3 Years Mooching Books

bookmooch_logoSo I’ve been a member of BookMooch for a little over 3 years now, and boy it’s been fun. I originally joined as a way to help assuage my book buying (and it’s worked, though I’ve had to reign in the postage to $12/month or so). A few observations:

  • Three months seems to be the extreme threshold for people to wait for mooches. Because I have a limit per month, I include a message on my profile and notify people that they will have a wait when they mooch. Today I’m mailing a couple books, and my queue is already full for October and November, with one book marked for December already. It would be pretty trippy if I get some for January before I send the October ones.
  • The system is designed to expand your collection. Here’s how the points breakdown works: You get a point for every book you send. You get 1/10 of a point for listing a book in your inventory. You get 1/10 of a point for marking a book “received” when it comes in. Thus, if you list five books, send them all out, mooch five books with those books, and mark them all received, you come out one point ahead.
  • Your points climb much higher if you’re willing to send overseas, as you get three points for each book you send to another country (the moocher only pays two). This sounds like a good deal, but money-wise, it’s usually a wash. It costs roughly $2.00 or $2.50 to send a book via domestic media mail. It costs anywhere from $6 to $8 to send a paperback airmail. So you spend 3 times the money for those three points. Now if you can get a mooch from Canada, those are gold, as Canada mail rates are about half what international airmail rates are.
  • New members often feel overwhelmed as the following occurs: they list a bunch of books, which are invariably on peoples’ wish lists. They get inundated with requests (and points). They assemble a wish list of books they want. Then they never get the books on their list. There are two reasons for this problem: 1) wish lists are first-come, first served. So people sitting at their email client when the “your book is available” email arrives get it. 2) the browsing feature stinks on BookMooch. The solution is to have a huge wishlist assembled from websites like Amazon or Librarything, then to mooch whenever you can (my current wishlist is 191 items long). Or you can browse by author — I’ve found a bunch of new books that way.
  • In case you were curious about stats, here are mine. In the three years since I joined, I’ve mailed out 195 books and mooched 311. Because many of my give-aways are international, my official mooch ratio is 1.1:1, rather than 1.5:1. I’ve been keeping a Google Map of my book mailings. Check it out, or see the screenshots below.

Book Mooches in North America
European Book Mooches
Book Mooches down under

The ethics of the free book box

As you all know, I’m an avid user of Bookmooch, a book swapping website where you can find people who want your old books and find people giving away books for you. A while back, they profiled an essay about how to make the most of your BookMooch account. One piece of advice said “free book boxes are your friend.” I take that to heart, and regularly raid the free book boxes that appear in the hallway outside our department. As a result, my inventory has a number of esoteric literary books that will likely sit there for a long time, but every now and again someone mooches them.

Today, as I pulled 14 books from the box (the bulk of titles available), I had a twinge of guilt about taking books that presumably others might want to read. But then I decided that FREE means FREE for whatever purpose, even just to hoard until I can give them away. So readers am I in the right?

BookMooch queue

I’m having a strange experience over at BookMooch. As a way to keep myself from spending too much mailing books, I have a self-imposed limit of $10-12 / month. This means I can mail three or four books domestically, or a smaller amount if I’m sending one overseas. My queue of books to send is usually under control, swelling to 4 or 5 books by the time I hit mailing day, so I’m almost always a month away from sending books mooched from me. I publicize this fact on my bio statement, though, so people better not complain.

Just a day or two ago, however, I got two mooch requests from overseas, pushing my queue to the breaking point. Thus, my message now says:

I can also only afford to send two or three books a month (depending how big they are and where they’re going), so if you happen to mooch a book in a month when I’ve already met quota, I’ll have to delay sending until the following month. My apologies, but I have a large queue of mooches to send, so if you mooch from me right now, I will ship your book sometime around 15 October.

It will be interesting to see whether the current backup will keep away the moochers. If you mooched one of my books right now, it would be nearly 10 weeks before I’d mail it. You’d get a small-appliance rebate faster.

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A nice feature of being slow on BookMooch

Illustration credit Andrice Arp, courtesy of BookMooch.com
Illustration credit Andrice Arp, courtesy of BookMooch.com

So I’ve raved before here about Bookmooch, the best book swapping site on the interwebs:

  • You list books you want to give away, and get 1/10 of a point for each.
  • You give books away for 1 point each (or three, if you send them internationally).
  • You spend your points to request points books from other users.
  • You register feedback on the transactions, and get 1/10 of a point each time.

Jenny and I have been using the site for some time, to much success. I’ve given away roughly 170 books and mooched 260. In order to keep the process under control, I’ve decided that I will only send two books a month, using my walkin’ money. As a result, I nearly always have a wait for people who mooch from me. Right now, I’ve got two books slated to send tomorrow, two books slated for May 15, and one for June

The only down side of Book Mooch is that the system is a little scammable. You can offer a bunch of books to mooch right away, get points, and request them from others. Then, you can sit back and get a few free books before it becomes clear that you aren’t going to send any out. The advantage to the backlog system I use is that such scammers usually get booted out of the system before I get around to sending them my book.

If you’re interested, check it out, join up, and let me know, and I’ll smooch you a couple points.

Bookmooch logo

What do you think, fellow moochers?

For anyone else who uses bookmooch, I’ve got an interesting situation I’d like you to weigh in on. If you don’t use it, here’s how it works:

You list a bunch of books you have that you’d be willing to give away. People who want the books you have request them from you. You mail the books to those people. For every book you give away, you get a point. You can use those points to request books from other people. When you request a book, the site sends a note to the owner asking you for it. The owner may reply quickly (like I do) or slowly, but as requester, you have the option to cancel the request at any time. You should also know that once you “mooch” a book (request it through the system), it is unavailable for others to mooch.

Okay, now you know. Here’s an email exchange I had with someone from whom I’d requested a book but who has not yet sent it to me. She wrote:

If you could please wait for me to make sure another woman, who asked before you, does not want this book, that would be great. See she cancelled because I did not email her for over a week about sending the book. However, I was sick the last week, and I don’t have internet at home, so I couldn’t get to the library. I sent her an email explaining the situation, so with her promptness, I will check my email often this week so I can let both of you know what is going on. (Whew! There is a lot going on!!!!)

I replied

Thanks for the email. I understand your situation and am willing to abide by your decision, but I’ve got a couple quesitons.

First, did she a) email to inquire about mooching the book, but waited to mooch it until she heard from you, or b) mooch it, then cancel when she hadn’t heard from you in a week?

If a), I understand your desire to see that she gets a chance.

If b), I say one of the penalties of impatience is that you miss a book sometimes. We each have our own limits about how long we’re willing to wait before canceling. Once we do cancel, though, we’re moving on. If she mooched and then canceled, I’m inclined to say she gave up her claim to the book.

Just my thoughts about how mooching should work. But, like I said, I will abide by your decision.

It occurs to me that a couple things are going on here. First, there’s a variety of perspectives about where obligations lie. The original moocher felt, apparently, that a week was too long to go without responding. The person giving away the book felt obligated to contact that original person despite the fact that I had already re-mooched the book when it came back on line.

Second, the person giving the book away is still pretty new to bookmooch, judging by the date her account was created, and isn’t clear about the culture of the site.

Third, something that I hadn’t considered until I gave this issue far more consideration than it deserves, the person giving the book away could be a scammer, and is trying to buy time from me before I cancel and put a -1 on her account, thus frustrating her ability to get other requests and scam more books. Working against this theory is the fact that her history does indeed show a canceled request for the book I’m mooching.