How A Website Got Me To Read Books For Fun Again

I used to read a lot. Okay, maybe it wasn’t a lot, but in my memory I read a bunch of books in middle and high school just for my own enjoyment. I read most of the Michael Crichton bookography in middle school. Can you blame me? Jurassic Park got turned into the greatest movie of all time, so I became a Crichton convert at age 11. I read a bunch of dystopic future novels like 1984 and A Clockwork Orange.  I tried on three separate occasions to read James Joyce’s Ulysses in high school, without ever getting more than a third of the way through it (I would say, “Yeah, I was that kid,” but I don’t know if unfinished Ulysses kid is really a type)

Then at some point, it dropped off. I would read one or two books a year, sometimes zero. Usually it would be a Jonathan Lethem book.  I tried to read more, though. Trying to save money, I would go to the frugal bookworm’s greatest friend, the library. The problem is that I’m not a fast reader.  Unless I really get into a book, it’s tough for me to finish a book in 2 or 3 weeks, whatever the due date is. And then I would either renew it and then fail to finish the book again, or just return it and admit defeat.

So I started thinking, there had to be a better way.  We live in the new “sharing economy,” right? Shouldn’t there be a way for people online to share their books with each other? Finish a book, find someone else who has a book you want and who wants the book you have, and trade with them?

Even better than that, I found a website called PaperbackSwap.

PaperbackSwap (3)

Books in my “queue”

Ever since I started using this website, I’ve been hitting my goal of reading 24 books a year. That’s two books a month!

I’m not sure how long PaperbackSwap has been around, but the website looks and acts like it hasn’t been updated in 10 years, which is kind of endearing. It works simply. You list your books that you don’t want, and hopefully, someone else wants one and orders it from you. You pay the post office their book rate to send it, usually $2.69.  This is the only thing you pay for, sending a book to someone else.

River of Doubt

Once they receive the book, you get a credit.  And with that credit, you can order a book from someone else. Get it? Everyone is trading credits to each other and getting books in return. You can hold on a book for as long as you want. You don’t even have to trade a book back out! If you like it so much, you can just keep it.  Hello, Candice Millard’s The River Of Doubt.

Just like on Netflix, you can set up a wishlist. And just like on Netflix, some books are in higher demand than others, so there’s a waitlist for them.  Some books are easier to get than others (the supply beats demand) and some are tough to get (demand beats the supply).

The books in high supply/low demand are usually past bestsellers that no one really wants to read anymore. Think the Twilight books or Janet Evanovich or something.  Everyone is looking to unload those, but there are no takers.  There’s just huge pools of those books on the site. The high demand/low supply books might be ones that were popular, or weren’t, but for whatever reason, people still want to read them. Current bestsellers are in very high demand, and are usually the ones with the longest waitlists.

What’s neat about PaperbackSwap is that you can add books to your wishlist if they’re not available, and then you can see what position you are in line to get the book. Sometimes there’s even an estimate of when you’ll reach the top of the list and the book will be available to you. Here’s the top of my list right now:




A lot of recent, quite popular books.  This is where the gaming of PaperbackSwap comes in, and the reason why I think it has driven me to read two dozen books a year now.  I have probably six books in my possession right now that have wishlists on the site.  That means that as soon as I finish the book, I can send it back out for a credit.  And I’m going to need that credit because, as you can see above, Wild will be available soon, and I will need a credit for that.  And soon after that, The Goldfinch and The Big Short.

There’s no harm in not ordering a book if it’s available to me.  If I didn’t have the credit, I could decline it, and still stay at #1 on the waitlist. But if it is available to me, I like to order it, because then I can read it, and trade it back out while there is still a waitlist for it.  You see?  It’s all a big game of reading and getting books back into circulation for the next person. I think that’s why I’m reading more now.

Today I just sent out five books.  I tend to wait until I have more than one book ready to send before I list them and send them out.  That way I only have to make one trip to the post office. (The post office is only a block from my house, but still…)

Three of the books I sent today were already listed, but had no waitlists, so I had to wait for my copy to come up.  That’s the thing with low demand books, they have something like a reverse wishlist.  The seller waits for their copy to move to the front and get ordered. I’m not sure why all three came up at the same time. One was a dull book about a Van Gogh painting, one was about an Icelandic dwarf who pretended she was an Eskimo and became a famous lecturer, and one was a user’s manual for a Barnes & Noble Nook! Do other people, other than Marge, even own a Nook?? And who needs a manual for that? That’s what Google is for!


PaperbackSwap (4)

Low demand books that have no waitlist.

Then there are the books above. They have no waitlists, but also no copies are listed already. So they get ordered, but not frequently enough to have a waitlist.  Once I read them, I’ll be able to move them pretty quickly afterwards.  Actually, that’s a first edition of Kon-Tiki that I bought for $5 at the awesome book barn, Dog Ear Books, in Hooksick, NY.  I won’t be trading out that one!

And like I said, I am a slow reader.  But now, without any due dates,  I can take my time.  I can read whichever book I want from my PaperbackSwap shelf.  PaperbackSwap isn’t as cheap as the library (free, unless you return books like a month late or something) but since I’m essentially paying for $2.69 for each book, it’s worth it to me. $2.69 times 24 books in a year is $64.56 in a year.  Small price to pay for actually reading again.

If you want to join PaperbackSwap, ask me for a referral.  Whether I refer you or not, you automatically get two credits for listing ten books on the site.  If I refer you, I get a credit, too. You might be surprised what people are looking for, so list away! When I listed my first ten dumb, old books, six of them were ordered immediately!


PaperbackSwap (2)

A pile of books ready to send out.


 Does anyone else out there use PaperbackSwap?  Read any good books lately? That Stephen King book is like 1,000 pages.  Is it worth it?


  1. Nice! Mr PoP explored doing something like this for music but never bit the bullet. Our library is actually pretty great so I get all my books there. =)

    • Norm

      January 20, 2015 at 9:25 am

      Our library is a 1 minute walk away, so it’s super convenient, but pretty small. Other libraries around here are really well-stocked, but it always takes some planning to get there, pick some books (but not too many), return them on time, etc. I don’t even have to think about PaperbackSwap. Once you have a wishlist, a new book just shows up in the mail every once in a while!

  2. I’m on paperback swap too! It’s a nice filler for the books they don’t have in our sad library. I got a little lazy about sending books back out though, and like the idea about just saving up several to send out at once (seems obvious in hindsight). If you’re looking to pass on Turn Right at Machu Picchu to someone, it does happen to be on my list…

    • Norm

      January 20, 2015 at 10:34 am

      Connections! I’m happy to meet another PaperbackSwap user. I’ll put Turn Right at Macchu Picchu next on my list to read, and make a note to find you on the site and offer it to you. Margie has read it already and said it was really good.

  3. I am also a lover of PaperbackSwap. Although I do have some mass market books that have been on my list for 2-3 years now. I’m thinking of just donating them as there are 587ish others listed…

    • Norm

      February 3, 2015 at 12:08 pm

      I have the same problem. Unfortunately, there’s books that people just don’t want. I just throw mine away sometimes. Our library puts out boxes of books for trash sometimes, so I know if I donate the ones I can’t find any takers for, they’ll probably just end up in the garbage anyway.

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