

    All of your hard work is most appreciated, best regards from Sweden, George!

  31. Materialgirl said

    Two people have mentioned the bookdepository.co.uk.

    I am a uk BM member and I have consistently found Book Depository cheaper even than Amazon Marketplace and usually end up ordering from them.

  32. Schneider said

    A shirt, yes, but not a T-shirt, please. (Something for grown-ups, you know.) A nice button-down, with a BookMooch graphic embroidered (not printed) where the pocket would be (no pocket, please).

    As a bonus, if they’re done by computer, I’d pay at least $10 more to have my BookMooch username included in the embroidery.

  33. Jeff said

    Try a CafePress.com store! They-re easy to set up & cost practically nothing. You don’t have to handle product at all. They do all the work from printing on shirts, hoodies, mugs, refrigerator magnets, stickers, etc. & you get sales commissions. You could have a contest for Moochers to come up with graphic designs to upload to your store & the winners get points or they just get a warm & fuzzy feeling from helping BM (pardon the scatalogical abbreviation.) I am in no way associated with Cafe Press. Moochfully – j

  34. meic said

    with my lifestyle bookmooch is the best library i can use! As a cooperative function, its one of the more eco friendly of activities, just a shame about postage costs which is my only inhibition to international mailing!

  35. Marian said

    You can also use Paypal multi-order shipping to send non-ebay packages. That’s what I do. Despite the name, you can send just one package, and the link’s on the front page of your paypal home, so easy to find. When you launch multi-order shipping, the first thing that pops up is the option to create new orders.

  36. Emma said

    I agree, it’s good to see you’re committed to maintaining the good neighbourly vibe that non-commercial Bookmooch has. I’m frequently amazed by the generosity of users and always get excited when a book arrives. Big thank yous, John!

  37. Pam said

    I want to thank Richard for the paypal address to mail the books. I have been trying to find a way to use my paypal account with no avail. Now I can. I thank you. It certainly saves alot of time.

    By the way, I love this web site.

  38. Pam said

    I received some of your cards when I received a book from a different website. That is what got me on your site. I think that is a great idea. If people use more than one website to exchange books, just put a few of the cards in the books you send out from that site and it will tell people about this site. It worked for me and I love this site. Easy to use.

  39. Sandie said

    John,

    I don’t often have time to read the notes section but when I do, I always get a blessing either from something you’ve written/done or from something one of the members have written/done.

    As a book junkie, this site has been a blessing for me and allows me to help our local “Friends of the Library” by buying their excess books and listing them on Bookmuch. We all win.

    Keep doing what you do so well.

    Sandie

  40. Chris Spaght said

    totally into buying a shirt, i’d hang it right next to my wikipedia one

  41. Leigha said

    John,

    You mentioned coffee mugs from zazzle; have you considered designing postcards/posters/bumper stickers/return address labels on zazzle? That way, bookmooch members can purchase them from zazzle if they want them. It would save you the expense of printing/shipping, and you’d also make a profit on the items that may continue to help offset your operating costs.

    And, most importantly, THANK YOU for bookmooch!

    Best,
    Leigha

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