Tour’s Books Blog

April 29, 2009

Paperback Swap – An Update on My Recent Experiences

Filed under: Editorial,General,opinion — toursbooks @ 6:56 pm
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Ok, I did an entry on my initial experience with Paperback Swap, the online book swapping site.  I shipped out 16 books, over half were trade paperbacks ($10-$14 ea) and all were in excellent to like new condition.

Here are my results so far:

First book (intro point) – excellent condition even though it was 4 years old.  Success!

Second trade (intro point) – such bad condition it should not have been listed. Worst failure to date.

Here’s what I did to avoid the issue in the future.  There is an area under the ‘Settings’ section of your account for ‘Requestor Conditions,’ where you can modify your book conditions.  Initially I required they be from a smoke free environment – I have severe allergies to smoke.  I rewrote them to add: “No broken, deformed spines or badly worn books.  No bookcrossing books.”  Surely this would resolve the problem, right?

For those of you who have never heard the term ‘bookcrossing’ – and I admit I looked it up – it is actually something I’ve done for years, but never had a term for.  It’s reading a book and leaving it in a public or semi public place for another person to pick up and read.  As you can imagine, these books take a lot of abuse and are often in shabby condition.  On cross country and overseas flights I took to leaving the books I’d finished in airport lounges, the plane seat pocket or on the seat in hopes the crew or another passenger would take it.  I’ve left them in hotel rooms, rental homes and offices.  Oddly, I’ve never picked one up, but I have made use of the libraries if come of the rental homes I’ve had.  I always seem to run out of books.

With my new conditions in place and a fair number of points available, I order 5 more books.  Two of the books are hard covers and they come through just fine and in very good to excellent condition, so I’m happy.  Next book arrives, a paperback.  Now, not only does it still have sticker on it showing it was bought used for $2, but the spine is cracked and broken in multiple spots till it’s curved, the cover is creased and it’s in rather poor overall condition.  So I click on the ‘Received with problems’ option, informed the sender it did not meet my requirements, request my point back and even offer to return the book.  Well, I got an interesting reply:

“Totally disagree. If you want brand new books – buy them at the store. That book was in good used condition which is what this site is all about. You’ll get your credit. Trash the book if you want. Or better yet, relist it and get a credit for it. Just don’t request any of my books from me again.”

I replied as follows:

The books I send are in ‘excellent’ to ‘like new’ condition free of ceased or broken spines and damage to the covers or pages, and show little or no wear. A few have been brand new as I had accidentally purchased duplicates. Many are the new expensive, large format trade paperback books that I buy new for $10-$14, read once and pass on. I would not list or send a book with a broken spine. It is why I specify no ‘bookcrossing’ books.

“I received a book in very poor condition in my second trade. I did not complain then because I did not have the condition requirements listed that I do now. Other members have declined trades based on my requirements, and that’s fine with me. All I ask is for other traders to show me the same courtesy I show others. …………………………………………

Obviously we have very different ideas of what is ‘good’ condition and that’s fine. As I said, I will happy to return this book to you so you can trade it again.”
I did not hear back from the sender, nor did I report this to PBS as a violation of my RC, so I still have the book though I haven’t touched it and will likely just toss it.  The book I received would not have been accepted by any used bookstore I’ve ever dealt with, so surely, ‘good’ was pushing it even by the most elastic definition.  Now I’m starting to wonder.  Am I really expecting too much or do people just ignore the Requestor Conditions?  I’m about to find out.

A few days later two more books from one member arrive and are slightly better than the one I refused.  The spines are creased and curved from wear, but not to the point where it’s showing the base paper.  One is in almost good condition, the other a high end of fair.  So at a loss, and a little dismayed, I send a to PM my PBS Tour Guide.

When you first join Paperback Swap they assign you a Tour Guide to help you with any site questions about how to manage things, list books and stuff like that.  So I need advice, that’s where I’ll ask first.  Am I being unrealistic in my expectations?  Are my requirements unclear?  After all, I don’t what to be seen as an unreasonable, whiney member for no good reason.  If I’m at fault somehow, unclear in my condition requirements, I want to know so I can modify my conditions again and or maybe just arrange private trades among my few ‘buddies’.  If it’s just plain unrealistic, then it’s time to give it up and go back to giving away the books to charity rummage sales.

The Tour Guide turned out to be a very nice lady.  She says it happens, in fact it just happened to her twice recently and she’s still dealing with it.  We go back and forth discussing this problem and how PBS handles it – they keep a record of members who have rejects on receipt – and how I need to handle it on my end so the moderators are aware of problems and can track repeat offenders.  After back and forth I find I am still of two minds.  I really do NOT need any more nasty messages, but I’m feeling like I keep getting the short end of the stick.  I slept on it and in the end I accepted the two books without comment.

The last of my requested books arrives the next day and it’s in excellent condition.  So I now have 2 books in poor condition with 1 point returned, 2 books in fair condition, and 4 in very good to excellent condition.  I was at that point the frustration and hassle had me ready to give up on PBS.   I still had points I needed to use and little hope of getting the books on my wish list, so why continue?  Instead of complete giving up, I go and modify my conditions AGAIN.

“No broken, deformed spines or badly worn books.  No cracked or creased bindings,   No bookcrossing books.”

I list and ship books in ‘excellent’ to ‘like new’ condition and except the same in return.”

I find two more books I have at least have some interest in, both with the same person, so I place a request.  The first book arrived Friday and ……….. it’s a success.  One more to go.

I still have points nothing of interest is listed.  I am adding books to my Books I’ve Read List.  Many have popped with a red ‘W’, indicating they are on people’s wish lists.  Some even have the green ‘W’ indicating they are on ‘auto order’, so the moment I list the book as available it will be accepted.  This means it would be easy for me to acquire more points.  Interestingly, there is not a feature that allows you to simply take a book in your I’ve Read list and add it to your ‘Bookshelf’ of available titles.  You’d think that it would be there, but no, you must actually go and enter the book on the other list to offer it.  PBS should add a simple click feature to facilitate listing availability.  You can allow your buddies to see your lists, wish lists, read list and bookshelf (available for trade list), to facilitate private swapping.

This brings me to a good feature on the site – the Buddy List.  Why have a ‘Buddy List’?  Because it’s how you can exchange books within a limited group of people with common reading interests by asking them if they are interested in a specific title BEFORE posting its availability on the main site listing.  This gets you around the ‘auto grab’ feature.  If one of your buddies says, Yes, I want that!, you can post it to them ONLY.  There is a catch, if they don’t take it in 5 days, it automatically goes to the whole of PBS and will be taken by the first person on the wish list.  For popular or hard to find titles – like erotic romance, out of print books, limited edition reprints, etc, there could be 20 to 100 people on the book’s ‘wish list’ and many using the ‘auto order’ feature.

What is the ‘Wish List’?  The ‘Wish List’ is for books you’re looking to find that are not currently listed on PBS.  You enter the ISBN of a book, or search using title or author and find a book.  One other option, if the book is not currently available, is to place the title on your ‘wish list’.  You can then make any title on that list an ‘auto buy’ if you want to nab it as soon as it’s listed.  If others have also selected this option, you get in a line based on date and time.  I was 28 on The Spymaster’s Lady wish list and waited about 2 weeks.  The first available copy, the poster said they could not meet my requirements, so I was sent back in the line.  That’s the only part I wasn’t clear on.  I did not go to the back end of the wait list, but I was also no longer at the front.  It was like a 10-15 place demotion as best as I could tell, but again – it might have depended on dates.  It could be you’re sent back a fixed time, say 1 week, which ended up being 10 people for me but could be more or less depending on the book, or a fixed number of people.  I didn’t seek clarification from my Tour Guide as she has a family illness is mostly unavailable.

Another thing is re-issued old books.  I went looking for Will Cuppy’s The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody.  You would not believe how many ISBN numbers are associated with that book!  If you pick just one and one of the other versions is offered, you’ll miss out.

One last comment about the ‘search’ feature.  It’s moderately annoying.  The default is to search only titles that are currently listed on PBS.  You must remember to change that to ALL so it will pop titles not available.  For example, I recently searched John Maddox Roberts looking for a specific SPQR title.  Not a single SPQR popped.  I was confused and realized I had to go back and change the search criteria to find them.  The other thing is the default setting is for paperback, hardcover, CD and tape versions. (Note: Audio books are 2 points each to buy or sell.)  Be sure to uncheck boxes you don’t want or you could accidentally order an audio book when you were looking for a print copy, though PBS now red flags them as a warning.

Point Saving Hint:  If you aren’t fussy about the condition of the books, go to the Community section, then to Discussion Forums and select Book Bazaar.  You’ll find all kinds of short term offers, people selling points, people looking to buy points, people offering book bargains like buy one get 2 or 3 free titles.  It can be a good way to get a whole bunch of books for a minimum of investment.

Now, after more experience how do I feel about PBS?  Ambivalent.  This all seems like way too much stress, time, effort and money to swap books.  Dealing with problems is a pain in the butt.  Perhaps if I lived in an isolated spot it would be a blessing.  I live in the Greater NYC area, so we have pretty much everything.  For someone like me who buys many trade paperbacks and gets back mass market books, the swap is very uneven exchange in book value.  Only one of the hard covers I got was a somewhat recent release, the other was several years old, but that’s fine.  The Spymaster’s Lady mass market paperback is the only true recent release that I got – and in like new condition!

There are a total 46 books in my Books I’ve Read list.   Of those, 18 have a red ‘W’ indicating they are on member’s wish lists and 4 more have the green ‘W’ of auto order.  That’s nearly half of the shelf.  Most in demand are recent releases, erotic romance (I’ve yet to list an erotic romance that is NOT on a wait list!) and very popular authors of mysteries and suspense thrillers.

If you read and trade mass market paperbacks, or you’re cleaning out old ‘keepers’ in very good condition or other books, fiction and non-fiction, it’s a better deal than it is for someone like me.  There’s a big ‘but’ here.  Before listing older titles in great condition, check the book price on a site like Alibris.  You might find some of your old books are worth money in excellent condition and you’d do far better selling it rather than trading it for a book worth $1.

If you have a good used bookstore near you, consider using that before PBS.  I think you’ll find you come out ahead.  You might find it useful for reference books if condition isn’t a huge deal.  You can find some strange and wonderful stuff on PBS.  Be realistic.  Will you find Agatha Christie?  Yup.  Clayton Rawson?  No.  Robert Heinlein – nearly a 1,000 of his books, but you’ll have trouble locating Stranger in a Strange Land unless it’s buried in a collection book.  Want a cookbook?  There are more than 10,000 available.  If you’re looking for Mary and Vincent price’s A Treasury of Great Recipes (a personal favorite) you won’t find it, it’s considered a collector’s book.  I can assure you my copy of A Treasury of Great Recipes, despite being a first edition, is beat up and well used, so it sure isn’t collector quality. 🙂   But if you’re looking for romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, non-fiction in dozens of areas – you’ll find a LOT of options.  The more you’ve read, the more you own, the harder it will be to find books.  If your main interest is recent releases, get on the wait lists EARLY!  If you find more stuff than you have points for, you can buy then, but sure it will cost less than buying the book at a used bookstore.

PBS is part garage sale and part treasure hunt, and it does have some weird and wonderful stuff.  Don’t do what I did and start your exchanges using expensive trade paperbacks and do make sure there are titles and authors you want available.  I’m still sitting here with points and can’t find anything I want.  SIGH!



  1. Hi there! Thanks for a great post about PBS. I’ve looked the site over & wondered if it would really work for me. & I decided it might be too much hassle. But then I’d wonder & book lust would grab me & I’d go back & look at the site again. Rinse & repeat. But I’ve never joined. I’m choosy about my books, both those I take to the UBS & those I buy from them, so I think I’d be unhappy with it. Yours is the first post I’ve come across that goes into detail & I appreciate the time you took to share that.

    I live in metro DC, so I’ve a pretty good selection of stores, so maybe I’m just book greedy. lol:)

    Happy Reading!


    Comment by Bookwormom — May 3, 2009 @ 10:06 pm | Reply

  2. […] site.  My initial impressions were posted in Book Swapping Online:  Is it worth it? then an Update after switching swap tactics in April, and the most recent third installment on my ongoing […]

    Pingback by The Paperback Swap Chronicles Vol. 4 – Games « Tour’s Books Blog — October 9, 2009 @ 12:01 pm | Reply

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