If you’ve spent any time on Instagram recently, you’ve probably seen a friend promoting a book exchange on their story.
The post typically says something like this:
I’m looking for people to participate in a huge book exchange. You can be anywhere in the world. All you have to do is buy your favorite book (just one) and send it to a stranger (I’ll send you their information in a private message).
You’ll receive a maximum of 36 books back to you, to keep. They’ll be the favorite books from strangers around the world.
If you’re interested in taking part, message me ‘in’ and I’ll send you the details.
The gist of it is that if you only buy one book for someone else, you’ll receive thirty-six books in return. This book exchange sounds like a steal. And with the quarantine limiting social interaction, it seems like a fun way to bond with others. But, it’s actually a massive pyramid scheme meant to target impressionable bookworms. A pyramid scheme is a business model that requires an individual to recruit others to receive payment. The higher up you are on the theoretical pyramid, the more likely you are to earn from it. It’s a scam because the members are much more likely to invest more than they receive.
If someone does choose to participate in the book exchange, they receive a message that says something like this:
Yay! I’m glad you want to participate! Here’s how it works:
Repost the text I posted.
Send a book to _______, their address is _______. The book can be new or used, but you should send a book you love! Write a note on the inside cover so they know who/where the book came from.
When people comment on your post, send them these instructions but change the address in Step 2 to my address. My Address: _______
Theoretically, if you find 6 people to play along and those 6 people each find 6 people, then you should get 36 books.
In the case of the book exchange, the books are considered the payment in this pyramid scheme. As that last line mentions, it only works if all thirty-six people do their part. It’s very unlikely that you’ll receive thirty-six books in return. It’s also dangerous to leak your address on the internet. The reality of this book exchange is that you’ll most likely lose out. According to an article from Business Insider about the subject, “Even if the chain spread all over the world, it would eventually die out when all seven billion people signed up, and it would die with billions more losers than winners. You are much more likely to be one of the losers.”
If an opportunity seems too good to be true, it is usually. The social media book exchange has many enticing factors that would encourage someone to participate. But if you’re looking for free books, I would suggest visiting your public library (which can also be done virtually). If you’re looking for others’ favorite books, the internet is a great resource. Another great way to discuss interesting books is to join a book club. There are safer ways to find new reading material. The point being, don’t participate in this scam.