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Press & Media » The Montgomery Advertiser

Online Book Club Features Much Paperback Give-and-take

The Montgomery Advertiser (Newspaper) - 2/18/2008 by By Estella Jernigan
By Estella Jernigan

Got too many books to count? If you're like a lot of avid readers, you probably have volumes of romance, sci-fi, mystery and historical novels and self-help guides collecting dust on your bookshelf and coffee table, but you just don't have the heart to throw them away.

One solution is donating them to your local library or school, or you can try to sell them on or Ebay. But another option growing in popularity in the Montgomery area is, kind of like a Netflix for books.

In this online book club, members list their books online and other members requests them. When a request is sent by e-mail to the owner, the owner prints out two pieces of paper from the site to wrap the book in, pays the postage -- stamps or electronic postage -- and sends the book to the member. An average book costs $2.13 in postage.

Each swap counts as one book credit to be used to receive a book of your own. Members can collect credits by sending out books to members, buying them from the Web site for $3.45 or purchasing them from other members at their price. is the brainchild of Richard Pickering. After buying books on business trips for years, Pickering decided it was time for him to part with them.

"I literally collected hundreds of them and they got stacked up in my closet," he said.

His attempts to sell and give away his collection of over 300 books were met with little success, so Pickering began swapping books with his family through the mail. The concept was a hit, which spurned Pickering to open up the program to a wider audience by creating an online service. He enlisted co-founder and programmer Robert Swarthout's help and was born.

The Web site started in 2004 with a few hundred books, mostly from Pickering's collection. Now the business has become so successful that it has grown to over 1.8 million books with 35,000-plus swaps per week -- adding to the 2.4 million successful swaps made since its inception.

The online book club also has message boards and discussion forums for people to write about book genres, their favorite author or just anything about books in general -- features Pickering believes helps create friendships among readers across the U.S. and the world.

And exchanges aren't just paperbacks. The book club also swaps hardcover and audio books, with the most popular being romances, mysteries and thrillers. Pickering said this is an easy alternative for people who can't always make it to a bookstore or library, including military personnel overseas.

"We have a diverse membership with one common thread -- the love of reading," Pickering said. "We have heard from disabled book lovers, unable to get to bookstores, who say that has changed their lives."

Montgomery resident Wendy Reynolds, a 35-year-old middle school teacher, is one such satisfied customer. Introduced to the service by one of her sorority sisters from college, Reynolds joined the club June 2006.

"I always have extra books," she said. "My friend has been doing it for a while, and she has always given away books."

Reynolds enjoys the convenience of getting books for herself as well as for her classroom. Believing it's such an outstanding program, she has recommended to several people.

"It's the best program, and I just love it," Reynolds said. "It saves me so much money."

She also believes the online book club helps nature.

"It's also a good way to help with the environment," Reynolds said. "You hear so much about people 'going green' and such, so it's a great way to recycle." is only for people 18 and older who have a valid e-mail address, USPS address, Internet access and at least 10 books they are willing to send to others. New members receive two book credits just for joining and putting their first 10 books on the site.

Constantly working on the service, the Web site's crew recently began adding features such as box-o-books, delivery confirmation and others -- using the proceeds to keep the site running smoothly.

Protecting their members' privacy, the club also doesn't send out spam or sell personal information. Pickering is just happy to help so many people with the same problem he had four years ago.

"We had no idea that it would get this big," Pickering said. "It's been challenging at times because we try to meet the needs and ideas of our members. But it's also been fun building on those challenges."
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