The Book Swap Conundrum

February 15th, 2006 · 4 Comments
by Booksquare

We know, believe us, all about the doctrine of first sale. We know that readers share books constantly. We, to nobody’s surprise, force books on unsuspecting guests all the time (“Thanks for coming over. Here take a book.”). But we still feel there’s something unsavory about online book-swapping clubs.

Our discomfort centers here:

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.”

Sure, this is free enterprise at its best, but it seems to us that all those “avid readers” discussed in the article have forgotten a key part of the equation: the author. It’s nice that is looking at adding a revenue stream (though we somehow thought they already had; maybe we viewed a beta of the side, who knows) — we simply cannot help but think that this is an instance where technology and current law need to sit down and talk, maybe rethink commonly held beliefs. Maybe this won’t impact the average author’s bottom line, but logic says it will.

The book swaps use the Netflix model, but forget that Netflix operates in a manner that results in payment to copyright owners and artists. Making it easy for readers to get more books in their hands is a great idea. Making it easy for authors to enjoy some benefit from their work is, too.

And, yes, the line between foisting books on innocent bystanders and troublesome practices comes right at the point where profits enter the picture.

File Under: The Business of Publishing

4 responses so far ↓

  • Karen // Feb 15, 2006 at 11:43 am

    Agreed! Agreed! Pay us SOMEthing, you bastards! (Which reminds me, I am not returning the books you loaned me just yet, as I still haven’t had a chance to read them.)

  • Nicole // Feb 16, 2006 at 7:19 am

    Here’s where I admit, while cowering to avoid the fire and brimstone that will befall me, that I use PaperbackSwap. Of course, I still spend upwards of $50 a month on new books, but I certainly can’t afford to buy all the books I want. Would an author rather I didn’t read her book at all? I also use my library frequently. Author’s not making any money off me there, yet we aren’t complaining about libraries.

    I know it’s tough on authors, but it’s tough on avid readers, too. We just can’t afford the rising costs of books when the time we spend reading hasn’t gone down. Getting one trade from PBS helps me buy two MM books from the bookstore. And when you read 15-20 books a month, you cannot afford to have bought all those new.

  • Booksquare // Feb 16, 2006 at 9:05 am

    I am not so much opposed to the idea of swapping books (as Karen so aptly pointed out, I do it all the time), but when a service adds a profit motive, then I start to get concerned for the authors. I think every author I know would say that she or he wants readers exposed to their work; it is frustrating, of course, that others are making money off of your labor, and that’s the part that gives me a bad taste in my mouth when it comes to these services. It’s the not the activity being engaged in here, it’s the business model.

    And authors do make money off of library sales. They don’t make money each time a borrower takes a book out (in the United States, some other countries have created a royaty system for compensation), but if you consider the number of libraries buying books, repeat sales as stock is worn and damaged, and multiple copies purchased of popular books, there is a good revenue stream for authors via libraries. Also (and this gets back to the key point), libraries don’t make a profit off of their customers.

  • SusanGable // Feb 17, 2006 at 7:23 am

    Perhaps publishers need to go back to using less-effective glue. This way the book will self-destruct after several readings. (And I’m only sort of joking about that. lol.)

    I agree, it’s all about the PROFIT. If people are making money off this (hello, Amazon’s Used Book Program, anyone?) type of book-sharing, then it would be nice if the authors did, too. Send me a quarter if you enjoy my book. (g) Something.