Mooch Before You Buy

June 27, 2009

Last year, I blogged about an experiment I was thinking about, which has now morphed into …

“Mooch before you buy”

Here’s the idea: an author freely gives away copies of their book through BookMooch. Once you’ve read the book, if you:

  • didn’t like it: relist it on BookMooch and send it to someone else.
  • liked it, but want to give it away: consider a small donation to thank the author.
  • want to keep it: give the author a larger gift, about the price you’d pay for the book new in a bookstore.

The goal is to encourage authors to publish books in this “Mooch Economy”, as an alternative to the traditional publishing industry route.

I’m now trying this idea out with a few dozen copies of the book A Cat May Look At A King.

Author and friend and moocher Ramsay Wood has given me 32 new copies of his book “A Cat May Look at a King“. It’s a beautifully full color illustrated set of ancient stories featuring cats, retold by Ramsay.

There are a few goals with this project:

  • Can authors make a little bit of money by giving away a bunch of books through BookMooch’s system? A lot of authors look somewhat dubiously on mooching, since they’re starving already, and so I’d like to see if there isn’t a way to help them.
  • Is there decent money to be made for an author by intentionally encouraging their books to be passed from hand to hand? Currently, they only make money on the “first sale” and thus the publishing industry looks upon recycling/reuse as a loss of revenues, which pits them against ecological concerns.
  • Is the “moochers social network” a way for an author to market a book? Instead of selling your soul to a publishing company, can the recommendations and networking that happen naturally on BookMooch cause a book to interest people, get them reading it and maybe even drum up some revenue for the author?
  • I am particularly interested in self-publishing, as I run the music site Magnatune where musicians self-publish (thus retaining their rights) and make a little bit of money. Is there a similar model possible with books?

I’ve put 32 copies that Ramsay gave me up for mooching. Ramsay has some more of his own that he’ll be sending out (he’s sending from England, I’m sending from the USA).

I’ve made a separate paypal account just for donations for this book, so we can track its success and have good data to report to others. All the money will go the author, BookMooch isn’t getting a cut.

The goal with all this is to have a short “How Authors can use BookMooch” how-to guide, so that this idea can be repeated over and over again, with increasing success.

The initial copies of Ramsay’s book will likely get quickly mooched, so get one quickly, or put it on your wishlist if all the copies are already spoken for.

33 Responses to “Mooch Before You Buy”

  1. Joel G said

    What an amazing idea, John! I hope there is a way for non-U.S. resident members of Bookmooch to support this. This should open up a whole new wealth of possibilities for Bookmooch to grow and still be able to persevere along its independent path.

  2. Margot Milner said

    Good idea — and good first book. I know that there are a couple of U.K. authors who are members of the BookCrossingUK yahoo group and whose books do get promoted that way.
    Off to mooch.

  3. Michelle said

    Great idea! Hope it is successful.

  4. dlee said

    Very interesting idea!

  5. Bill said

    Sounds like a good alternative market. There are folks who only buy and won’t swap and others who only swap and won’t buy. Perhaps this is a way to accomodate both.

  6. John-

    I think it’s an excellent idea, and I have kept it in mind ever since you mentioned it before. I’m a self-published author and would even be willing to participate because I love the idea of an author still being able to make some amount of money from a book even after the first sale.

    The author also benefits from just being able to grow their audience from such a venture and with their book being passed on and on. What better outlet than BookMooch to help promote that!

    I am also the creator of the LL Book Review (, a site devoted to reviewing self-published books, and will be blogging about this today to help spread the word!

    I’ve added Ramsay’s book to my wishlist, and I look forward to a chance to hopefully participate in this movement as well!

    Best wishes,
    Shannon Yarbrough

  7. sarcozona said

    I like the idea of giving back to the authors we’re mooching from, but I know it’s unlikely that I’ll be seeking out a way to donate to authors of books I mooch.

    I would love to see some sort of voluntary subscription program. For example, I send in $X to bookmooch, then every book I mooch gives 5 or 10 cents to the author of that book. And if there are authors that aren’t interested in claiming that money, we could make some sort of writers support fund or use it to help bookmooch grow.

    • Sarcozona-

      Good idea, but a subscription service would require lots more people, man hours, and “book-keeping” to keep up with funds and who they should be sent to.

      John and Ramsay’s concept is much more self sufficient when it comes to both the author’s needs and BookMooch’s capabilities.

      Best wishes,

    • Shana said

      I think this is a great idea and would strongly consider participating, depending on the price.

  8. Cathy said

    Interesting idea. And not so far fetched — Librarything for example does something similar with their Early Reviewers and Member Giveaway. I am game, I added the book to my wishlist. I am not sure people would be willing to support with donations, after all the idea of bookmooch is to swap for points rather than to spend money. But it’s definitely worth a try.

  9. Kathleen said

    Great idea, John! As you probably know,author Tao Lin has been sending his book Eeeee Eee Eeee to moochers regularly, and I feel guilty that I never thought of compensating him in any way. I hope it works!

  10. Lisa Richards said

    I think it is a great idea. I have recently noticed that some authors are offering a free pdf version of an earlier book that they had published when promoting a new book or series. When I first saw this, I was amazed. I asked myself why they would do this. No more, as I have discovered that this is a great way to hook potential new readers. I myself have purchased the promoted book and a copy of the one that I had just read free. If you can sell to someone that has already read it free, that’s simply smart marketing. I have tried and found many books on the swap sites that I maybe would not have purchased only to fall in love with an author and go back and purchase the earlier books that they may have written. I think anything that gets a book read and loved will turn into cash further on down the line. Another plus to the swap sites is that it gives us access to earlier books by an author that may be out of print. If they are in a series, we would be lost without BM, and stop some of us from pursuing a series that we wanted to try.

  11. Kourtney said

    This is a great idea and I hope more authors will consider this as a marketing tool! Three cheers for your innovation!

  12. Fishy said

    I love this idea, not a big fan of short story comp. if you list a novel, I’d gladly participate

  13. In principle, I love this idea.

    In practise, I think that the currently poor search/browsability of bookmooch is going to be a real problem.

    Unless you already know that you’re interested in a book, you can’t search for it be author or title, and the current general subject search is so broken it’s unusable.

    The plan may work well for this specific book, which has had the promotion of being on the blog, but how are people going to find others? Are you planning something similar to Librarything’s Early Reviewers group to highlight books that are being pushed this way, or – how’s that going to work?

  14. AndreaC said

    Great idea, I think it’s wonderful you are trying to find a way to support authors yet still maintain a commitment to “rehoming” books, the “green” movement, and BookMooch’s overall goals. Thanks!

  15. DominicT said

    This is a good idea and struggling authors can make a little money too, but in this bad bad world it is difficult for people to believe easily

  16. Claire Thomas said

    Great idea. Word of mouth among book lovers and groups does sell books so could be a way for authors to create interest and cash in their work. Good luck with this.

  17. Linda said

    One thing that helps new authors is to post reviews of the book once you have read it. I review books and post my reviews on my blog,, and librarything. Good reviews help sell books.

  18. Rosemarie (Freecyclor) said

    Wow, two copies are listed on Amazon already, although neither seller troubled to leave a review. If they were mooched, I hope they at least sent the author a few dollars!

    • Rosemarie-

      There are actually 11 copies available on Amazon, but those are the 1984 hardcover out-of-print edition. So, I don’t think those copies came from the Bookmooch experiment. πŸ˜‰


  19. Linda said

    John, I think your idea is exciting and I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is and donate 22 copies of my newly self-published novella, SEEING RED, to BookMooch. btw, SEEING RED was named a Finalist by the 2009 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. If you’ll email me info on where to ship and how to list SEEING RED as a Mooch-Before-You-Buy book, I’ll be happy to participate.

  20. Cheryl said

    There are so many good authors out there who don’t get the exposure and promotion they need due to the multi-million dollar contracts given to the few big name authors like Patterson, Grisham, Baldacci, etc. This alternative would definitely offer authors another method of getting their books into the hands of readers. I’d be willing to help support an author, particularly if I like the book. Also, I lead a book discussion group and am always looking for new authors, particularly of mystery and suspense. Great idea!

  21. Karma said

    I am having a hard time understanding why everyone is so supportive of this idea. Personally, I use book mooch becuase I don’t want to pay for books. I simply wouldn’t pay to do it. I definitely wouldn’t pay about the price I would have paid for a new book, even if I loved it and didn’t remooch it.

  22. Fishy said

    Just curious, anyone know of a 2nd book for this expiriment?

  23. Muhammad said

    Great I idea. I personally love Bookmooch itself as a reader and reading work from authors who aren’t well known is a personal favorite.

    I’ll be putting this on my wishlist!

  24. jemecca said

    Hmm…It’s a good idea but couldn’t you say you didn’t like the book to avoid paying? Not saying I would though.

    • Diana said

      Well, Jemecca, there’s also a category for those who do like but don’t want (or can’t afford) to keep it. So, basically, you can either “buy” it, or just keep it in the stream of moochability. LOL

  25. Heather said

    You – or the authors! – might be able to do something interesting with micropayments by using TipJoy: (I’m not affiliated with them, just ran across them and it seems like a neat idea).

  26. jemecca said

    But if you like it and want to send it away you still give the author a gift. If you don’t like it you send it away but you don’t have to pay.

  27. Jennifer said

    well, I’m fairly knew to this site. One of the things that I like is to learn about things like this idea and am happy to be able to browse through this site about stuff like this. Although I won’t add it to my list I just wanted to say that I do buy knew books. I just bought three this summer from B&N. I paid full price. I just like this site because it helps me to save money on the older and more common books. I don’t know if that helps at all.

  28. Michael said

    Keeping in mind that I also do not support the concept, I was wondering what the results have been so far? It’s been over 5 months.

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