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The BookMooch Experience

BookMooch - The Great Book ScamWe have been collecting books for our Urban 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 soon 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 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 eBooks 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 eBooks 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, 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", Jingles got ripped-off 22 points.

Search words: John Buckman, BookMooch, book, exchange, scam, cheat, trading, selling, expensive, books, admin, adminstrator, administration, privacy, Amazon,,,,,,,,

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