The Great Rental Book War

July 15, 2008 at 6:31 am | Posted in Book Services | 3 Comments

Currently there’s an epic battle going on between two book rental companies that, evidently, appeared online in the same week in December last year.  These are Paperspine and BookSwim.  I’m currently signed up with both, for reasons I hope won’t be too confusing, so I’m in a position to compare them.  Renting books turns out to be cheaper even than buying used, as long as you read more than two a month.  Since I might read two a day on the weekend, this is clearly economical for me.

First off, both have about 200,000 books in their catalogue.  Second, both offer free shipping.  Third, their pricing structure is virtually identical.  Fourth, both sites will buy books for you, under certain criteria, if you are looking for something they don’t have in stock.  You can rent unlimited books two at a time for $14.95 a month from either one.  The differences are subtle, but enough so that you might find yourself leaning more toward one than another.  They’re both still in beta mode, so there’s also room for new development.

Okay, first off:  Paperspine has only paperback books at the moment, while BookSwim offers both paperback and hardcover.  The way this has worked out for me, so far, has been that Paperspine has had a better selection of older titles I hadn’t been able to find at the library, while BookSwim has a broader selection of newer titles, since these haven’t been released in paperback yet.  Once Paperspine starts offering hardcovers, their selection is bound to take a quantum leap forward, but until that happens, the jury is still out.  It’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison.  (This is the main reason I’m subscribed to both – neither one by itself can get me all the non-library titles on my list).

Second, there’s the delivery address issue.  If all your mail comes to your house, this won’t be a problem for you.  The deal is, Paperspine will only deliver to the billing address of the credit card you used to set up your account.  For me, that’s my post office box.  BookSwim, on the other hand, has a separate shipping address, so I am able to get my books at work, which I prefer.  I haven’t tried mentioning this to Paperspine support yet, but I’m sure it will come up soon.

Third, there are multiple pricing tiers, and while three of them overlap, each site has a range the other doesn’t have.  Paperspine offers a $9.95/month option in which you pay your own shipping – perfect for less rapid readers who still don’t want to pay $16 for a new paperback.  On the other end of the spectrum, BookSwim offers three tiers beyond Paperspine’s largest account.  If you’re really fast, or you live with other readers, you can get up to 11 books at a time.  (I’m on the 7 plan, so we’ll see how that holds up).

The other difference between the various plans is that of how many books you can keep at a time.  Both will allow you to keep any given book as long as you like without late fees, just like Netflix.  BookSwim also offers you a “buy this book” option, at about a $3 discount off their catalogue price.  (Chances are good you could beat this price at Amazon).  With Paperspine, as soon as you finish a book you can drop it in the envelope and mail it back, and they’ll send another one from your queue.  BookSwim, on the other hand, requires you to send back a batch at a time.  On the 7 plan, for instance, I have to send back at least 3 books before they’ll send more.  So depending on how quickly you read and how slow the mail delivery is in your area, this may be a factor for you.  (Right now both services take 7 days to get new books to me, and 3 days on the return trip).

Now for the actual books.  I have found that all my Paperspine books were in virginal condition.  It’s hard to tell if they never were read before I got them, or if they just went through very careful readers.  On the other hand, all my BookSwim books look very “well loved.”  They also have stickers on them – one a bar code, and the other an ad.  The advantage with Paperspine is the lovely newness of the book, while the advantage with BookSwim is that you’re not accidentally going to mix in a rental book with your own books.

As for the queueing, my first four Paperspine books came in the order of my queue, and it wasn’t until the fifth one that a selection came up from further down the list.  I’m still on my first batch with BookSwim – they arrived today, in fact – and only one of the seven came from the first seven slots in my queue.  But then, I set up the entire queue in one session, so it’s hard to tell what will happen with the next shipment.

I calculated my savings on my first BookSwim order today.  It turns out, if I had paid the lowest price for each book on Amazon and gotten free shipping, I would have spent just under $61 for seven hardcovers.  The monthly fee for the 7 plan is $27.99.  So even if these wind up being the only books I read all month, I’ve still paid less than half price.  My Paperspine account is the $14.95 plan.  It looks like I could have gotten those books for as low as $13.69 – pretty close – though I would have had to pay separate shipping for all four books.  I don’t even want to think what that would add up to – I can’t stand paying for shipping, especially when it’s higher than the price of the item.  Why can’t we just teleport these things?  …But I digress.  I guess the main point is that renting is cheaper than owning, and the faster postal service is in your area, the more books you can get turned around in a month, the better the value.

If you’re interested, naturally there are incentives for signing up new members.  If you type in the code JC3109 on Paperspine, I get a free month.  If you’re interested in BookSwim, the incentive goes your way – I would get $5 while you would get 50% off your first month.  Sheesh.  Anyway, if you’d like to do that, send me your e-mail address and I’ll e-mail you the invite.

Okay, time to go read more books now.  Er.  I mean, time to go to bed now.



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  2. Wonderful info. hope to definitely visit soon=D

  3. Hi there,
    I am currently agonizing whether to join bookswim or paperspine. I tend to lean toward paperspine.However, I am in awe that you are able to read two books per day!!! I am an avid reader but for some reason a slow one. Thanks for your great comparison, as it stands right now paperspine still only ships paperbacks.


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