Tour’s Books Blog

October 9, 2009

The Paperback Swap Chronicles Vol. 4 – Games

OK, so I’ve had good, bad and indifferent experiences with Paperback Swap, the online book swapping 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 experiences with the Forums in July.  I mentioned I hadn’t tried the games and honestly didn’t understand them.  We’ll, I got invited into a beginners game and launched myself into a frenzy of white elephant swaps and three Virtual Boxes.   Now keep in mind, I don’t even play Bingo, and still don’t understand tricky trays, though I understand things like raffles and lotteries – I lose – but I have never participated in a white elephant swap before.  I know, I lead a bizarrely sheltered existence.  Here are my experiences.

White Elephant Swaps

The Beginners Swap was just the place to get the rhythm of play and commonly used rules, and the unwritten ‘rules’ down.  The majority of participants are women and a handful of brave men.  For any swap, the swap hostess sets the parameters for the books that can be used.  Some swaps limit the book my genre – mystery/thriller only, paranormal romance only, erotic romance/fantasy only.  Next is the ‘wish list’ requirements.  Many white elephant swaps are for books with a minimum of wishers, 5, 10, 20, 30 or even ‘super wishers’ swaps where it’s 100 wishers minimum.  The two Super or Mega wisher swaps had no genre limitation at all, any book that met the wish list requirements could be used, fiction, non-fiction, biography, mystery, you name it.  The majority of genre specific swaps – paranormal romance, mystery, christian fiction – all used wishers of 30 or less to improve the number of players and the possibility of a player offering a choice of books, but a number of swaps had no wish list requirements and no limitation on publication date.  Unless otherwise allowed, ARC’s (advance reading copies) or books that don’t meet PBS posting requirements (no inner marks or highlighting, no stains and absolutely NO water damage, etc) are not allowed.  There are white elephant swaps where you can swap ‘hurt’ books and other unpostable books, like ARC’s, and there’s even an unpostable book virtual box for books of any genre with damage like a stain, mark, slight water damage, cleaved spine, torn cover, etc, but remain completely readable.  FYI: Remainder marks an the edges of pages are not considered ‘damage’ and remainder books can be posted.

Now as to how it’s played.  For every book that will be shipped, you must deposit a credit.  The most common white elephant swap is for one book, one credit deposit.   For the white elephant swap, the usual play is, the hostess posts the title of the swap and the Rules – this will include the book content requirements, wish list requirements (if any), credit deposit, play rules, and possibly the number of players.  If you have a book – or books – that meet that specific group of requirements, you post to the swap thread and say you want to join.  Then click on the name of the hostess and use the Give your buddy some credits’ feature and send the hostess the required number of credits.  If folks know you, they might be willing to front you the credit if you’re short.  At any one time I had as many as 15 credits tied up in various swaps and virtual boxes.  At the end of the swap after your book, which must be shipped using Delivery Confirmation, is received, the credit is returned to you.

Now you joined a swap.  Once the hostess closes the swap for sign-ups, she will get final moderator approval, a moderator will ‘hold’ the credit bank against delivery of your book, and then the hostess will use an online service, such as Random.org to randomize the player order.  Now the first player will ask another player to ‘reveal’ their book(s).  The person who reveals their books must send a PM (private message) to the next player and now player 2 can steal the books revealed to player 1 or they can ask for another reveal.  In all cases, you cannot steal back the books immediately after they have been stolen for you.  Should the opportunity present itself, you can steal them back after an intervening move.  In most games, once books have been stolen for the third time, they are out of play and belong to the lucky play with the third steal.  The second steal is aptly named ‘The Steal of Death’ because the next thief gets to keep the books.  Depending on how much stealing is happening and the timing between moves, it will take about 7-10 days to complete a swap.  You are then given an additional 7-10 days to read and mail the book you will ship to the winner.  You must contact the person who posted the books and provide them with you name and address – and if given a choice of title, the book you want.  You can ask if another title is available using your points or the person whose books you won might offer to post additional books to you if you want them at the usual credit of 1 point each.  Some players will offer a credit as an option to their book.  That way, if you’ve already read the book, they’ll send you a credit and spare themselves a trip to the post office.  As for you, well you have to read, properly wrap and mail with Delivery Confirmation the book you offered to the person who won it.  Then you post the DC# in the thread with your name and the name of the recipient.  When you get your swap book, you MUST post to the thread that you received it and from whom.  If you offered or choose a point in lieu of a book, then you post that and the deal is complete.  You CANNOT ASK for a credit in lieu of a book.  It’s up to the oher player to offer it.

I found it much easier to keep track of multiple swaps by creating a master swap list where I keep the name and address of the recipient and the DC#, as well as the title, member name and DC# of the book I am to receive.  I then bookmarked EACH SWAP.  They get hard to find at times when in the final stages of mailing and receiving.  Once the book you shipped is received, your credit will be returned – sometimes in hours, sometimes in days.

Now, just let me say a hostess can make a swap a load of fun, or makes things so distracting that you end up avoiding the thread unless called to play.  The so called “Quickfire’ swaps have a 12 hour time limit on play.  Standard time limit is 24 hours during the play portion of the swap.  If you’ll be traveling or away for the game, leave your moves with the hostess.  How a ‘no show’ is handled is up to the rules in the individual swap.  The hostess is responsible to acting as the swap police and must make decisions when problems like that crop up.  Lacking player instructions, the usual move is to ask for a reveal and move the game along.

How do swaps stack up against the forums as a source for wish list books?  The forums are better, but the swaps are fun and good way to get to know other members.  Downsides are many.  Obviously you could get a book you’ve already read.  For the most part, you’ll get books in very good condition.  I’ve had two members send books from Amazon, so they’re brand new.  One of those books became a victim of the post office – a hit and run.  The tire mark running the length of the envelop matched damage to the back of the book.  One member had the envelope opened by the  post office and the book was lost, only the empty envelope was delivered.  In both cases, the player was given their deposit credit back.

Some white elephant swaps have contests for the players with prizes.  I won a $15 gift certificate to Amazon in one contest, but generally don’t bother much with them.  Others have twists to them.  One, hostess did a ‘Blind’ swap.  You sent her the titles, ISBN’s, the number of wishers, and the genre of the book.  Each player had to offer a minimum of two books and a maximum of 4 books, each a different genre.  She created a list of all books like Paranormal Romance 134 wishers, Biography 57 wishers, Mystery/Thriller 207 wishers, etc.  You had to blindly select a book by genre and number of wishers.  If the player offered more than two books, the person who requested the reveal had to chose which book to discard from the list without know the title of any book other than the one selected.  Those who choose a book where the player offered only 2 books had no choice as the second book was automatically discarded.  the players got to vote on which book to discard.  If the player who asked for the reveal didn’t get back in one hour, the first poster choose the book to discard.  Another swap with a variation on the ‘blind book’ theme had each player post a title, or multiple titles, and the last book titles was NOT revealed.  Instead, each player provided a description on the plot of the book and the number of wishers.  Once books were mailed, the name of the hidden book was revealed.  I worked out most of them by doing a key word search on google.  I’d say about half the players took a hidden book.  That swap had below average stealing because everyone was busy guessing what the hidden books were.  Obviously, this kind of swap is far more demanding on the hostess than a regular swap.

So far, I’d say swaps were fun.  There seem to be an awful lot of erotica swaps.  Some for just m/m content, or ménage, or books published after 2008, or maybe his year only.  Many swaps are themed by Vampire, Si-Fi/Fantasy, Alternate World, Time Travel, etc. within a genre, like Romance.  Romantic suspense can be found in romance and mystery/thriller swaps.  I’d say about half of the swaps have the wish list requirements.  Just choose by theme.  The players are very nice and will help out beginners.  You’ll learn which hostess suits your playing style best, and those that don’t suit you at all.  Not all swaps will be listed under ‘taking sign-ups’ in he Games master list thread.  Some fill up and close to new members in hours and others allow days.  There are new swaps all the time.  Check daily for threads that have – Sign-Up in title and check it out.  The rhythm of new swaps opening is not consistent.  They seem to come in bunches, then none as many swaps play out, and then another group.  I haven’t played long enough to know if this is typical.

Buddy Swaps

I’ve not played any buddy swaps.  They can be for anything, not just books.  Gifts with price limits, new books off your buddy’s wish list, recipe cards, scrapbooking matertail, you name it.  Think of it as a kind of ‘secret Santa’ game.  They don’t appeal to me, so I haven’t played them.  Honestly, I cannot for the life of me see the point.  If I want something worth $10, I’ll buy, not sit around waiting for a complete stranger to make a choice for me.  Each buddy swap has a specific theme.

Virtual Boxes

Virtual boxes act like a grab bag where you know the content of the bag.  When you join, you provide the title of two books to go into the virtual box and a deposit 2 credits.  You can add a bonus book if you like, but that won’t allow you 3 books at your turn.  There is no wish list requirement, but you can certainly offer wish list books.  Books can stay in the box for a fixed number of rounds and then older books are removed and must be replaced by the person who provided them.  You cannot have duplicate titles in the box.  After two rounds of play, you can usually add more credits and books to allow you to withdraw more books on your turn.  Due to the preponderance of women players, the Historical fiction box is 99% romance and those are mostly Regencies.  Judging by the books selected, Regency and Western are the ones that move.   The Mystery/Thriller box has some men and all kinds of mysteries and thrillers.  I put in some classics and all were taken by those who enjoy the old authors. I’m continuing with both of these and as long as you play, your points stay in the escrow account.  A virtual box usually plays once a month or so, there’s time to read and the time to receive the books before starting another round.  It takes almost no time at all to play the book selection portion of the round as there is no revealing and no stealing.  All books are listed and any available title can be selected.  For each book you remove, up to the number of credits you have on deposit, you must add a replacement book.  You can participate in the between swap challenges if you like.

The Virtual Erotica box didn’t work for me.  There are simply too many players with huge number of points who can clean out the sought after titles in one swoop.  Since there are so many of them, combined with a high proportion of anthologies, and the luck of the draw placing one or more players with large point counts near the top of the list, players with just 2 points stand little chance of finding something except by pure dumb luck.  This is just my second round and sure enough, it just like last round.  The hostess allows up to 40 players.  Each player can bank as many as 15 credits.  You add 1 credit for and one book for each addition chance you want.  On any given round, you can then select up to 15 books and replace them with 15 new titles.  You can pass, take 1 book, which is all I took last round, or any count up to your point maximum.

In this round I am 22 of 39 players, a good spot.  But that’s only part of the story.  Ahead of me are not 44 book selections, but thanks to the high point accrual of long time players, there are actually 105 points.  Now not every player will remove their maximum amount, but think about it for a moment.  Eliminate the titles you’ve already read, books from smoking homes (I’m allergic), anthologies, and books you have no interest in, that leaves a small pool of books of interest.  Yes, new books come in, but again, the probability of finding a desired title is low.  In the first round I played, I passed.  They gave me a second chance, which was nice, but I ended up taking one book I didn’t particularly want just to keep them happy.  Both books I put in went out early.  Even my replacement book has gone out.  Now I’ve shipped 3 books out, gotten one I don’t especially want and if I take any more, they’ll go out quickly too.  My only option is to pass and just get my points back.  The odds are against you here, so for erotica, stick with the buddy system or the forums.  Even the White elephant swaps are a better deal, but not as good as working with buddies.

Conclusion

Play the games for fun.  If you like mysteries, they work well.  The Super wisher swaps works well if you have broad interests in reading and there many types of books you’d be happy receiving.  Duplicates are allowed in white elephant swaps.  Swaps are NOT a good option for those who have read very widely within the genre of their interest.  I see many books I’ve already read.  They can get tricky when you can’t take books from smoking homes, too.  Erotic swaps are often heavy with books that have recently been on sale.  Many wish list and sought after books actually sell for high sums on the used book sites like Alibris, half.com, and Amazon used books and you SHOULD NOT SWAP THESE BOOKS unless your copy isn’t in like new condition.  (See cautionary note.)

You will find a LOT of new authors and plenty of books for your wish lists.  The players are generally fun.  And for cost benefit ratio, games aren’t cheap.  Example:  In the Virtual Erotic Box I deposited 2 credits and placed two books in the box.  Each book was selected by a different player and shipping the usually heavy, large trade paperbacks with Delivery Confirmation goes about $3.38 to over $4.00 PER BOOK.  My cost for shipping 3 books was over $13.00 and I received 1 so-so book in return that I didn’t want.  In another swap I got a book I had already read, so for the cost of shipping my book I received a book I didn’t want or need, a risk all players run and no whining allowed.  Now to trade the book I must ship it again and the only way to keep costs down is to offer it to buddies in a multi-book only opportunity.  If you can’t get a book YOU want, get one your buddies want and trade it away, but only in a multi-book shipment.  Regardless of all these tactics, the value of swaps was negative for me. In the mega-wishers white elephant swap I shipped out The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo hardcover in near new condition and received a well thumbed, but still nice copy of a trade paperback novel that NEW would cost about $12.00.  No, you do NOT get equal value.  You get a book you or your buddies might, or might not be interested in.  In a sense, your shipping costs are like the price of a raffle ticket, they get you the CHANCE of getting something you want, not an assurance of getting anything you’re remotely interested in. It’s a game of chance.  Period.

Though the swap rules say the swaps aren’t a ‘dumping ground’ for crappy condition books, and condition has been very good or better so far, that does NOT mean you’ll be offered a book you of interest to you.  (There is an opportunity to try new to you authors, and I’ve had several.)  Those swaps that have no limitation on genre are the riskiest for that, but even in narrower swaps it happens a lot.  For instance, I don’t read many books that have m/m, f/f, BDSM or sex slave themes.  I also don’t read ‘spiritual’ books, self-help books, or a ‘literary fiction’ books.  Not my thing.  Some are in surprisingly high demand. The upside is, if I get one of those books, it will likely be stolen and I won’t care, on the downside, the next choice might be a book I already read and none of my buddies want.  In mysteries, chick-lit paranormal and several other genres, the competition can be pretty intense for hard to find titles, usually trade size paperbacks.  The initial cost of trade sized books even on Amazon or Barnes & Nobel keep many readers from buying the book.  The price barrier often causes a high and long lasting demand.  The hard cover version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was still heavily wish listed 3 years after release and during the mega-wishers swap, the number of wishers INCREASED despite the release of the trade sized paperback.  Other books dropped rapidly in the wish list count as the release of a mass market paperback neared.

If you don’t have the time or the patience, stick with the forums.  For best value and selection, buddies remain your best bet for swapping like for like books.  Not only can you substantially reduce shipping costs using buddies and forums, you also stand a MUCH better chance of getting a fair shot at new titles of interest.  For me, the swapping of books with selected buddies remains the number one option.  Number two, and a very close second, is using the forums to swap books.  If you have access to ARC’s you can swap them on forums requesting points for them and you will likely get them too.

Of all the things I tried in the Games section, the one thing I will stay with is the mystery/thriller virtual box and likely the historical fiction virtual box.  White elephant swaps I’ll reduce to just a couple per month and carefully watch who the hostess is.  The games do offer a lot of opportunity for socializing on line, so it should be thought of more as a friendly get together around a book swap than a real opportunity to get a desired book.

CAUTIONARY NOTE:

I mentioned this in my very first PBS post, but it’s worth mentioning again.  Many books, especially older books, can have considerable value on the used book market.  Don’t give away books until you’re sure you can’t sell them.  PBS does not suspend its posting condition rules for old books.  I can tell you, I take age into consideration and don’t complain because I’m just glad to get the book, but I gather some don’t take that into consideration.  I also warn people when I see them offering a book with good resale value.  Take that into account a do check to be sure you aren’t giving away a book of value.

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