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SwapTree, a new way to get value from old books and CDs

What do you do with your books when you finish reading them? Or your videogames, DVDs, or CDs that you're tired of? Me, I stick them on a shelf until my wife harangues me to get rid of them. Then I make a run to the used book or music store, sell what I can for pennies, and take the rest to the Goodwill. I'd be happier if I could extract more personal value from these items. But only as long as I don't have to hassle with actually selling the items on eBay or at a garage sale -- I'm not that motivated.

Here's one way I do leverage old media: I trade the DVDs I'm done with for new (to me) movies using Peerflix. An upcoming service, Lala, will do a similar thing for music CDs. Both of these services charge users a small fee for each trade.

Nice. But there's a free service, SwapTree, scheduled to launch in July. Not only is it a no-cost option, but it will let you trade among types of items -- not just DVD-to-DVD or CD-to-CD.

It is also unlike existing trading systems in that it does not use an internal economy of points or credits. In other services you earn credits for shipping goods into the system, which you can then spend on acquiring other users' used goods. The benefit of this virtual currency is that any item sell contributes to your capability to buy any other item anywhere in the system. That's the great thing about money -- it's flexible.

In SwapTree, there are no credits. All trades are person-to-person. You list on the site what you want to trade out and what you want to get, and whenever there's a match, the system will enable you to do a direct one-to-one trade with a person who has something you want and wants something you have. SwapTree will also enable three- and four-way trades, coordinating the shipment of multiple items between its members so everybody unloads what they don't want and gets what they do, even if there's no pair of users with precisely correlating wishes.

You first notice that SwapTree is different from other systems when you enter an item that you're putting up for trade. SwapTree shows you exactly what you can get for it -- not what it's worth in the abstract. Enter more items, and the list of things you can get expands. You can also enter in items you want, and there's no immediate trade match found, the system will later alert you if one pops up.

SwapTree feels much social than other trading systems. In fact, SwapTree will let you set up trading groups (of coworkers or classmates, for example) to make it easier to coordinate swaps among friends. This service could become a great icebreaker: you might find that the coworker in the office next to you is finished with a book that you've been wanting to read.

Because SwapTree knows what you have, what you want, and where you are, its founders think that the service can make money for itself with highly targeted advertising. There are no immediate plans to charge for membership or per trade. You will be able to buy postage, however, printed onto the mailing labels that the site generates when you have to ship off an item.

For those of us interested in recovering entertainment value from our media, not simply making some cash from our used items, SwapTree sounds like a great solution. I am looking forward to joining its network.