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Bookcrossing under attack

1 September 2003

Bookscrossing,com (see News Review), the website which encourages people to 'free' books so that others can find and read them, is under attack from authors who claim that its activities are affecting book sales. Jessica Adams, the author of the War Child anthologies, claimed that Bookcrossing's activities devalued books because it extended lending in such a way that no royalty was paid to the author. She said: 'The site's growth should be a worry for authors and for charity bookshops, which rely on second-hand books for their income.'

Bookcrossing now has 150,000 members and more than 500,000 titles registered on its website. The founder of the site, Ron Hornbaker, defended it, pointing out that a survey of 4,000 members had shown that 81% of its users spent the same on books after joining as they had before, with 15% spending more and 4% less. The site probably does encourage reading, giving many who might not buy many new books another way of getting hold of them. It's generally recognised that books are passed around friends and family on a vast scale and this activitiy has never been successfully captured by the statistics. In a sense what Bookcrossing does is to extend the range of your friends and family in a way uniquely possible in the Internet era, whilst at the same time stimulating a huge amount of interest in books. Can this be altogether bad?