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Avid readers swap their books online

By Marilyn GardnerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 15, 2006



Avid readers everywhere can identify with the challenges Phyllis Gatto used to face in finding space for books she had read. After finishing a paperback, she would put it on a shelf. When the shelves filled, she moved books into cartons, hiding them under beds and in closets.

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"The pile would just grow," says Mrs. Gatto, of Dayton, Tenn. "I'd give some to friends, but basically, they just accumulated."

Then a friend told her about an unusual book-sharing website, PaperBackSwap.com. Members swap used books, paying only the cost of postage - usually $1.59. In addition to saving money and freeing space, members can make electronic connections with far-flung readers.

Similar online book-trading sites in the United States include FrugalReader.com and TitleTrader.com. A British website is ReadItSwapIt.co.uk.

At PaperBackSwap.com, members list at least nine paperbacks, earning three credits. Credits allow them to search available titles and choose up to three. Senders pay the postage. They receive one credit for each book they mail, enabling them to order other titles. The website formats a mailing wrapper. The sender then prints out the wrapper, adds stamps, and mails the book.

"It's very user-friendly," Gatto says.

The venture grew out of founder Richard Pickering's years as a business traveler. "Traveling through so many airports, you accumulate a lot of books," he says. "I had no easy way of doing anything with them at home. They collected on my bookshelf."

He tried selling them on eBay and Amazon.com, but grew tired of fees. Determined to find a better way to trade books, he teamed up with partner Robert Swarthout, who had developed a college textbook exchange.

They now list more than 300,000 paperbacks, along with audio books. Because books are sent by media mail, membership is limited to the US, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

Participants include a range of ages and demographics, with women outnumbering men. Mr. Pickering describes a typical member as a woman who loves to read, is bored by TV, and owns many paperbacks. Some members post as few as 10 titles. Others have posted more than 1,000 and have traded hundreds. In all, members mail from 1,500 to 2,000 books a day.

Romance novels and mystery thrillers are the most popular genres. Other favorite categories include home and gardening, home schooling, and Christian books - "anything you can imagine," Pickering says.

Megan Aepli of Boston, who joined PaperBackSwap about nine months ago, reads about eight books a month. "I'm constantly reading three books at a time," she says. "That's why this is great for me."

Gatto orders both books and audio tapes, listening to the latter while traveling. "I like historical novels for reading," she says. "I don't normally read mysteries, but I listen to them." She has listed nearly 60 titles, shrinking the literary cache under her bed.

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