There is an interesting article in today’s Guardian G2 supplement about websites such as ReadItSwapIt.co.uk , BookMooch.com and others via which readers can swap second hand books. This of course interests me from an environmental point of view (see here for my thoughts on ethical publishing) because it is in many ways the best way of recycling a book: sending it on to someone else who wants to read it rather than letting it fester on your shelves. I have to confess I have never used such sites, partly because I reread so many of the books I own I couldn’t bear to part with them, and partly because I have only recently become aware of them. I love second-hand bookshops and have picked up several bargins in the past; I have also bought second-hand books from Amazon Marketplace. The difference with these sites of course is that you neither make nor spend money (apart from postage, but I imagine that balances itself out) when simply swapping book.

Apparently one Canadian Spruce makes only 24 books, which sits up and makes you think about exactly how many trees we must get through. The article states that ‘only 40% if the UK book industry has introduced paper with a high level of recycled content, largely choosing to use paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council instead’. There are of course only so many times you can recycle paper before it becomes unusable which is why projects focusing on sustainable management of resources are just as important in my view, but it is also why recycling books by swapping rather than pulping can sometimes be the better option when you know you will only read a book once. I imagine it is also a good way of discovering titles and authors who will not necessarily be stocked in the local bookshops or easily findable on Amazon; I know when I have bought second-hand books from Amazon Marketplace it has been because it wasn’t in stock anywhere else. It can also be another forum for social networking and discussion about books, as I was talking about here.

Of course from a publishing business point of view it’s not necessarily a good thing; a publishing company only makes money if a new copy of its book is sold. It is also potentially competition for second-hand and charity bookshops. Nevertheless, I feel that all of these forums for discovering and reading books should be able to function alongside each other, because buying or swapping books online can never entirely replace the pleasure of going into a shop, second-hand or otherwise, and browsing the shelves, and there will always be books I want to buy new and keep because I want to read them more than once. Having said that, my bookshelves are probably due for a spring clean-out so when I get a chance I might see what books I have that would be worth swapping or giving to a second-hand charity shop!

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