Three GW alumni have developed a nationwide network for students to trade books as an alternative to paying what they said are expensive University bookstore prices.
The Web site, Swapswop.com, encourages students to participate with the slogan “Why buy when you can swap.” Launched by three 2002 graduates in November 2003, the site operates using a non-monetary “point” system, where every item is given a point value instead of a price, and items are exchanged according to their values. People can swap books, video and computer games, CDs, DVDs and gift cards. Students gain points when they sign up to be members and refer others to the site.
Novis Rustandi, who originally came up with the idea for the site, said the point system creates a “standard which makes it easier for people to swap.” He said the initial plan was to charge people small amounts to use the site, but the creators decided to make it “college-friendly”.
“We were all students, and we know how economical you need to be,” Rustandi said.
Virtually every college or university in the United States is in the site’s database, so swappers can exchange items with students from their school and not have to pay shipping and handling costs.
The site has had about 135 transactions since November 2003, and about 240 members have signed up for the service nationwide. About 750 items are currently posted for exchange.
The creators are planning to launch an online marketing campaign in the next two to three months to attract more customers. Rustandi said it will be “something funny,” such as a cartoon flash animation people can send to their friends. If online advertising is not successful, he said the team will look into advertising in college newspapers.
The eventual goal is to build regional communities on the site, so users can swap items with people who live in their own area, said David Cole, who handles business for Swapswop.com.
He predicted that it will take about two or three more years before the site will gain major exposure.
As the service grows, the creators will have to try to get more advertisers, said Stanley Au Yeung, who created the site’s graphics and handles technical aspects of the site.
The project is very much a “labor of love” – it has to be, since all three creators have full-time jobs and “haven’t made a dime” out of it yet, Cole said. He added that they may make the site a full-time project if they start making a lot of profit.
When designing the site, the creators looked at sites such as ebay to see how to group items by categories and make a user-friendly format.
Citing dissatisfaction with the GW Bookstore, other GW community members have come up with alternative ways to buy books.
Freshman Aakash Shah started a group on thefacebook.com called “GW Crookstore alternative,” which has 95 members who buy, sell and exchange books with one another. About 40 people have posted textbooks on the site.
“It has enabled quite a few people to avoid going to the bookstore and paying outrageous prices,” Shah said. GW Bookstore prices range from around $3 for a used paperback to more than $150 for new textbooks.
Shah added that the group is not as successful as he hoped it would be.
Some students said they have not heard of the swapswop.com, but are interested in an efficient way to trade their books.
Junior Ryann Frantz said he is dissatisfied with the amount the bookstore offers to buy back books. He added that the offers at Jason Brewer’s van, which parks on H Street after finals and lets students sell back books, are not much better.
“The buyers in the van only let you trade back for a small amount of time, and there are long lines and not much money given to you,” Frantz said. “I would use the swapping service, not just for books, but probably for DVDs, if more people were on it.”