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Posts Tagged ‘BookSwim’

Why BookSwim Is Bad for Reading

October 13, 2009 15 comments

BookSwim is a business that essentially claims to be the book version of Netflix.  I’d been to their website a few months ago, but when someone reposted it on Twitter I revisited.  I was immediately struck by how the whole thing bothers me.  After a bit of pondering, I realized why.

BookSwim is attempting, subtly, to become a monopoly in the supply of books.

They claim to be more convenient and better than borrowing from a local library, cheaper than buying books, and more trustworthy than eReaders.  They also claim to be better than swapping services like SwapTree, since you’ll be getting new or barely used books instead of old copies.  However, they understand you may still want to buy a book, so you always have the option of buying a book you have rented from them and then just not returning it.  Soon, all you will need for books is a BookSwim account.

Everyone knows monopolies are bad from an economic standpoint.  Where there’s a monopoly there’s horribly high prices, and the item being offered becomes a mark of wealth rather than something everyone uses.  However, I see a monopoly of this type as dangerous to literacy, intellectualism, and even freedom.

How easy would it be to censor what the public reads if everyone attains their information from the same book provider?  Can you imagine the nightmare for freedom of thought it would be if one congolmerate controlled all collection development for an entire nation?  Already they claim to have almost every book you would ever want to read, yet when I searched for five books on my to be read list, only the most recently published one (this year) was held by BookSwim.  (Most of the other were from 1960s to the 1980s, though one was a classic).  They claim to be willing to buy any book they don’t have that you want, but I honestly am skeptical about this.  Maybe I’ve received too many promises like that from cell phone providers, but I can just see the “sorry, there wouldn’t be enough demand to warrant the price” email now.

I know most users wouldn’t limit themselves to just BookSwim for getting their books.  At least not right now.  Yet this scenario of a Big Brother monopoly over where we can acquire our books is clearly what BookSwim wants.

“But, Amanda,” I can hear you saying, “Shouldn’t a business want to become a great succcess?”  Well, yes, but they could have come up with a business model that is more supportive of the community of reading and learning.  A website such as IndieBound, for instance, that makes it easy for users to find local independent bookstores.

Reading and learning isn’t just about “Oh I got this book that’s popular right now, and it came so conveniently in my mail.”  Reading and learning are about the journey and the connections.  When I go to my local independent bookstore and browse for something to read, I not only get a used book cheap, but I also chat with the owner and other browsers.  I leave knowing that my book came from someone else in the community.

I like knowing that the books I read come from many sources.  I use the local public library, borrow from friends, buy used from indie bookstores, buy new copies, receive ARCs from LibraryThing and blogs, and plan to swap via SwapTree in the near future.  My knowledge-base is fluid and about a community.  It isn’t one business that ships my books to me in the mail.  It’s the various communities of readers that overlap and interact to make for my own unique learning experience.  If a company such as BookSwim did become a monopoly, I would lose all that, and that is one of my favorite aspects of reading.

Environmentalism’s Impact on Books

Environmentalists have their good points and bad points, just like any activist group.  I agree with some of their points and disagree with others.  However, there seems to be the stirrings of a new target for environmentalists–new books.  A blog example is this post detailing how you should only buy used books whenever possible as studies show they are better for the environment.  Then there’s the new Netflix-style business called BookSwim, which claims that it’s more environmentally friendly to have their stock of “rentable” books shipped to you in recycled packing materials than it is to buy new books.

What these people seem to be missing is that if people stop buying new books, at some point there won’t be any more new books being published.  It is important that avid readers support the publishing of new books by currently writing authors, as well as the classics.  If the publishing industry encounters a distinct lack in demand for their product, they aren’t going to make it anymore!  Environmentalists need to grasp the fact that we’re talking about books here.  Literacy.  Education.  Possessing an educated public.  That’s a bit more important than a few trees in the rainforest.  They really need to set their sights on something else.  I’m all behind finding alternative energy sources, but we need books to keep being published.

Another point that ye olde BookSwim seems to miss is the low environmental impact of borrowing books from your local public library.  I know in rural areas people have to drive there, but it is often possible to bike or walk.  No books are being shipped, plus you get the chance to meet and encounter people from your neighborhood at the library.  Not to mention the fact that the library is free.  What BookSwim cites as its most popular plan costs $29.97 a month.  They heavily push the idea of no late fees and no due date, but let’s consider this for a moment.  The most popular plan is 7 books at a time, send back 3 and hold 4.  A book is not a movie.  A movie may generally be watched in 1 1/2 to 2 hours, which leads to a rapid turnover.  This is part of what makes Netflix worth the money.  Even the most avid reader generally takes more than 2 hours to finish reading a book.  My friends who read the most avidly finish around 10 books a month.  That means they would have paid $3 a book.  Most libraries charge 10 cents a day for a late book, and allow you to have it for anywhere from a month to two months.  You would have to keep the book an extra 30 days in order for the late fees to equate the cost of the book from BookSwim.  Anybody with half a brain can see that BookSwim isn’t worth the money.  One of the major selling points of BookSwim is the ability to take as long as you want to read a book, but if you do that then you won’t be getting your money’s worth.

Come on, people.  Use your heads.  Utilize your local public library for older books or books you know you will only want to read once, and buy new books from your local independent bookstore to support the future of the book industry.  It is really not that complicated.  Environmentalists should stick to their solar panels.