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What is BookCrossing?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The term “bookcrossing” is used to refer to the practice of dropping a book off in a public location with the intent that someone else will pick it up and read it. It is inspired by the bookcrossing.com website, which registers users who wish to participate in bookcrossing, and tracks over three million books all over the world as they change hands through bookcrossing exchanges. Bookcrossing can also refer to sharing books with friends or gifting books.

In 2004, the Oxford English Dictionary recognized bookcrossing with an official definition, “the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.” Although most bookcrossing is done through the BookCrossing website, technically anyone could exchange books in this way, and many people do. The idea behind bookcrossing is to introduce people to new authors and concepts and to build a sort of global library of book exchanges.

When a book is left for someone to find, it is “released,” and if it is left in a public place, it is considered to be in the wild. When someone wants to release a book, he or she logs on to the BookCrossing site in order to register it, creating a unique book identification number that is written in the book or on a bookplate, along with the BookCrossing URL. The person intending to release the book notes where and when it will be released, and then goes out to release it.

Users can search the website for copies of a particular book, or a list of books currently in the wild in their area, and then go hunting. When a book is picked up, or caught, the person who picks it up goes to BookCrossing and logs the book, entering the identification number and information about where and when it was picked up. After it's been read, the book should be released again for someone else to read.

The concept of BookCrossing has spread into popular culture, and the site boasts over half a million members. Bookcrossers hold conventions, trade books through the post, and support members of the community who are in need. They can also participate in regional meetups to talk about books and simply meet each other. Although some publishers have criticized the practice, arguing that it hurts sales, bookcrossers counter that the free exchange of books actually encourages people to pick up other books by the same author, or on the same topic, thus increasing sales because bookcrossing has piqued someone's interest.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By SZapper — On Jul 16, 2012

@eidetic - Even though you can't do bookcrossing with ebooks in the traditional sense, some ebook retailers offer a lending function. I know there are a few websites dedicated to ebook lending among total strangers, which you could check out. I think that's the closest you can really get to bookcrossing an ebook.

I've never done bookcrossing myself, but I think I might start. I have a few books I'm going to print up bookcrossing labels for and leave them somewhere in my community. I don't think I'll read these books again, and I think it might be fun to give them away randomly.

By eidetic — On Jul 15, 2012

@Monika - I agree. I doubt everyone is just going to stop buying books and start frequenting a bookcrossing forum in hopes of finding something to read for free. Libraries are readily accessible to most people, but a lot of people still pay for books.

So, I do think this is a cool idea, but I'm wondering how this would work with ebooks? For one thing, ebooks aren't a physical object, so you can't just leave them places. Also, most ebooks have digital rights management protection on them, so you can't read it and then give it to someone else to read.

By Monika — On Jul 15, 2012

Well, I don't think bookcrossings hurt publishers any more than library or used bookstores do! There will always be a segment of society that likes to buy books new and won't try to get them used or find them "in the wild." So I think the publishers should just calm down!

Anyway, I've actually found a bookcrossing book "in the wild." I found it at my local metro station, and it did have a piece of paper taped to it explaining the whole bookcrossing thing. I didn't take it, because I wasn't interested in reading it, but it introduced me to the whole idea, which I think is really cool!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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