Swaptree, let me sing your praises

Almost a year ago I went to my first WebInno event. One of the main dish companies was Swaptree. The CEO, Greg Boesel, described a service that would allow people to trade books, CDs, DVDs and video games. As a pretty heavy reader, I liked the idea; but at the same time, I wondered how it would operate and even more importantly – how it would make money.

I bumped into Greg at a subsequent event and I had to revise my thinking based on that conversation. Greg also invited me to be a part of the Swaptree beta and it has totally changed the way I think about books and reading.

My first trade was on January 31st. I swapped “The Seventy Great Inventions Of The Ancient World” for “The World is Flat.” As it happened, Greg was the person I was trading with and so rather than mailing the books we met and made the exchange in person. It turns out that we have similar taste in reading so this was the first of many trades between us.

After a few trades, I asked if I could write something about Swaptree, but Greg asked that I hold off as they were still in the midst of a private beta. That beta is over and when I asked him again last night he said by all means. (In fact, he apparently had emailed my a while ago to say it was OK but I missed the note . . .)

So now, without further ado, let me sing the praises of Swaptree.

As mentioned above, Swaptree allows people to trade books, CDs, DVDs and games. It does this my asking for a list of items you’d be willing to trade, as well as for a list of items you’d like in return. I have a fairly large collection of books (700-1000 or so) and came up with about 80 that I was willing to trade.

Adding books is easy. You simple enter the ISBN number and Swaptree gathers all of the relevant information (they use the Amazon database). You can also enter the number using a bar code scanner if you have access to one. Once your book is in the system, you need to rate its condition and confirm that you are willing to put it up for trade. You can also add comments if you like. And that’s it. Your book now awaits an opportunity to be transformed into something new.

Building the list of items you want feels like shopping. The database of materials is extensive and relatively well organized (there were more than a few cases of mis-classification). Right now I have about 20 items on my want list.

With these two sets of information, Swaptree starts trying to find ways to get you what you want. If the system were limited to simple one-to-one trades things probably wouldn’t work. Fortunately, Swaptree is able to do trades that involve multiple people. This greatly increases the likelihood of success.

Once a potential trade is available, the system notifies everyone and gives them the opportunity to accept or reject the trade. If it’s rejected the process starts all over again. If it’s accepted, you’re given the shipping address of the person receiving your item (remember, this person may or may not be the one sending your item to you).

Swaptree provides the ability to print postage right on the site – which is great because if I had to go to the Post Office to do this I wouldn’t. Media rates are low and mailing a book is generally only a few dollars. The site has some tracking tools but they are spotty (the data is provided by the USPS so Swaptree doesn’t have much control over this).

I’ve done 20 trades so far and with only one exception they have gone off just fine. The one exception was so bizarre that it doesn’t reflect on the service. (Here’s what happened. A member who I’d traded with before sent me a book. First days, and then weeks, went by. I used the system to contact the sender. The tracker showed that it had been sent but he offered to follow up with the local Post Office. All signs pointed to a simple delay. A few weeks later the package arrived. It was totally ripped apart and had been put in plastic by the Post Office. When I opened it it wasn’t the book I expected. I contacted the sender again. He had never owned the book I received – a 2007 Reader’s Digest hardback edition of “The Phantom of the Opera” – and offered to send my original book back to me (an offer I declined).)

The biggest problem I’ve had is how to queue all of the books I’ve received. At this point I have more than 20 and am not going to be able to read even half of them this year. Now I’ve started using Swaptree for movies and games and have been equally happy with the results.

In the five months I’ve been using Swaptree, the number of books I’ve bought is way down (way, way down); but the number of books I’ve acquired is way up. It’s also given me a way to pass along books that I’ve read and enjoyed to good homes that want them.

There’s more that can be said about Swaptree but I think this gives the basic idea. The company offers a mediated way to exchange tangible content and it’s great. The official launch of Swaptree is happening soon and once that happens the number of items for trade will go through the roof. Check it out.

[tags]Swaptree, books, CDs, DVDs, games[/tags]

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