Bookcrossing.com is exactly the kind of website that would appeal to someone like me. I first stumbled across this site, or one very like it, about ten years ago. But it wasn’t until the last couple months that I’ve actually had the time or inclination to play around with it first hand. The website operates like a giant swap meet. Users register their old books online, with a personalized id number, and then release them into the wild, preferably in a public place, for the unsuspecting public to pick up and read.
The idea is that once the new owner has finished reading the book they’ll record their find at the website and then pass it along themselves, sort of like a giant chain letter without any of the suck attached.
The allure of something like this is the opportunity to pay it forward. If you’re like me you’ve got a huge collection of books that you constantly have to prune to a manageable size. And yes, while you could make periodic trips to a used book store to unload some of your material, I think it’s more satisfying to know that someone else might be enjoying a particular book as much you did.
Unfortunately the hype doesn’t really live up to the reality.
The site's first stumbling block is the way in which books are assigned a personal id number. You can either buy pre-printed bookplates (10 for 8 bucks, plus shipping) or generate your own id number by using store bought labels.
Truthfully, I found both options to be a hassle. The price for pre-printed plates was too high and the shipping time was ridiculous. (I think it took close to a month for the bookplates to actually reach me.) Using store bought labels that I have to print out myself might be a cheaper solution but it still seems like a lot of extra work for something that, in theory, should be much simpler.
What the website should have is a personalized book number generator. Users can copy the number and site’s address into the book by hand. It might not look as pretty or be as informative, but it would be cheaper, faster and lower unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles to people actually releasing books.
Another problem for me is that out of all the books I’ve released none have been registered on the site. That’s not the fault of Bookcrossing, that’s just human beings finding the book, not being as enamoured with the concept as I am and failing to register their find. Fair enough.
(Perhaps as a response to the hit or miss nature of a wild release Bookcrossing does offer you the option of doing a controlled release to an existing member.)
Anyway, the whole process has been less than satisfying. I plan on using the remainder of my bookplates in the hope that someone will pick up and register one of my releases. If that doesn’t work I can simply just release books on my own, without any id, and hope for the best.
And if I’m looking for a couple bucks, there’s always the used book store again.
Any Icebergians who’ve used Bookcrossing? Have you had a better experience with it than me?