BookCrossing – Marketing Insights From A Unique Online/Offline Community

Author: Gab Goldenberg is a unique book giving community where people label their books, give them to other members to read and then those members pass them on further to others. In 11 years it’s grown to over 1M members, with 9M books in circulation.


How BookCrossing Works
How BookCrossing Works: Label your books, share them with others, and follow its travel worldwide!

Heather Mehra PedersenIn this unique interview, Co-Founder & Director of Finance Heather Mehra-Pedersen shares what has helped grow their community, motivate their members and ultimately build the business.

Gab – Can you give readers a short summary of BookCrossing, and what its members love about it most? Where (URLs please) can people find out more?

Heather – BookCrossing is a mix of a treasure hunting game, a pay-it-forward way to share the wealth (of knowledge), [and] sharing what you love.

A great way to brighten the day of a stranger and clear the clutter in your own bookcase at the same time.

A community of bright and generous people.

1) The BookCrossing has existed since 2001. What’s contributed the most to making the site grow to where it is today, with 1,1M members and over 9M books shared?

Word of mouth, the enthousiasm of our members, their willingness to spread the word directly and through the local media.

The community has to overcome some inherent friction to book sharing.

2) What motivates people to share their books with others in the first place? What benefit does the person giving away their book get out of it?

Decluttering, knowing that the book has a good chance to be read not pulped, a sense of adventure and excitement, knowing that you have made someone’s day, spreading the joy of reading.

3) Does BookCrossing need to allay the fear that someone will tear, write in or otherwise potentially damage the book? Or do members not worry about this since they’re giving away the book, not just lending it out?

We’re all individuals and some of us worry about this.

Many members however feel that this happens only rarely and it’s worth the risk. Is life really worth living if you’re unwilling to go out on a limb every now and then, if only in a small way?

If you keep all your books forever and the house burns down… they’ll all be lost anyway.

4) With a web-based community, there’s often an inertia where people don’t want to get out of their chairs and away from the computer. Yet your site specifically achieves that difficult purpose, even to the extent of having people potentially go out of their way to go to a BookCrossing Zone.

Is it just the motivation to give their book (above) that does this? Or are there other rewards? For example, how influential is your leaderboard recognition in encouraging people to give out their books for sharing?

The leaderboard is not something that people care a lot about.

BookCrossing is not really a numbers game and there are no prizes for releasing lots of books. We think the motivation is mostly coming from within. Getting a nice journal entry for one of your books is a great big boost that makes your day and gives you fresh motivation that lasts for days.

[Getting a journal entry is notification that someone “caught” your book #abc, where they are etc.]

5) Are there some categories of books that account for a majority of what is shared through your community? If so, what?

Does it skew more to fiction vs nonfiction? Expensive vs non-expensive? Practical (ex.: Self help, recipes, advice etc) vs non-practical (ex.: books on TV/movie celebrities) ?

We aren’t sure but we believe that the main part is fiction. Fiction doesn’t really get outdated, nonfiction may. Reference books are
definitely being circulated, though.

We have no way of seeing which books are expensive and which aren’t, and we don’t really care: we love books for their content, not the way they look. What’s within is the real treasure.

6) What do you do to encourage offline community around your site?

Not a lot. We don’t need to. The sense of community comes from the members, and they are a wonderfully active and social bunch, organising
meetups and international conventions all over the place.

7) Your site is very international. Was that a deliberate choice or did it just sort of happen?

We never thought it was possible. But we found it happening and decided to go with the flow, and more than that, to actively start encouraging it. Book sharing gets that much better when it starts crossing borders.

We feel that being a global movement enriches us all and helps us understand each other better. It’s an extra dimension that we feel very
lucky to have gained.

8 ) How active are members in countries with limited numbers of other BookCrossing members (say below 50 members total)? Do you try and get them more books?

It’s hard to tell. We don’t always know what goes on in such countries.

But in many cases, such small cores of activity grow into larger ones… after all that’s how the active countries started out, too.

We do not actively try to get them more books; we don’t try to get anyone books. Our members, however, do in some cases use the forums to
make contact, and send books in the mail to other members in faraway countries where books are harder to get.

9) Do you engage in any forms of active marketing (ads, public relations, social media etc) to attract members or is it all word of mouth? If so, what channel has proven effective? Why do you think that is?

We use Twitter, Facebook, and we respond to interview request such as yours, obviously. Our best publicity is word of mouth, but everything helps.

The books themselves are helping a lot, too, as each of them that’s out there is an ad for BookCrossing and a demonstration that it works.

Our very best publicity tool is the true, heartfelt enthusiasm of our members. It works because it’s real. We really can’t say it any better than they can.

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