A few years ago I had the very half-baked idea of using E2 as a forum for exchanging used books. It kind of worked for a while, but then it got too big, too out of control, and frankly too boring to manage. I am happy to report someone else is doing a much better job with a similar idea.

BookMooch.com is sort of a cross between the ill-fated book lotto and BookCrossing. Like BookCrossing, BookMooch enables you to get rid of unwanted books and pick up interesting “new” ones, and like the book lotto, it lets you choose among titles. And it has gazillions.

What I like best about the site is that reciprocal trades aren’t necessary. BookMooch runs on a point system, where points are awarded for building an inventory of books to give away (this means you must first offer books before asking for others), and for mailing those books to other users who request them. Earn a point by mailing user A a book, spend that point by requesting a book from user B. Mailing a book out of your home country earns you more points than usual.

Accumulate more points than you think you’ll spend, and the site allows you to donate those extra points to numerous partnered charities, which will benefit a public library or let a sick kid pick out a book to be delivered to his hospital.

There’s also an ebay-esque feedback system to keep people honest. I have no idea whether this will work, how tamper-proof the system is, or how many people are using the site solely to scam a few free books. The feeling I’ve gotten so far is that most people are there primarily to get rid of books (I certainly am - seriously, if you’re in need of an anthropological paper on ancient Mayan life, I’m your girl.).

BookMooch is fairly easy to navigate, and buzzing with activity - apparently it’s attracted about 3000 new users within the past week. I created an account, posted a few dozen books, and had a request for two within minutes. There are still bugs and minor weirdities, but it’s running pretty smoothly considering the site’s all of nine days old and is being operated by one guy.

An overview of the site can be found here. Also includes a photo of founder John Buckman wearing a carrot salad.


update: a few interesting stats on the site's tenth day:

  • total members: 4056
  • members listing books to give away: 1,566 (38%)
  • total books available for mooching: 19,067
  • countries participating: 44


Update: Sept 11: I've just received my first three books, in perfect condition. Also I've set up a BookMoochers usergroup (21 members so far), which I don't imagine will see much chatter, but will serve as a useful way to track which E2 users are also BookMooch users. To be added to this usergroup just msg me or XWiz.

Getting the most out of BookMooch

BookMooch is a book-trading website. See jessicapierce's writeup above for a description of how it works. In this writeup, I'm going to share my tips for getting the most out of BookMooch.

Use your wishlist

As a new BookMooch user, you may quickly find that none of the books that you want are actually available. This is pretty much the normal state of affairs. There is high demand and limited, sporadic supply. When someone adds a book to their inventory, it is quickly snapped up.

To ensure that you're notified when a book you want becomes available, you need to populate your wishlist. This is a list of books that you are interested in mooching. When someone lists a book, BookMooch looks up all the people who have that book on their wishlist, picks one of them at random, and e-mails them to let them know it's available. After a few hours, if the book is not yet mooched, another user is e-mailed them, and so on.

You can't really use BookMooch in the way that you would use, say, Amazon. There's little chance of instant gratification. Instead, you have to take the long view. When you hear about a book you might like to read, add it to your wishlist. The books you want will eventually become available. Once you build up a list, you will find you eventually build up a pile of books to read.

Note that the BookMooch system is aware that various different editions are often effectively the same book. When you search for a book to add to your wishlist, you need only add one of the various editions that may show up, and you will still be mailed when any edition is made available. The flip-side of this is that, if for some reason you want a particular edition, you must double-check before mooching, when a notification arrives.

Check your e-mail regularly

Corollary to the above; note the way that each chosen user only has a few hours in which to claim the book before someone else is notified. It's a RACE! To be in with a chance of mooching a popular book, you need to check for e-mails regularly, and respond to such notifications quickly.

List ALL your unwanted books

The variety of books that people are willing to mooch is truly incredible. I have personally added a good half-dozen books to my inventory that I was sure no-one would EVER want, and as the months have gone past, each one has been sent off to a new owner. Don't assume "no-one will want THIS"; you'd be amazed.

Provide condition information

When listing books, provide information about the condition of the book, even if it's just a short note. Book condition may not matter to you, but some people are much more likely to mooch from you if they know the book's condition.

Use economic shipping

Bookmooch users are generally in it for the long-haul. Therefore, they won't mind if you use a slow, cheap shipping method to send your books. If you're going to use a really slow shipping method, like international surface mail, you should probably announce this; you can set it as your 'status'. For example, my status reads: "I am happy to send books abroad, but I will send them by surface mail, to save on postage and aviation fuel. If I mooch from you, feel free to do the same!"

Be aware that in some countries, books can be posted internationally at a cheaper "Printed Papers" rate; tell the post office staff that you're sending a book and ask for the best rate.

Ship internationally

Sending a book internationally earns you 3 points. If you send using a cheap shipping method, it may well cost you less than sending 3 domestic books, so it's in your interest to ship internationally. (This will of course vary depending on shipping costs from where you live, the size of the book, and so on.)

Mooch domestically

It costs 2 points to mooch a book from abroad, but only 1 point to mooch a book from within your own country. Don't be too hasty to mooch a book from abroad if there's a good chance that a domestic copy will turn up.

Advanced tips

These are some tips for hard-core bookmooching; you can definitely get a lot out of bookmooch without them, but they're presented here for the benefit of people who want to go that extra mile.

Queue-jump with RSS

Recall above that when a book is added to BookMooch, the system notifies a user at random out of those users that want the book; if you're not that user, there's a good chance you'll never even know the book was available. However, BookMooch provides an RSS feed of your available books, which is updated immediately for all interested users. If you run an RSS Reader program, and subscribe to this feed, you can be notified immediately when a book becomes available. You'll still be in a race to mooch the book before someone else, but at least you'll be in with a better chance. The feed URL is on your wishlist page.

Build your inventory

If you're short of points, you can actually go out and buy cheap books at charity shops to add to your inventory. Pick popular books and they will quickly be requested. The charity benefits, the moocher benefits, and you get to trade the points for the books you really want. Everybody wins! Obviously this is only worthwhile if you are using bookmooch to find obscure books that you can't easily buy.

Pick books that have won prizes, or that appear on Bookmooch's own "Top Books" section. Ereneta, who contributed this tip, adds "If I see a book that combines mystery with vampires, demons, or zombies, I know it will get snapped up quick (no joke)."

Happy mooching!


Thanks to XWiz and Erenta for suggested additions.

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