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Comics on the cheap: Paperback Swap

by  in Comic News Comment
Comics on the cheap: Paperback Swap

In my last Comics on the Cheap post, I explained how you can get comics for your iPad for pennies. Of course, “iPad” and “cheap” are antonyms, so today I thought I’d discuss another recession-beater: How to get print comics via Paperback Swap. And by “print comics,” I mean mostly manga and indy graphic novels.

Paperback Swap is like a giant used book sale that is always going on. If you drop in often, you’ll find some good stuff; even if you just check it rarely, you may get lucky. The selection usually includes quite a few older manga, and if you’re looking for that odd volume of Love Hina or Ragnarok, this is definitely the place for you. There’s plenty for other readers to enjoy as well, though: I have also gotten Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges, CrossGen’s Meridian: Flying Solo, Jason Little’s Shutterbug Follies, and Scott Morse’s Visitations from the site, as well as a vintage book of Playboy cartoons, some old Donald Duck, and a brand-new copy of Classic Marvel Super Heroes: The Story of Marvel’s Mightiest. There is no charge for any of the books—it’s a free swap site—but to get credits, you have to send out books to other members, which means you will pay for postage.

The site works very simply, and I have to admit I have no tips or hacks to make it work better. You create an account and post the books you have; new members will get two book credits when they post 10 books, so you can get started right away if you like. If another member requests a book from you, you can download and print a label and mail it to them. The sender pays the postage, which is usually less than $3. When the receipient gets the book, they log it in and you get another credit. You can speed things up a bit by buying postage through Paperback Swap, which saves you a trip to the post office and allows you to get credit instantly. They tack on a surcharge, plus you have to move money over from PayPal in $5 increments, which means you will probably always have a little money left over in your account. It’s still a pretty good deal, though.

There are a few restrictions: Review copies and library books are not allowed, and some people won’t take books from homes with cats or cigarettes. The books are supposed to be in good condition, and usually they are, but I have gotten a few that were kind of beat up. The worst thing about it is that Paperback Swap members are sort of cheapskates, so they tend to mail out the books in grimy repurposed wrappers. I find that manila envelopes work just fine, and since I buy them by the gross, I usually can spare a nice clean one. If the book is fairly small, you can actually bypass the envelope altogether and just wrap the label around the book; instructions are on the site.

The home page features the most recent books, and you can set it to display your preferences, including graphic novels. Be warned that novelizations of comics often slip into the graphic novel category, however. The site is searchable, and if you create a wish list, you will automatically be notified when a book you want becomes available. The site also offers tools for reviewing and rating books, and if you go in for that sort of thing, you can even keep track of how far your books have traveled, how much you have saved, and how many books you haven’t read yet.

There are two things about Paperback Swap that I think are sort of interesting from a sociological point of view. One is that when you mark a book received, you are prompted to write a thank-you note to the sender. It’s sort of interesting that they would build this into the website, and I have to admit I like getting the little notes. The other thing is that when you receive a book the site asks for information about the label, the cost of postage, and the date of the postmark. It seems to me that you could write a Ph.D. thesis on truth-telling by comparing when people log in a book as mailed and what the postmarks actually are.

The beauty of Paperback Swap is it helps you thin out your shelves and swap books you don’t want for books you do. As shipping is the only cost, it compares favorably to buying online. The best part for me, though, is the serendipitous aspect of the whole thing—you never know what someone is going to post, and if you find something you want, you can grab it right away.

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