There is an interesting short article on book swapping sites in the Guardian, placing them in a 'recycling' context.
For eco-aware readers, the environmental benefits of swapping rather than buying are clear. In 2003, Greenpeace launched its book campaign, producing evidence that the UK publishing industry was inadvertently fuelling the destruction of ancient forests in Finland and Canada. It found that one Canadian spruce produces just 24 books, which means that if you get through one book every two weeks your reading habits destroy almost one large tree every year. (In the same year, Greenpeace persuaded Raincoat Books to produce the Canadian edition of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on recycled paper, saving an estimated 39,000 trees.) But despite the campaign, only 40% of the UK book industry has introduced paper with a high level of recycled content, largely choosing to use paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council instead.
Beyond using the country's dwindling network of libraries, until recently the opportunities for exchanging paperbacks have been limited to friends, community schemes and book groups. But in the past two years, a spate of online book-swapping sites have emerged. Inspired by the goodwill schemes operated by hostels around the world, whereby travellers can leave behind books they have read and pick up something new, these sites generate little profit for their founders. The books are swapped directly between users, who pay the postage; the sites simply facilitate the meeting and identifying of potential exchanges. [Charlotte Northedge on book-swapping websites | Environment | The Guardian]
I was surprised to read the following:
Of course, those churches and charity shops that made money from second-hand book sales stand to lose out, as do the publishing industry and authors. "In the music industry, this kind of thing would be called 'file sharing', and technically illegal," the author Jeanette Winterson wrote of book-swapping sites recently. [Charlotte Northedge on book-swapping websites | Environment | The Guardian]
One of the more interesting things to me about the mass digitization initiatives is that they have highlighted that libraries do not 'own' many of the books in their collections, if by 'own' we mean the ability to repurpose at will. Of course, they do own the cost of processing and making them available, and of storing them over time, but for the larger part of their collection, there are limits on what they can do with the content.