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[Comments] (6) Bookmooch optimization: Dude by the name of Ledbetter had a bad experience with Bookmooch and wrote an article for Fortune about it. At first I skipped over the article because I've seen this time and time again, someone writes an article about an online community and all the users of the community pile on. I don't want to get involved. But eventually I read the article and came up with a couple weblog entry ideas. I decided the world needs some tips born of experience on achieving good Bookmooch inventory turnover.

  1. Don't put out-of-date books on Bookmooch. I had a bunch of old O'Reilly books; I gave them to the thrift store. Sometimes people want old stuff (Rachel just asked me to mooch some 1989 Eastern Bloc travel guides for her), but those books are way down the long tail. If you put one of those books on Bookmooch you're buying a raffle ticket the size and shape of a book, and you don't know how long you'll have to hang on to it. It's not worth it.

    Ledbetter had a problem that he put a book on his list, not knowing there was a newer edition. Honest mistake. People were jerks about it. Lots of people are jerks. Sorry. (I've never encountered a jerk on Bookmooch, though.) As a practical suggestion, most of the book pages on BookMooch have cover photos, so you can usually avoid problems by matching up the photo with your cover.

    Contra Ledbetter, I don't think wanting the most recent revision of a book "smacks of a professional interest in reselling." Why wouldn't you be able to resell the old revision? Because people don't generally want the old revision. Ergo, they generally don't want it on Bookmooch. You're effectively reselling the book for a currency other than money, and the social mores of reselling apply.

  2. Don't put a book on Bookmooch if there are over 500 copies already on Bookmooch. In general, don't put classics or best-sellers on Bookmooch. No one will mooch the suckers. More precisely, no one will mooch your copy. Again, you're buying a raffle ticket.
  3. Don't put a book on Bookmooch if you should be selling it to the used bookstore or on eBay or whatever. Sumana bought an expensive multi-volume hardbound graphic novel (I name no names) and hated it. She sold it to Strand for like $15, which is much less than what she paid but significantly more than the estimated cash value of a Bookmooch point, especially given the cost of mailing that big boy out.
  4. If you've got a book in bad shape, say the cover is torn or a previous owner wrote "CARTER" on the edge, don't just say it in the condition notes. Ask the recipient to confirm that they read the condition notes. This avoids hassles later. I don't mind getting a book that's not keeper quality, and everyone I've asked did indeed see my condition notes and didn't mind either. It's a little extra lubrication of a transaction that lets you find homes for books that are perfectly useful, but that the used bookstore won't take.
  5. Give it time. Long tail. Yesterday I got a request for a book that'd been in my inventory for about 8 months.
  6. Have a big wishlist. Long tail. Ledbetter has four books on his wishlist. My steady state is about 250. At any given time, maybe 3% of the books on my wishlist have copies available. A lot of this is probably because of rule 3, actually; most of the books remaining on my wishlist are either rare, or still command a high price at the used bookstore, or are new enough that they haven't gotten into the used book ecosystem.

Ledbetter is suspicious of the point system because "booksellers would have no problem giving away hundreds of books they can't sell in order to acquire books they can." On the face of it this doesn't make sense: if you can give away a book you could have sold it, unless someone's mooching for Books by the Foot. But I think he might mean that booksellers can give away cheap books and use the points to get expensive books.

This is possible; I've gotten one book from Bookmooch that, if I was a used bookstore, I could sell for twenty bucks. I've given away books that a used bookstore could sell for eight because it was easier to mail them than to deal with the jerks at Strand and get three. But look at my first two tips. You can give away cheap books, and you can even give away books that are in unsellable shape, but you can't give away out-of-date books (no takers) or common books (too many givers). The only way to amass points is to give away books people want but that aren't overstocked; ie. to match supply to demand. You can try to arbitrage this, but it's a sucker's game--in fact, I suspect it's the same sucker's game as selling books for one cent on Amazon and trying to pay for your labor from the Amazon shipping charge. (Thank you, myriad suckers!)

The books I successfully give away tend to be those that are difficult to find used. Same with the books other people give to me. Sometimes I get lucky and get an expensive book. It works out the same either way; rarity becomes fungible with sale value.

But, Ledbetter's article got me thinking about my huge point surplus. I've got 79.6 Bookmooch points right now. If I mooched every available book on my wishlist I'd still have over seventy. People want my books a lot more than I want other peoples' books. The intuition is that this evens out, but Bookmooch isn't a zero-sum point system based on a gold standard of book swaps. The system includes inflation; you get extra points for mailing a book to another country, for completing a swap, and for listing books in your inventory. But the costs of the only two things you can buy don't go up as inflation is added to the system. So it's possible that everyone will eventually end up with a bunch of points they can't use.

This would certainly be a problem, but it has nothing to do with what people might do with your books after receiving them (like maybe selling them). I may do some screen-scraping and math and up-mashing to explore this possibility space in more detail.


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