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A experiment in giving

Four years ago, I tried an experiment with an author friend of mine, which I blogged here:

the idea was to give away 45 copies of a book through BM, and ask people to "tip" the author if they liked the book. They should tip a little bit if they were passing the book onto someone else, or tip a lot if they were keeping the book.

Here is the book in question:
Ramsay Wood : A Cat May Look at a King

It was a full color book of cat stories, thus expensive to print, and I wanted to see how the experiment turned out.

I just logged into the paypal account for the tips, and found $176 in tips there, which amounts to a little less than $4 per book. That's not too bad.

Looking at the stats, I think that the problem is that most people kept the book, rather than passing it on. There were a total of 73 givers (including the 45 I Ramsay and I gave), so only 28 copies of the 45 were passed on. There are 100 people who want the book (wishlisted) but nobody is giving their copy away.

Perhaps the problem with this experiment was that the book was *too* nice, being full color, so that people wanted to keep it rather than reading it and passing it on?

I could add a feature to BM, showing who BM thinks the current owner of each copy is. In theory, BM could even email the current owners, letting them know that there are 100 wishlisters who want the book. Amazon does much the same thing, a few weeks after you buy a new book, letting you know about the used book demand for it.

Anyone else have any thoughts?


John Buckman
1 year ago


Turns out this was on my wishlist and I completely forgot about it. What would have been a better tip ratio for the author?

I wonder if we can increase:
(a) the tip ratio;
(b) the number of books being circulated;

IF, we can get some of the books to end-up returning to the their original owners.

Also, would this be a good way to promote new and unknown authors/books?

Hercules40 (a.k.a. PapaG)
1 year ago
-"Perhaps the problem with this experiment was that the book was *too* nice, being full color, so that people wanted to keep it rather than reading it and passing it on?"

No one thought this would happen? None of my pretty books are listed on bookmooch. That sounds terrible and selfish but this is the truth. It is very nice to own something visually appealing. In my case, the prettier book are hardbacks, even more reason I don't want to give them away. This is probably how the people in the experiment felt about the cat book.

-"showing who BM thinks the current owner of each copy is."

In a world where we have constant examples of obsession turned deadly, I would not appreciate this. There is already a list that states previous givers and moochers, that is enough for my satisfaction.Even though Amazon does this, they have a different goal: to make money. I am involved with this site because sharing books feels good. Being sent an email about a book I may have given away to a friend could start to become an annoyance.

Ultimately, you run the ship the best way you see fit. I still support your actions because they are done in a spirit of goodwill. Thank you for sharing your ideas with us.


1 year ago
-"Perhaps the problem with this experiment was that the book was *too* nice, being full color, so that people wanted to keep it rather than reading it and passing it on?"

I exchange books in here and I really love it, the surge of joy when someone else wanted to read the books I have enjoyed reading is outstanding. But if I wanted to keep the book I have just mooched, no one can dare me to send it away, not a hunderd e-mails, not a hundred wishlister.

As Khalia said, you run the ship the best way as you see fit. And Thank you for taking us on board.

1 year ago
I DO see it as a possibility that "mooch before you buy" could be turned into a separate thing which *did* do reminder e-mails like that. You could have something like:

This book is part of the "mooch before you buy" program.
By mooching this book, you agree that you will either:
a) Keep the book and pay the author for it (the amount is your choice).
b) Relist the book for somebody else to mooch, then mail it to them.
(Maybe some explanation after this about how the program works, and why it exists.)

Then, and only then, if people agreed to those terms, I think it would be appropriate to remind them that they have neither relisted it nor paid the author a "tip" yet. (Perhaps one month after they've marked the book received would be appropriate.) If you want it to be minimally annoying, this reminder could also have a "do not e-mail me again about this book" button at the bottom of it. A place to mark "tip sent" on the e-mail or on the BookMooch website (purely on the honor system) would also help tremendously to make it seem like a gentle reminder, not Big Brother nagging.

OTHERWISE -- and I feel strongly about this --

Most of the books I mooch on BookMooch, I keep. Others I give to friends; some I've donated to the local library. Still others might be "freebies" (not relisted, but still given away) to somebody through the site, like a charity. Even if I choose to keep something highly wishlisted, I post plenty of other things (highly wishlisted in some cases) that I got elsewhere. So it's not like I am using the site badly.

Being e-mailed to be told I needed to relist something would thus be really, really annoying. If it were an opt-in option people could choose, that would be fine (opt-IN, not opt-OUT), but not if it were something that happened automatically.

I do not think it would be a good idea to show "who has which current copy." It's something people can infer anyway (the stats are right there for who's mooched, and it's not hard to infer whether they've since given it away), so it wouldn't do anything except make it easier for people to be nags, cyber-stalkers, and trolls.

Oh, and for the record, I dislike doing that, too. I forward their e-mails straight to spam folder.

Being an author, I understand where you're going with this, John, and I think it's a good idea to want to support authors and try to help them out. Just important to make sure you do it in a way that makes people want to use BookMooch *more,* not *less.*

Emily Martha Sorensen
1 year ago
I don't care for emails reminding me of what I've mooched at all;
1 year ago
I have to agree with the other comments here. I don't like this idea at all. I have no problem with the experiment or the idea of allowing other authors to list books asking for a donation, but the concept of essentially nagging people about the books they have mooched is as unappealing to me as it gets.

I use bookmooch to keep my pleasure reading selection fresh, but I also use it to add to the collection of books that I consider our home library. I homeschool my two children and live in an area that has a poor public library so having a large selection of books in our home is essential. Most of the non-fiction and childrens books that I acquire in any manner are kept for years before I am ready to pass them on. If I began being bombarded with emails about the hundreds of books I have mooched and not relisted it would seriously turn me off of using bookmooch as much as I do. Especially considering the fact that wishlists remain active for those who haven't been active for years.

If you truly want my opinion there are multiple issues (inactive members and better search abilities to name a couple) that could and should be addressed long before considering adding features that would hinder the ease of use rather than improve it.

1 year ago
As a personal Bookmoocher tennantfamily I mooch books which I sometimes keep and sometimes mooch and pass on to relatives. People use Bookmooch in a variety of ways. I agree with others that publishing names is to be avoided.
You told me yourself with reference to journals being kept, even though those people mooching journals are asked to agree that they still belong to their creators and agree to pass them on or return to original creator, before they begin mooching them, that no names should be given on the forum.
Despite member's agreements before mooching, about three quarters of the journals are lost or stalled with inactive or unresponsive moochers.
This is a fairly close parallel to your author friend's book as these journals are the ideas and work of their creators and contributors.
One of mine where I used a diary with illustrations I mailed the requester before agreeing to send it, but she still kept it and looking at her mooching I realised she was acquiring as many of the illustrator's books as she could. Even an offer for it to go to her when completed went unanswered.
Like most other respondents here I think the removal of dead accounts - wishlists, inventories and all would make the site much more attractive. Adding a notice that accounts not activated within some specified period: 6 months say, or 25% of the member's membership period, will be deleted, when people join, might be advisable.
Bookmooch Journal Library Charity
1 year ago
Ok, message received loud and clear -- moochers who want to keep books shouldn't be nagged to pass them on -- you will do what you want, regardless of how many annoying email msgs the system might send to you. So... no annoying nags will come...


John Buckman
1 year ago
Yay! Thanks again for all you do - I've been with BM from the early days, and I wish I had a tenth of your energy and inspiration xxx
Sophie Houston
1 year ago
Thank you one and all! As the author of the (now out of print) guinea-cat book used in this experiment I've naturally read these comments with considerable interest. I guess that Denise is hankering for John to design a •Wishlist Filter• to keep these doggone critters •live• when she writes: "The wishlist of 100 probably narrows down to about 25 actual active members. I randomly chose 10 names and only two were active."

Nevertheless any publisher who had had more promotional copies to feed into the "BookMooch Blog Economy" (a small, unmeasured insider sub-division of the entire "Mooch Economy", I suspect) would have responded (I hope!) sooner to these wislisters than the nearly 1500 days that have elapsed since John and I launched our experiment. Such a supplier would seem to be the target profile to aim for with the next "Mooch+AuthorTips, OK?" title, especially a publisher who is simultaneously launching both a "deadtree" and an ebook edition. In such quicker-response circumstances would those hundred wishlisters have multiplied? Would some kind of dynamic have been established, with copies listed longer over a deeper "MoochCycle"? How many more than "73 givers" would have materialised?

But, yes, it would be the rare publisher who would foot such a rolling supply cost AND keep smiling while some moochers also "tip" the author. John however can be very persuasive, so you never know what's possible in the domain of commercial "goodwill" in a disrupted market. Every book still remains a new product which needs to find some buzzing word-of-mouth, so why not here in a major harbour of author-friendly goodwill?

I agree with Emily that it's a possibility that "Mooch+AuthorTips, OK?" might be turned into a parallel "BookMooch Blog Economy" channel "which *did* do (pre-sanctioned) reminder e-mails" (per her pre-box-ticked "a & b" clarifications) ONLY after an agreed time when a Moocher has neither relisted nor paid a "tip" yet.

Finally I nerdishly wondered what would be the average "MoochCycle" before a given "Mooch+AuthorTips, OK?" book rested quietly on someone's shelf? I'll clarify what I mean by fantasy-editing John's original text with some added CAPS: " only 28 copies of the 45 were passed on AFTER THE FIRST MOOCH. THUS 17 COPIES FOUND AN IMMEDIATE NEW HOME. OF THE 28 THAT WERE MOOCHED A SECOND TIME, x WERE MOOCHED A THIRD TIME, y A FOURTH AND z A FIFTH. AFTER THAT 5TH MOOCH CYCLE THE BOOK STOPPED BEING LISTED."

Ramsay Wood
1 year ago

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