Books are expensive. This "fun" and worthwhile lesson was besieged on me my first week of blissful higher education academia. From that era on, I have weighed the pros and cons of actually owning books. Is it really important for me to viciously hoard and defend my dusty and decrepit copy of Stephen King’s It? Do I need a library whose volume rivals the mass literary bank that is the New York Public Library?
Yes and no.
I’m a big believer that certain books are absolutely necessary. Now don’t get me wrong, which books you choose to keep in your literary arsenal is a personal decision and not to be taken lightly.
Then there are the outcasts – the books that you and I might deem worthless bundles of massacred tree parts but to somebody else is the book that is responsible for their coming of age or instilled in them that Whales are pretty damn close to impossible to catch unless you fancy a peg leg.
Books are important.
Some people in my generation remember opening their Christmas presents to reveal a brand new 1980s Nintendo system, complete with the colorful block formation graphics made to resemble a sprite and brave Italian plumber. Others remember the smell of elementary school – which by the way seem to all smell exactly the same. I of course remember the first time I received what was my equivalent of my childhood license, the library card.
This feeling is always nostalgic if you’re a huge dork like me and love reading. That’s where Bookmooch.com comes in. A Berkley, California based site founded and run by Webepreneur John Buckman. Bookmooch is innovative not just for the ridiculously adorable title, but for its surprisingly simple book bartering system that can only be described as a literary lover’s dream.
John the Moochmaker
John Buckman, creator of Bookmooch.com was generous enough with his time to answer a few questions aside from the ones already on his Website.
Born in London, John lived in Paris before traveling across the Atlantic to spend his teenage years in New Haven, Connecticut. After acquiring his Bachelor’s at Bates College and Masters from the Sorbonne, John worked at the Academy for Advanced and Strategic Studies and the Discovery Channel.
The idea for the Bookmooch came to fruition when John paid special attention to the "stacks of books on his shelves that have been read once, but will never be read again." When researching used books and how to donate them, he noticed that it was surprisingly difficult not only to sell most of his books to book stores, but to donate them to libraries as well. He wondered how he could create a way online that readers could take a peek into each other’s unused and usually neglected book collection.
To create the Web site, John spent weeks visiting various San Francisco indie comic shops. He wanted to find the perfect illustrator for the home page. His visual aesthetic vision for the Web site was to be inspired by and appear as a "demented Dr. Seuss" design.
John’s Bookmooch Web site is experiencing steady growth since its launch with over 452,000 books listed, 54,000 members, and almost 21,000 books successfully mooched.
He encourages aspiring entrepreneurs or Webpreneurs to make themselves as financially responsible for their ‘start up’, and to start it with no debt. He also warns that it will take them 2 or 3 companies and ideas to get to a point where they understand what ideas are good and how to execute them.
In retrospect John explains that he was "really happy knowing nothing when I started. I just did what I thought was cool, and was pretty clueless about business". He further explains that what was important was that he was motivated by the fun and the challenge and so every day for him was easy. What makes it not always easy?
"It wasn’t until I started hiring workers, that I realized I didn’t like managing people, especially trying to manage unmotivated employees." According to John, "the #1 tip for any new entrepreneur: never, ever hire your friends. It always seems like a good idea at the time, and always ends badly."
Expanding into other forms of media such as CDs and DVDs is on John’s long term agenda, "Including other types of media, like movies or music is a possibility for future expansion, but for now the focus is on physical books". Eventually, we "might see CD-mooch and Video-mooch." His plans also include, a possible book swapping functionality for social networking sites such as Facebook . His philosophies are not limited to just the Internet but old fashion "libraries, which have to live on diminishing budgets and are regularly discarding books."
Although Bookmooch occupies a large portion of John’s focus – he’s also creator and owner of Magnatune an Internet record label and the creator of Lyris, an email discussion group software package, as well as the web publishing tool TILE.
The art of Bookmooching
This is how it works: First, the user completes an online form with the usual (Name, email etc.) After this is completed, Bookmooch will ask you to provide as many books as you want that you no longer need. After all books are ready for mooching, users can create two lists. One list is the "Wish List". On the "Wish List" users can announce to other Moochers that they are absolutely serious about the books they put on that list. These are books they would definitely mooch from someone if available. Users also make a "save it for later" list which is only viewable by them.
For every book placed to be mooched on the Web site, the user acquires points themselves. Users will also receive points for every book of theirs that is mooched, adding a book to the inventory, and acknowledging the receipt of a book. Points are higher when giving or receiving books from other countries other than your own. The only currency that makes an appearance in the process is the cost of shipping books to fellow moochers.
Users can search for and mooch a book by:
1. Searching for it in the database
2. Receiving an email notification as soon as a book on their list is available
3. Seeing a notification on their lists alerting them to an open copy of a book
Photo credit Sheila Newbery, courtesy of BookMooch.comPowered by Sidelines