Thursday, August 18, 2011 - All sizzle, no steak 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?


  1. I have used Bookcrossing a couple of times, but found similar issues as you. I started just writing the number into the book by hand long ago, rather than bothering with bookplates. I did find the branded ziplock bags to be invaluable - it marked the book out as something other that just a random book left on a bench.

    My biggest issue is that you have to first register the book to get the id number, then go out to release the book, and THEN go back to say where the book has been left. I guess the third step isn't needed so much, but it seems like a good idea to me...

    Anyway, I think I've had two books picked up and registered. I've never found one in the wild. It's an awesome idea - I, too, love the thought of "releasing books into the wild" - but I found it too much hard work for the payoff...

  2. "Icebergians"? I think you should use "Icebergers". :)

    Anyway, I heard of Bookcrossing ages ago, and it sounded cool, but I never got involved. I bet if I'd've given it a try those 7 or 8 (or whatever) years ago, I'd have seen some results by now. But nope. When I do finally have to start pruning the collection (the dread day is approaching more rapidly than I'd prefer) maybe I'll give it a go.

  3. I've used Bookcrossing a few times, and I love the concept, but I've found out the hard way that people on the whole don't like reading (it's the second wake up call I've had for this and it's kind of sad). I've always written the Book Crossing code in by hand, and I often plan where I'm going to leave a book in advance so it saves me going back after I've released it. It's a great idea, but people in general let it down :(

  4. "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."

    But you can do that. It says so right on the site. And many people do. You can also print blank labels and write the number in, which is less work in my opinion. Or print off pre-numbered labels. You don't have to buy labels to play.

    You register books you are going to release. But you don't want the finder to re-register, you want them to journal the book. If they register, the book will get a new number and you won't hear from it. For stories of catches, read the Site Watch forum. It's loads of fun if you have patience. - solittletime in BookCrossing

  5. You're absolutely right.

    You can enter give the book its own unique number by hand, but only after registering it first, a process completely separate from the release function...which is the primary purpose of the site, right?

    I don't know why the site has two separate functions, registration and release. Doesn't an unconnected registration function just add another layer of bureaucracy? Don't you register a book that so that you can release it? I think they should be combined somehow in the interests of simplicity.

    As to your second point, I thought 'register' was a more straightforward and easily understood expression to use than 'journal', especially in terms of a blogpost to readers who might not be familiar with what bookcrossing is all about.

    But that's a small terminology quibble, your mileage may vary.



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