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A little patience saves big bucks with DVD swapping - 1/5/2009 by RODNEY HO accessAtlanta

Gwinett-based company finds fans in tough economy

Amy Motrin buys plenty of DVDs for her kids and herself. But they’ve piled up and quite a few were worth one viewing and that’s it.

She has considered selling them or giving them away. But she found a more productive outlet: The concept: list DVDs you want to sell. When someone wants it, you mail it to them. You get points so you can buy more DVDs.
Motrin, a 36-year-old Buckhead music teacher, trades out six to eight DVDs a month, costing herself only $10 to $15 a month in postage. “I canceled my Netflix after swapadvd started,” she said.

The Suwanee-based company that created also has similar sites for CDs ( and books (, which started in 2004.

In these economically strapped times, swapping is a great way to get cheap entertainment while culling out collections of stuff you no longer have any use for, said Richard Pickering, the sites’ 47-year-old co-founder.

“We generally get new DVD titles within four weeks after they are released on average,” he said. The more popular the title, the quicker it pops up. “Within 12 days,” he noted, “‘Dark Knight’ was in the system. Seven copies were transferred within three weeks.”

The DVD site has more than 75,000 DVDs available and its inventory is growing by more than 1,000 a week. The older CD site has 169,000 CDs available and the grandfather of them all, paperbackswap has a whopping 2.8 million books set to trade. Pickering said users make swaps 50,000 times a week.

Another key feature of the swapping sites is the wish list. You list what you want in priority order. If it becomes available and you listed it first, you get it next.

Motrin said since the DVD inventory is smaller than the book site, turnaround can be a bit slower for best sellers, especially kids’ movies, which people tend to keep around longer than grown-up titles.

In other words, if you want “Wall-E” now, is not the place to go. Motrin said she’s had “The Rescuers” on her wish list for more than a year, to no avail. (Her current wish list is 164 titles long.)

Pickering faces several rivals, such as, and While Pickering has chosen to keep the three mediums separate on his sites, most others combine CDs, DVDs, books and sometimes video games in one place. (Credits on Pickering’s three sites can be transferred from site to site.)

“People who are into CDs should have their own forums for CDs, and the same with books and DVDs,” he said. “They appreciate there are different clubs for different subjects.”

Pickering has kept his sites deliberately simple. Each book or CD or DVD is worth one credit, no matter how popular it is. (Some sites will make hotter titles more expensive.) And if you post 10 books, you get two free credits — or one free credit for 10 DVDs or 10 CDs.

He said the whole swapping system is based on an honor system among members. And so far, he says, he’s amazed at how few problems he’s encountered. He’s had to boot members off his sites only about five times a year for not sending items or sending a shoddy product.

Greg Boesel, head of rival Boston-based, said his site does not involve a point/currency system like Pickering’s swapadvd. Rather, if you post an item someone wants, you automatically get to pick something else. And if you are willing to trade, say, a hot item such as a “Dark Knight” DVD, you will have access to more items to swap in exchange. He said some sites with point systems have gone out of business and left people with worthless points.

Boesel also said his site, which is 18 months old, has built up 1.5 million items listed to trade, with 3,000-plus swaps a day.

Pickering has been able to grow his sites by not charging subscription fees. But that has also made it a challenge for him to make money. His income is derived from some ancillary fee-based features such as the ability to bundle multiple books and delivery confirmation for postal services.

“We run a break-even operation,” he said. After costs, he funnels extra cash back to pay programmers to improve the functionality of the sites. In other words, Pickering doesn’t pay himself. (His full-time job is in real estate.)

He’s tempted to sell ads on the sites. But for now, “we want to keep the site pure and simple to use,” he said.