The BookMooch Experience

BookMooch - The Great Book Scam

We have been collecting books for our Global Nomad research. It’s been challenging as local libraries don’t offer much literature in English, and on the other hand getting rid of piles of books ordered from online book stores before heading back to the road is not an easy task. We discovered an Internet service called BookMooch that seemed to offer a solution.

How the System Should Work

We registered to BookMooch on the 20th of July. In the beginning a new user is expected to fill an inventory. This means typing into the system the books you have and are willing to send to other users. Sending books gives you points which you can use to get books from others; three points if you send a book abroad and one point for domestic delivery. You get 0.1 points for each book you add to your inventory. When you ask for a book, it’s called mooching, and it costs you two points abroad and one point domestic.

The system is rather clear and simple to use when and if everything goes fine, but this was not the case with us. We wrote to the profile that we prefer e-books to printed books, which was a taboo subject. Soon there was an e-mail from New Zealand claiming that e-books are illegal and after that our profile was edited behind our back with blatant lies about e-books being illegal. In the meanwhile, nobody from the administration bothered to contact us.

Now we have points left for ordering five to ten books, but some anonymous person from the BookMooch administration disabled our account so that we are not able to use the points. The system worked extremely well for getting rid of books, but unfortunately not that well for receiving books in return.

This is how the BookMooch worked in practise

Too Good To Be True?

After our profile was edited, we fixed it back to its previous glory and added there a message to the administration:

TO BOOKMOOCH STAFF: Next time you edit profiles without permission, please contact the profile owner first and make sure that you know what you are doing. That is common courtesy. Thank you
That was probably too much, because the next day the account was placed under “vacation” and soon after that, the profile had been emptied. Functions for editing profile, mooching books and contacting other members had been disabled with the following message:
You can’t use that feature yet

Before you can use that feature, we need you to confirm your email address. A confirmation email will be sent to you in the next 24 hours, once an administrator has reviewed your account.

If you do not receive a confirmation message, it may be that your email address has a spam filter which is rejecting the message. You might want to try using a different email address at BookMooch or checking your spam filter.

You can email tech support if you need help.
Needless to say, trying to contact the administration was a waste of time. No replies, nothing. Also the guy who owns BookMooch, John Buckman, did not bother to respond.

Digging BookMooch a Bit Deepers

When the damage had already been done, we began to dig out what went wrong and read documentation provided in the web site and the Internet. We had not violated the terms of the site, but there was a hilariously ignorant notion at the end of FAQ telling that e-books are not allowed because of “many issues with copyright, DRM, and no shipping for it to work with BookMooch at this time”. Perhaps expressing our liking of e-books was too much.

A quick search of the Internet provided some interesting background information. We were not the only ones getting the BookMooch treatment. Here is what another former BookMooch user writes about the system in a blog comment:

(--) His [John Buckman] administrators are using the site to make money out of Bookmooch by creating their own accounts and mooching expensive books and giving away cheap books in return! Then they sell the books they’ve mooched. If a member competes with them in mooching hard-to-find or expensive books their accounts will be closed or suspended indefinitely based on ridiculous reasons, which are meaningful for only themselves! (--)

The site doesn’t offer any venues for removing private information and at the same time it reserves all rights for selling private information to anyone. After checking the sites privacy statement, there was no doubt that the community was managed by fear and with serious lack of transparency in privacy as well as in the work of the administration:

- if you abuse the trust of the community by attempting to, or succeeding at “gaming the system”, violate the terms of use, or other forms of cheating or fraud, we reserve the right to publicly publish all your confidential details and identify you as someone we believe has betrayed the trust of the community.

Would you like your private information to be published when some anonymous administrator decides to get a vendetta on you for an unknown reason? The company operates under Californian law which explains the lack of privacy. Considering the site’s code of ethics, practices of BookMooch administration and the outcome of our test run, we are not able to recommend BookMooch.

Other stories about BookMooch: BookMooch sucks, Review of Bookmooch.com, comments, librarytwopointzero: Proper review of Bookmooch, comments, LibraryThing discussion forum: BookMooching, shelfari discussion forum: i need help..., Book Chase: “When Free Books Aren’t Really Free”.

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Comments

  1. Dear Urban nomads, thanks for the link and an interesting read. I was fortunate in my bookmooch experience in that I was an early aopter and got loads of books (and sent a fair few out). My blog has recieved extensive complaints about bookmooch in the last year. It really never did become as big as bookswap.
    But changing your profile? Thats just wrong. Hope they sort it out for you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Urban nomads, thanks for the link and an interesting read. I was fortunate in my bookmooch experience in that I was an early aopter and got loads of books (and sent a fair few out). My blog has recieved extensive complaints about bookmooch in the last year. It really never did become as big as bookswap.
    But changing your profile? Thats just wrong. Hope they sort it out for you.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Dear Urban nomads, thanks for the link and an interesting read. I was fortunate in my bookmooch experience in that I was an early aopter and got loads of books (and sent a fair few out). My blog has recieved extensive complaints about bookmooch in the last year. It really never did become as big as bookswap.
    But changing your profile? Thats just wrong. Hope they sort it out for you.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for your comment. Actually the profile has been permanently closed and all our 10 points (worth of up to 10 books) were stolen. Unfortunately those other services are US/UK only.

    Wish someone would start such a service open and free with transparent administration.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Agreed, BookMooch sucks! I was doing all right with it, until the holidays hit and people started getting totally psycho with their comments. If you want to give free books away, you'd think people could wait a bit longer than a week into the new year before complaining that they haven't received them yet and spying on your every log-in (?!) to cite you as "ignoring them." Seriously insane behavior from some of these moochers!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Austin, thanks for sharing your thought. Hope someone will copy and enhance the concept and publish the result as an open project with real transparency and accountability. We would be happy to join and contribute for such a project.

    ReplyDelete
  7. On the Rachel Ray show they just featured how great BM is for getting free books. I got shut out with 22 point unused. http://www.ripoffreport.com/directory/Bookmooch-com.aspx
    Not nice.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Jingles, sorry to hear that. You lost over twice more books than us. We will link your story this to blog entry. Shame on bookmooch.

    ReplyDelete
  9. It's no free lunch. BookMooch is a for-profit site, like Google and FaceBook, and the "members" are the product which is sold to advertisers. Give John Buckman cred for seeing a niche market and creating a successful brand. A cinch for the founder/CEO of Lyris, a direct-marketing firm (sold in 2005 for $12 million). Compare the stats from February 27, 2008 BookMooch Wordpress blog under "Amazon should love us":
    http://bookmooch.wordpress.com/2008/02/
    to the numbers on the blogads website:
    http://web.blogads.com/advertising/bookmooch/bookmooch/adspotsfolder/ba_adspotsfolder_revision_create_shortcut?persistent_uid=c7dd78ebd527751c8162b1bc18cfc779&persistent_ref=
    Short version:
    2008: "I think Amazon should be happy with us, since we sell about $10,000 a month worth of books for them …. BookMooch is paid an 8% commission …."
    2011: "At BookMooch, our small "amazon info" button sells over $50k of new books each month for Amazon. Just think of how well your highly visible ads will do at selling your books."
    2008: "I don't take advertising"
    2011: "Our users actually love book ads …."
    The slickest part of John Buckman's operation is the poor fools who "give a little" ($$$) to BookMooch (on top of paying for postage, gas, and books, AND wasting time searching for books that will never enter the system). From the BookMooch blog: "Even a teeny donation of $3 per month really helps … My time is donated, as are all the admins … nobody gets paid for helping run BM."
    one last thing:
    http://sunrisecodeworks.com/BookMoochStatistics.html
    Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anonymous,thanks for sharing your insights and the links.

    Happy travels,

    Päivi & Santeri

    ReplyDelete
  11. Dear urban nomads I feel your pain. I joined bookmooch recently and was shut out with 5 points I never got to use. I did send out several books and got nothing to show for my time, effort or money and good faith. They never even gave any warning or reason that I did anything wrong. Very frustrating. Stay away from these for profit moocher @#%&! administrators.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Emmanuel, sorry to hear that they managed to mooch you, too. Perhaps we will some day make a similar service with honest and volunteer based administration. Meanwhile, e-books have worked well for us.

    Happy travels!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Early in April my bm site went down but "tech support" never responded until,I suppose robo-computer threatened to totally close me down for pestering them--Still shut out--Where are all my credits earned? Also,"they" said I was being investigated" for complaints. I believe I WAS one of their best customers---As I still am at paperbackswap. Also,I sell at Amazon,with a [rare] 100% rating. I,at first,thought their whole site had collapsed since at end of March it was down for everyone for 3 days. Maybe the "complaints" are from those who I can no longer reach to confirm arrivals of requests,etc. I have not heard,yet,of general collapse[complaints]. Owner John does not respond to my emails either. This cannot go on. Investigator do you thing!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I also feel your frustration with bookmooch. I did find it very odd when I poked around the site that one of their "user profiles" seems to encourage the practice of trading low-value books for pricey ones to sell on Amazon. "To pay for shipping costs" was the excuse. I don't think a lot of the "regular" users of the site who just want to "send my books to someone who will love them" would be too happy knowing that their book is just being requested in order to profit from it. But it says, right there on their website, "we post Amazon price information right next to the book so you see if it's worth mooching to sell". It's all right there at http://bookmooch.com/about/persona-rianne

    At paperbackswap they at least discourage this type of thing, though they obviously can't know if someone is actually doing it. But they don't wink at it or make it easy.

    There is now another international book-swapping site, changobooks.com. I get nothing for mentioning it, except maybe requesting the books of anyone who signs up.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Anonymous from above...

    Just wanted to add -

    I've been thinking about the accusation that some bookmooch admins are using the site to skim off the top valuable books to profit from on Amazon. I have no proof that it is true, but my experience with bookmooch causes me to wonder.

    I signed up for the site, listed a bunch of books I was willing to swap, accepted some requests, made some requests, and built my wishlist. I was shut down within a few hours. Why? No idea. The email just said I was being investigated for abuse.

    I had been chalking it up to them being completely paranoid and rude. But now I'm thinking about the fact that my few book requests were for books which listed a high value on Amazon (though they were actually worthless on Amazon, condition notes said that were ex-library or had other major issues). And on my wishlist I had listed some books which have a high price point on Amazon. I knew my chance of such books getting swapped was slim, but I'm a person who doesn't see the point of wishlisting books readily available on Amazon for under $4 (including shipping). So now I'm thinking that maybe I tripped the "Amazon seller" alarm, not that that's illegal on the site (see my previous post about how the site encourages it), but because admins were afraid that I would try to snag some books that they would want to add to their own Amazon selling inventory.

    Just to be clear. I do not have an Amazon seller account. And all the books that were on my wishlist are books I would actually like to own.

    At this point, I don't think the admins would see this as a problem. Even though bookmooch is a for-profit site (with all the profit going solely to the owner) the attitude of many is "I'm a poor little volunteer doing this out of the goodness of my heart." They probably see their Amazon selling as one of their only "perks" for "helping out" the "poor" site so much.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Also, how the wishlist works on bookmooch has been a major complaint from users from years. Why? It's not "first-in, first-out" like on paperbackswap or changobooks. Instead it is set up to be a completely random free-for-all. When people suggest changing it, the response from admins is always some excuse about fairness, the number of inactive accounts, and programming issues or etc. I've come to believe that the reason they don't change it, and are so opposed to a transparent "your place in line is #N" system like on PBS, is that they want to be able to snatch up any book to sell on Amazon, even if it is on multiple wishlists.

    Again, I have no proof except the site's own history of use, but my sixth sense tells me that something very dirty is going on there.

    ReplyDelete
  17. PBS's ridiculous "your place in line is #N" is precisely why they are horrible and I will always stick with Bookmooch. Why should I have to wait in line for a book that's on 100 inactive wishlists? First come, first serve is more fair.

    I've received over 200 books from Bookmooch in the five years I have been a member. 200 free books? I'll take it. I uploaded my wishlist to PBS just to give it a try and couldn't even earn enough points to start swapping - and besides that, I am of course last in line for anything and everything! What a shoddy system. Just because the commenters here are doing shady things with their BM accounts and getting shut down doesn't mean that BM is all bad. I haven't found anything better yet. PBS is horrible, and no other bookswap community is as large as BM's.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I realize that this thread is probably a dead horse but I am so frustrated with bookmooch I am here to flog away!

    I would LOVE if they had deleted my acct. I prayed they would, I begged them to. I had been receiving notifications for a book not on my wish list for months. No matter what avenue they provided I could not stop getting those notifications, so I closed my account.

    Now weeks later and I'm still getting 2 or 3 notifications a day for the same darned book as before. Even though I am no longer a member of bookmooch.

    I wrote to the technical support and of course no response.

    I marked everything from bookmooch to go to my spam folder so at least I don't blow a gasket from seeing it in my inbox. BUT it's still annoying me to see the notifications in my spam folder as well.

    I wonder if anyone else has had this happen, and how they resolved it?

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Hopefully someone will read them before their books get stolen, too.

    ReplyDelete

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