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Avid readers swap their books online

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Books must be in "good" condition. A few readers, however, have complained that a book doesn't fit that description. "It's a legitimate concern in some cases," Pickering says. "We try to put it in perspective and say, 'They were free.' " He estimates that one or two books out of 100 might not live up to the proper rating.

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Other features on these sites include readers' reviews, a wish list of titles not listed, discussion forums, and chat rooms.

Gene McCabe, who is president of, says that his site's credo is "Read, share, relate." Beyond helping people save money, he says, "It's about helping them connect with each other. They love to read, but they also love to talk about that reading experience, talk about the books, plots, authors."

Such connections can have far-reaching effects. After hurricane Katrina, members in the discussion forum at decided to donate books to the ravaged area. They found a county in Mississippi where two libraries had been destroyed. "Our members mailed boxes and boxes of books from all over the country to help rebuild the libraries," Pickering says. Librarians have asked them to stop sending because their warehouse is full.

The sites are free, but modest membership fees are ahead. At, Pickering expects fees to be $10 or $20 a year. McCabe, too, says, "At some point we will have to recover costs and get a revenue stream." encourages reading by giving everyone in the United Kingdom access to free books, says Andrew Bathgate, cofounder.

Environmental charities have praised the site for recycling books. Libraries in London and elsewhere have also promoted it. Traffic peaked after Christmas, Mr. Bathgate says, when recipients of unwanted gift books began "swapping like crazy."

Book-sharing websites help people who can't get out or who have little access to books. "In a lot of places in rural America, you might have to go 100 miles for a bookstore," says Susan Siegel of Book Hunter Press in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., who has studied the used-book market. "For them, it's a fantastic outlet."

No figures track the impact of the Internet on sales of used paperbacks, so no one can say whether cyberspace swaps will siphon business from bricks-and-mortar bookstores. "There's certainly a potential for that," Pickering says. "But we cater to a different market that wants ease of use. They don't have to get dressed and drive down to the local used-book store."

Dena Russ, assistant manager of B & L Books in Altamonte Springs, Fla., which offers a book exchange, says that swapping online has not affected her store. "Die-hard people who really love bookstores are never going to get out of the habit. They like the atmosphere. They like to go in, peruse the books, smell the books, hold them."

Readers like Ms. Aepli remain enthusiastic about cyber-trading. Recalling the books that once collected dust in her apartment, she gives the website a succinct, thumbs-up review: "It works really well."