Review: PaperBack Swap, Round 2

PaperBack Swap reviewMy first review of PaperBack Swap went up in March, just a couple months after I registered on the site. Now it’s been another six months, and I wanted to do another review — I hope you find it helpful if you’re considering signing up.

Keeping the balance

In my March review I mentioned that I’d be keeping an eye on my ratio of mailed-to-received books: if I noticed that I was constantly sending books but not ever receiving any that I’d requested, I’d close my account and go back to selling my books to Half-Price Books.

PBS tracks all kinds of stats related to your account, including the aforementioned ratio. By the end of this month I’ll have 18 books received and 19 books mailed since I opened my account in January. Pretty darn good, all things considered.

Unfortunately the numbers are a little deceptive, as breaking them down shows:

 Month Books Mailed Books Received
January 6 0
February 1 3
March 6 4
April 0 1
May 5 0
June 0 0
July 1 2
August 0 0
September 0 8

Things tend to happen in batches — I mail out a bunch of books but get none, or the opposite — which is kind of irritating. I was hoping for a more steady inflow and outflow.

What I like

  • It’s nice to hoard credits for a couple months and then go on a “shopping spree” — you can tell I got a lot of items on my wishlist in September after getting only two books in the previous several months combined.
  • By combining PBS and my local library, I’ve managed to avoid spending much money on books.
  • My wallet is thankful, and so are my shelves. It feels good to pass books on to other readers who want them, so I can make room for others (books, not readers).

What I don’t like

  • Mailing! I upload mostly newer books, so they almost all get requested pretty quickly — and it’s annoying when they don’t. Printing out address labels, wrapping books, addressing envelopes, and of course visiting the post office is not my idea of a fun afternoon even if I have to only do it once a month or so; but when I get one book request here and one there, running to mail a single package every couple of days is irksome.
  • The same thing I complained about in March: a lack of selection. I’ve got 88 books on my wishlist, many of which have been there since January.


Here are a couple things you can do to get the most out of your PaperBack Swap experience.

  • Set it and forget it – Look up all the books you want and add them to your wishlist — you’ll get an email notification when another user posts a copy. The rest of the time you can pretty much ignore it.
  • Skim your wishlist for duplicates – The site is smart enough to not add two of the same version of a book, but not smart enough to know when you’re adding two separate versions. In other words it won’t let me add two hardback copies of Pride and Prejudice, but won’t catch the duplicate if I add a hardback version and then a paperback one.
  • Upload books you want to give away in bulk – Particularly if they’re newer or in high demand. Chances are they’ll get requested in quick succession, and you can save some time by mailing several packages with just one visit to the post office.

Anyone else have experience with PaperBack Swap? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Review: PaperBack Swap

PaperBack SwapAs promised in my 2013 Bookish Goals post I’ve spent the last couple of months trying out PaperBack Swap. Now that I’ve had a chance to both send and receive books I’d like to offer a review of the service for those who are looking for new ways to economically source books.

What is PaperBack Swap?

PaperBack Swap (PBS) is a way for readers to exchange books they want to get rid of with books they want to own. You create an account, post books you’re willing to part with, members request them, and you ship them off. In return you receive “credits” that you use to request books from other users.

PBS is by no means unique; sites like BookMooch offer the same services, likely for about the same cost. PaperBack Swap was simply the first one I heard of. In the future I may check out a couple more sites to see if they have different selections of books — more non-fiction than fiction, for example.

Getting started

Creating an account was easy, but actually getting started was a bit stressful.

I entered seven or eight books right when I signed up, and almost immediately—before I was finished entering all the books—I had requests for five of them. This was exciting, but they generally want you to mail books within two days — and because I was just getting started, I didn’t know the ins and outs of the process yet.

Confusion everywhere

The process for printing out wrappers and labels was confusing. The page is chaotic, and there was no clear explanation for what to do. It looked like I had to add money to my account to print out shipping labels, and I was so confused that I had to ask for assistance (turns out you can choose to pay and print labels with mailing info already attached, or just print out addresses and take everything to the post office to mail).

The wrappers themselves were another issue. Printing them from your own printer is convenient, but they’re all printed on regular paper — perfect for wrapping small paperbacks, but doesn’t work when you’re trying to ship a large, heavy hardback. Anything bigger than a mass print paperback needs its own bigger envelope, which I had to run and purchase right then in order to make sure I could meet the two-day mailing timeline. I would have been less irritated by this had it been mentioned sooner.

It gets easier

Fortunately you quickly get into the rhythm of posting, printing, and shipping books. Every time I’ve posted books I get requests for a couple of them that day; I’ve learned to post books a couple days before a day I know I’ll have time to run by the post office.

And for those times when two days isn’t possible (a holiday weekend, for example), there is a place where you can delay your mail-by date by a few days.

Another feature I’ve found really helpful is the “Live Help.” This is where you can see a list of “Tour Guides” (special members of the PBS community) who are currently online — then you can ping them with your questions and get help sooner than you might if you were submitting a support ticket. Both times I’ve needed help the Tour Guide I contacted was friendly, helpful, and prompt.

Which is good, because the site is not as user-friendly as it could and should be.

What about receiving books?

I’ve had trouble with this too — again, a case of poor documentation and bad user interface.

When I first searched for books I’d like to receive, I would find the book, but be unable to request it — there didn’t seem to be a “Request this book” option anywhere. I could buy the book new, or buy it from Amazon, or post it to my own shelf, or add to my wish list, or any one of 11 other options, but I couldn’t request it.

I tried adding the books to my wish list, thinking that maybe then I’d have the option to request it. No such luck. I took advantage of Live Help again.

Turns out books can be listed in the PBS system even if no one has them posted as available. Adding them to your wishlist makes the system notify you when the book, or a similar one, is available, and then you can request it. When a book is actually available, there’s a “request book” button you can click.

Once I finally stumbled upon some books that were available, it was a simple process: just request and wait. Once the books arrive you have to log in and confirm their delivery so the member who sent the book gets the credit.

So far the books I’ve received have been in good condition. There’s also apparently a way you can qualify requests for books — requiring that it come from a non-smoking home, for example. However, I’ve yet to see a place in the request process where I can add those qualifications. Back to Live Help yet again, I suppose?

Unsatisfying selection

My first attempt to request a book from my TBR list was lackluster: I searched for 30-some books before I finally found one that was actually available.

I was hoping for more newer books, and a wider range of genres. But right now PBS feels a little like my under-resourced local library: housing books published between 3 and 20 years ago, with regular fiction featured heavily. I’m still having to resort to online purchasing for some of the more “specialized,” newer, or older books.

The lack of selection is also playing havoc with my OCD; it renders me incapable of planning what books I’m going to read next. At least at the library I know a given book will be there at some point, even if it’s checked out one week. I can plan ahead a little when it comes to checking out books.

With PBS this really isn’t possible. I can add stuff to my wish list all day, but there’s no guarantee anyone will ever post the book. It’s pretty much a “search and request now” kind of thing, which is frustrating.

Final verdict (for now)

I’ve only been using PaperBack Swap for a couple months, and I’m not ready to pronounce a solid “this is awesome” or “this is stupid” verdict.

I think the key to my sticking around will be balancing what I send and what I receive.

At this point I estimate I’ve spent around $30-$35 on sending (purchasing envelopes and shipping tape, shipping expenses, gas for getting to post office, etc.). Meanwhile I’ve requested three books whose total price were I to buy them new comes to around $37. Pretty balanced.

In a few months if I’m spending a lot of money on shipping, but not receiving any books because nothing I want is available, that’s when I’ll have a problem. If all I’m doing is spending and getting nothing in return, I’ll close my account and go back to selling my unwanted tomes to Half-Price Books.

What’s your experience with services like PaperBack Swap? Would love to discuss!

Thoughts on “Styled” Bookcases

My bookshelfLate last year I ran across an article entitled “How to Achieve a Well Styled Bookcase.” The author had some good suggestions, and some even better photos, but the only thing I could think as I read was, “Why not ‘style’ them with, I dunno, books?”

Growing up, the main decor of my house was books. There was at least one shelf in every room, and they were crammed so full that periodically they broke from their confines and sprouted in little piles on the floor. While I think my mother would have appreciated a prettier and neater home, she probably would have stuck needles in her eyes before getting rid of books so that she could “style” the shelves.

Ask me what kind of person someone is and I’ll ask to see their books. “Styling” your shelves may be a way to create “an aesthetically pleasing result,” but that’s not what shelves are for; they’re there to be useful, and to be crammed full of books that showcase your personality better than any artful arrangement of plates and decorative bird cages ever could.

It’s almost as bad as an article I read in which a homeowner sealed all his books shut, painted them white, and glued them into shelves he’d also painted white. What’s the point?

I couldn’t care less if your shelves are arranged prettily — I’d rather see them full of books. “Style” your shelves with books. Small ones, tall ones, chunksters, cheap paperbacks, signed special editions, histories, mysteries, classics, and trash.

Do you “style” your shelves? Am I totally off the mark on hating this trend?

Review: The Reading Promise

The Reading Promise, Alice OzmaWhen Alice Ozma was in elementary school, she and her father—a school librarian—made a pact to read aloud together every night. This pact (known as “The Streak”) lasts through illnesses, rehearsals, traffic jams, and dates, and only ends when Alice leaves for college — an insane 3,218 days later.

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared is about books, but it’s also about the relationship between fathers and daughters, single parenthood, and the importance of literature in the lives of children and adults.

A beautiful read

I came across this book while visiting the new library in my childhood hometown last year, and finally got a copy from my local library a couple weeks ago. I wish I’d picked it up sooner.

Alice’s father, James, spent his career as an elementary school librarian, and experiences firsthand the failing public school and library system. He recognizes the power of reading, and to Alice it’s a normal part of life. As she says in the beginning of The Reading Promise:

Why not read? Why not always read?

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was how James and Alice’s reading tended to mirror what was happening in their lives: when Alice’s mother moves out, they read books with single dads and growing girls; and as Alice gets older the subjects get bigger and deeper.

Seeing myself

It’s easy to forget what kind of impact reading has had on me. It’s just always been something I’ve done, so much so that I’m often taken by surprise when I mention what I think is a well-known book and the people I’m with say, “Never heard of it.”

While there was never “The Streak” in my childhood home, there was a lot of reading. My mother is a huge bibliophile, and is fond of saying that I was a rotten little brat until I learned how to read. Learning this skill enabled me to learn and travel and experience new things, which was apparently all my brain needed to chill out a little.

What would our lives be like without books, and without people with whom to share them? Why do schools and governments cut funding to libraries despite the evidence that reading is crucial to developing imagination and creativity?

Would there be music, laughter, and imagination without books and stories? Would there be any life at all?

Musing Mondays: Culling vs. Surrendering

(Musing Mondays is a meme hosted by Should Be Reading. Just click on the image to share your answer to this week’s musing!)

This week’s musing is: “There’s a discussion on NPR about the simple fact that there’s no way you can read, see, and experience all the things that are available to be experienced. The two methods for dealing with it are culling (cutting out certain genres that don’t interest you) or surrender (just making peace with the facts and enjoying what you can in the time you have).

So, do you cull, or do you surrender? Or do you do both?

My musing

I definitely do both (like most people, I’d surmise), but I think I rely a bit more on culling.

  1. If I see a book that looks interesting, I read reviews about it, whether on the blogs I follow or the Goodreads boards. If it doesn’t seem like something I’d enjoy, I pass on it.
  2. I save money by only buying the books I’m pretty certain I’ll love. If I get a book at the library and don’t like it, it’s not as big a deal.
  3. I try really hard to follow my 50 page rule: if I don’t love a book by page 50, I give up.
  4. I avoid genres and authors I know I won’t enjoy. For example, I recently gave up on trying to like dystopian novels.

As for surrendering…I guess I just accept the fact that there are billions of books out there, and I just won’t be able to read them all. Why moan over the ones I can’t read when I can spend that time enjoying a few more stories?

Happy 4th of July to my American readers, and happy Canada Day to our northern neighbors! Go outside and enjoy the sunshine!