Beyond using the country’s dwindling network of libraries, until recently the opportunities for exchanging paperbacks have been limited to friends, community schemes and book groups. But in the past two years, a spate of online book-swapping sites have emerged. Inspired by the goodwill schemes operated by hostels around the world, whereby travellers can leave behind books they have read and pick up something new, these sites generate little profit for their founders. The books are swapped directly between users, who pay the postage; the sites simply facilitate the meeting and identifying of potential exchanges.
Evans has exchanged 135 books through ReadItSwapIt.co.uk since last August. “It’s addictive,” she says. “I can try out authors I wouldn’t normally read and I don’t feel guilty if I give up halfway. I’m not paying for the book, and I’m not throwing it away after I’ve read it or leaving it to gather dust on a shelf.”
On BookMooch.com, a site run from California, users enter the titles of the books they want to give away, and earn credit that enables them to borrow each time they swap a book. “I was inspired by a community centre I saw on holiday in Norwich,” says founder John Buckman. “It had a bookshelf outside with a sign saying, ‘Leave a book, take a book’. I liked the idea of them circulating around the world.”
What sets BookMooch apart from sites such as WhatsOnMyBookshelf, PaperBackSwap and Bookins, is its international scale: it has 68,930 users in 91 countries. Since its launch in 2006, nearly 700,000 books have been swapped; The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, the most exchanged – or “mooched” – book, has been swapped 755 times. Edwards’ tale is something of an online sleeper hit, beating bestsellers such as Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach to the top spot on both BookMooch and ReadItSwapIt.