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Local 'weirdo book people' swap paperbacks on Internet

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

She tried giving the books away.

Actually, Alicia Atwater did give them away, packing up boxes of paperback fiction and sending them to a Gulf Coast library, which had been affected by Hurricane Katrina. But it didn't help.

"I still had all of these books laying around," she said. "They start to pile up and clutter the house."

A little more than seven months ago, though, the Jonesboro woman found a solution on the Internet: Book swapping, a free service provided by paperbackswap.com.

Based in Forsyth County, the web site connects voracious readers and allows them to trade paperbacks for the cost of postage. The two founders, Richard Pickering and Robert Swarthout, say members swap about 35,000 books each week.

The web site, they say, is the virtual, Internet-age version of a book club, a library, and a used book store.

It's a simple, and cheap service. Members list books they want to get rid off, agreeing to mail them to anyone who wants them. In exchange, they list the authors and works they're interested in, and receive the books free of charge. For every book mailed, members receive one credit, which can be exchanged for another book.

Atwater said she spent the first few weeks, as a registered member of paperbackswap.com, just mailing books out. Then she saw something she wanted to read and added it to her wish list.

Her home's literary circulation came unclogged, and started to flow freely again.

"I love it," she said of paperbackswap.com. "I probably use it two or three times a week. I absolutely love it."

Brandi Mulkey, a Jonesboro woman who reads romance novels and the quick-read fiction she calls "trash," said she turned to the service because of a lack of real-life bookstores.

When The Book Worm, a used book store in Riverdale, shut down a little more than a year ago, there were no used book stores in Clayton County. Mulkey found her only access to cheap, used paperback fiction was a store in Fayetteville, requiring a time-consuming trek, or online outlets, which often didn't want to take her books in trade.

She tried turning to garage sales, Mulkey said, but found, "you can't go to a garage sale and pick up a stack of books for $5, because they're all being sold on e-Bay."

She tried using online services, like Amazon.com and e-Bay, but found it cost too much. A self described "weirdo book person," Mulkey said she knew she needed something, and then she found the swapping web site.

"It was getting kind of tough around here, to find books," she said. "Then I found this site."

After hearing about paperbackswap.com from a relative, Mulkey turned to the online service and now, like Atwater, she loves it.

"I am more addicted to swapping books, now, than I am to reading them," Mulkey jokes. "I'm like the master swapper for my family."

Mulkey, her mother, her aunt and other relatives all share the paperback fiction, each one initialing the first page when they've read the book, and passing it on to the next relative. If they bought their books new, at a retail outlet, she said, it would cost "a fortune."

The Mulkey family might, too, be forced to read a more limited selection of books.

Jill Ellington, a teacher at Union Grove, said the wide selection of books available on paperbackswap.com is one of the features that keeps her coming back.

"The advantage here," Ellington said, "is you can look for any book that you want. You can put it on a wish list and they'll automatically send it to you."

While watching the movie on TV, one night, Ellington realized she had seen the 1957 movie, Peyton Place, and had seen the TV show in he late 60s, but had never read the book. She added author Grace Metalious to her list, and soon had the book in her hands.

Ellington's brother asked her if she could find an out-of-print book by Herman Wouk. He had looked for it online, but couldn't find a copy for less than $20.

"I put it on the wish list for like two weeks, and then it came," Ellington said. "I love the Internet."