Tour’s Books Blog

July 10, 2009 – Review to Date

Filed under: Editorial,Online Book Swapping,opinion — toursbooks @ 3:40 pm
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If nothing else, I can be tenacious as a tick.  I prefer to think of it as determination, though others might account it closer to Missouri Mule stubborn.  After a really bad start and a less awful second portion I have now swapped over 100 books and I still don’t know it all.  PaperBack Swap is actually a bit more complicated than it appears at first blush.

I first wrote about PBS back in March and then did an update in April thinking I knew the site by then.  HA!  I’m still learning some of the things and frankly I do not get other bits at all.

At it’s most basic, you list books and swap them for 1 point per completed transaction and then request new books with your points.  See, very simple.  But a lot of the books swapped are well worn, so you then use ‘Requestor Conditions’ to limit this, as well as add things like, ‘currently in a smoke free home’.  Then you can swap with your buddies – those who have similar interests to your own.  But wait, there’s more!  (I’ve always wanted to say this while selling vegetable peelers that can shave shoes at 2AM in an infomercial.)

In the Discussion forums there is usually a post “Is this on your wish list?”  So many titles are swapped that way on Romance and Paranormal forums that a new thread is started each month.  The mystery forum has one that runs for the year and after 6 months is less than half the length of one month of the Paranormal thread.  These books are often in great shape and these members the most aware of condition and honest about flaws.  Plus, you can often get sets or several titles in a set from one source.  Most posters will give preference to those ordering multiple books, but sometimes you can get just one if that’s all you need.  This is where I’ve scored the best so far.

The other thing I’ve learned is hardcover books are generally in better shape than paperbacks.  They don’t get as abused and read with less frequency, so I order them as often as I can.  I have yet to be dissatisfied with a hardcover that I’ve gotten, even books that are 10 or more years old.  This could be because the paper quality in hardcovers is a better grade and in part that hardcovers are usually someone’s ‘keepers’ so they just get less wear and tear and are stored properly.

I now use the forums more often than the buddy list to offer and request wish list books.  This gives me more people to take larger orders and keep my costs down.  I will check the wish lists of people taking sets from me and send them a PM if I have any of their WL books and allow them to decide if they’d like me to offer them to them.  They’re thrilled and I ship out more books for less money.  I also try and get my books from forum members instead of the pool.  This usually gives me better quality books.  When I take a set of books thru a buddy offer, I try and offer something in return.  This seems fair to me as I don’t believe buddy swaps should be all take and no give.  When I have a member taking many books, I will throw in a freebie, even if it’s wish listed.  It will just cost me to ship it for the one point, so I’d rather have the goodwill.  By and large the folks on the forums treat other members very well, far better than the rank and file.  I think it’s the best way to use PBS.  It works best for me with Romance and Paranormal and somewhat less well for mystery and thrillers, but it still works better than the main listings.  I do offer wish list books to the FIFO listings when I have just one or two and shipping savings are unlikely and I’m on those lists too, so it’s only fair.  I’d rate the Buddy swaps sort of neutral.  I have found only a few members offer books worth having on a regular basis, the rest are just ‘takers’.

As for shipping costs, well that remains a sticking point not just for me, but many other members.  If you have wish list books, it helps to list the whole set even if only one of 3 is wish listed and ask that the set be taken.  This substantially reduced the shipping cost and gives the person getting the books a complete set.  If I can get say half my books to go out that way it really helps with the total cost of postage.  Another quirk, thanks to the new postal rates, is often First Class is cheaper than media mail for 1 book.  If you print your postage off PBS, they will automatically do this for you.  If, like me, you go to the post office, ask them.  I do use ‘delivery confirmation’ for orders of multiple books and for expensive books – newer hardcovers and expensive trade paperbacks and any wish list book.  I find most aren’t worth the extra cost.

Watching the progress of a book through the USPS system is an experience.  They can spend LONG periods of time a mail sort centers – like 10 days or more.  Just about the time you think the package is lost, it moves.  I’d say 80% of books coming TO me are here in 14 days or less and 20% get hung up in the system.  In only 1 case did the sender not mail by the specified date without notifing me.  They mailed 10 days after they posted as Mailed in the PBS system.  It happens.  Some senders do let you know the books wil be going out late, but this can hurt them.  There are time constraints, albeit lose ones, in the PBS system and you can get suspended if you fail to follow the rules.  So far, in nearly 100 books swapped by me I’ve had only 2 members fail to do a timely response on the receipt on the book.  One was on vacation and the other had a small child hide the book.  Gentle reminders were all that was needed.  It is VERY ANNOYING that a vacation hold on an account is invisible when you’re shipping to a member or trying to message them.  That needs fixing by PBS.

Most time constraints on PBS have to do with the ordering process.  When a book on your bookshelf is requested by a member, you have 5 days to respond.  If you will be away, you can place your account on ‘vacation hold’ and the requests will go to the next person offering the book and you’ll get back in order when you lift the vacation hold.  If a book is on your wish list and it becomes available to you, you have just 48 hours to respond to get the book or it automatically goes to the next person in line.  If you offer a title to a friend in a direct swap on a book on their wish list, they need to have the ‘request’ option set to automatic, or they have just 48 hours to approve it.  This is where it gets tricky.  You CANNOT CANCEL A PRIVATE OFFER TO A MEMBER’S WISH LIST.  Let’s say one member asks for 4 wish list books and you agreed to offer the books to them privately to save postage.  Only two are on ‘auto’ and the others are not.  If they fail to approve those books they will AUTOMATICALLY roll to the first person on the PBS wish list and you can end up shipping 3 packages instead of 1, a substantial increase in you costs.  They do NOT show up on any booklist in your account and there is no way to rescind the offer.  This is why most offers on the forums for wish list books require they be on ‘auto’.

There are two things that I simply cannot get the hang of – ‘boxers’ and swap games.  Members who are ‘boxers’ are allowed to make specific swaps.  For example:  I have a copy of Here Kitty, Kitty (a much in demand book) and in exchange for this book I want Mercury’s War and Now You Die.  If you have a bestseller with hundreds of wishers, you could ask for several books in exchange.  I think.  I’m not sure.  I do know I cannot I cannot offer book A in direct exchange for book B.  The other thing is games.  There are these swap games where a person holds points and you offer titles (usually 3 points and 3 titles) of wish listed or highly desired books, then somehow you take turns picking from the list but you can steal another person’s pick.  I’ve never really understood this game, but they seem to be popular with some members.

If you want the most for your points, many members offer 2 for 1, 3 for 1, and even 4 for 1 of their bookshelf.  These are not wish list books and many are in well used condition, but you can certainly get a lot of books for few points.  If you’ll just read and toss them, it’s a good deal.  Less so if you want to re-swap. (They’re on the shelf because they have low demand)   You’ll find these offers on the Discussion forums with individual topics (Romance, paranormal, etc.) and also Book Bazaar. has a PaperBackSwap forum and it has quite a few members.  I was interested to read that BookMooch book quality is substantially lower than PBS, which I think are kind of low as it is.  SwapTree also has quality issues, but you can use points for CD’s and DVD’s without joining specific clubs.  PBS has two associated swap sites for those items, but you must establish an account there separate from your PBS account and both have costs associated with them that don’t exist on PBS.

So where does PBS stand with me now?  Well, now that I have gotten past the painful learning curve, I’m more satisfied with it, but still question the claimed savings.  I still think it woks best for people who swap books that were inexpensive to buy – used books with light wear, remainders at deep discounts and books acquired at things like a ‘friends of the library’ sale.  The vast majority of my books do not fall into that category, so for me it remains just barely cost neutral.  If I did fewer swaps of multiples using the forums or offerings to my buddy list, it would weigh on the side of costing me money.  As I get more quality books that I can trade as sets again, it might shift more to a cost savings position.

One of the things making PBS more attractive is the escalating cost of ebooks!  I know, strange, huh?  Still, when a short novel, maybe 120 pages long, costs $5.20, it makes sense to trade for a full novel at $2.24.  If I judiciously use the 4-for-3 sale at Amazon and buy remainders, I get my book costs down substantially.  I recently got a very large order from Barnes and Nobel on the Bargain Book Sale where I paid $1.79 for $14 trade paperbacks and $3.95 to $5.38 for hardcover books.  I went nuts. 🙂  And I am a happy camper!  Now I can trade more cost effectively, especially since several of the books I got from BN are wish list books.

In general, I feel kindlier towards PBS than I did in April, but I also recognize its limitations.  If you can deal with them and use the forums wisely, you’ll be a lot happier with the site.  And I have gotten to know the folks at the local post office. 🙂


  1. Great review of PBS. I have been doing only buddy swaps and using the main pages. I am going to check out the other areas you discussed. It is a cost neutral place for me so far, but I have made some good virtual friends:-) Thanks!

    Comment by Melanie — July 24, 2009 @ 12:20 pm | Reply

  2. You should advise people not to swap older books on PBS. I had recipients toss out 2 out-of-print books (together they would have netted me $90 on Amazon) because they showed age-related brown stains known as foxing. I would have been happy to pay to have them sent back to me, then I could have made some money on them. Complaining to PBS gets your account frozen.
    and it seems that people whoi volunteer to be PBS tour guides are more prone to commit this sort of abuse than regular PBS members. Just Google “paperback swap complaints” and see when complaining to the BB got one PBS member’s account frozen. Another PBS member who posted a set of rare, out-of-print books on PBS is out $150 for postage on books that recipients then complained about.
    You’re getting books for free, oftimes they are out of print. Of course they’ll be worn. Beats paying for worn books, but be reasonable. You won’t find OOP books in like-new condition on Amazon, unless you are willing to pay the price.

    Comment by BB — September 29, 2009 @ 12:55 pm | Reply

    • Very good advice – and I personally do make allowance for older books myself and get written agreement about condition before shipping. I check prices on Amazon and Alibris for my older books. I have advised buddies to NOT offer certain books because the get a very good price on Ebay, half.con and Alibris as will as used on Amazon.

      I had a run in on PBS and yes, it gets weird fast. I haven’t had my account frozen, but it was a near thing. I do have a few OOP books in

      Comment by toursbooks — September 29, 2009 @ 9:55 pm | Reply

  3. […] swap tactics in April, and the most recent third installment on my ongoing experiences with the Forums in July.  I mentioned I hadn’t tried the games and honestly didn’t understand them.  […]

    Pingback by The Paperback Swap Chronicles Vol. 4 – Games « Tour’s Books Blog — October 10, 2009 @ 12:46 pm | Reply

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