Q&A with the Co-Founder of Swaptree.com

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Look around your house. There are probably books you never read, CDs you never listen to, and DVDs you never watch. Wouldn’t it be great if you could trade them in for something new you’d enjoy? You can. Swaptree.com is here to help. The site lets users barter goods they’re willing to part with (say The DaVinci Code in hardback) for something they want (say The DaVinci Code on DVD). Maybe that’s a bad example. There’s a staggering amount of stuff ready for the swapping: Swaptree currently has about 2.5 million items listed for trade, and the number of users doubles every four months.

The best part is that Swaptree does most of the work for you; after you set up a “have list” and a “want list,” the site automatically lists all of the permutations—including complicated triple trades—that’ll hook you up with your picks. And it’s free. You only pay for shipping, and you can do that for a couple of bucks via media mail at the post office.

Swaptree co-founder Mark Hexamer was kind enough to answer some questions. One thing we found out: If you’re willing to unload your DVDs of The Sopranos, you’re in the driver’s seat.

Cheapskate: Where did the idea for Swaptree come from? Why did you create it?

Mark Hexamer: Simply put, we all have too much stuff. Swaptree was conceived on the idea that you shouldn’t have to buy a new bestseller when you have last month’s sitting on your bookshelf. Swaptree solves both your spending problem and your “stuff” problem. With the state of today’s economy who can spend $60 on a new Wii game or support a healthy reading habit?

CS: What can people barter? Why is it limited to certain types of items?

MH: On Swaptree you can trade books, DVDs, CDs and video games. We chose these items because every household contains hundreds of them and people are already familiar trading them offline. Furthermore, they are all of similar value and can be easily and inexpensively mailed. We will be expanding to other items in the future.

CS: What are some of the most popular items being bartered for?

MH: In terms of number of trades, books are our most popular media type. However, given that Swaptree is popular with moms who are often charge of their family’s media budget, children’s DVDs, like Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Madagascar, etc. are always in high demand. If you have a little girl who is growing out of her Dora the Explorer phase and is now obsessed with any movie with a princess in it, Swaptree is for you. Also, lately we have seen lots of trades involving the Twilight series. People use Swaptree, to get the first book in the series, and then upon finishing it, trade it for the next book.

CS: Are there any items that are particularly difficult to swap for—either to unload or to get?

MH: At some point, Alanis Morissette went platinum with “Jagged Little Pill,” and we’ve all been hiding that CD ever since. For a few items, supply will always outweigh demand. On the other hand, if you have any television series DVDs, like seasons of Lost or The Sopranos then you can get practically anything you want in trade, as these items are in very high demand. Swaptree certainly proves the theory that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, and because of that we see lots of trades everyday that have convinced us that any trade is possible.

CS: What are some the funniest/oddest swaps you’ve seen?

MH: Since Swaptree sets up multi-way and cross-media trades (book for a CD, CD for a DVD, DVD for a video game, etc.) it’s always surprising to see what other people want. For example last week a user received a brand new Mario Batali cookbook (around $40 in the store) for a Perry Cuomo CD. We certainly didn’t see that one coming. Also a Swaptree employee who recently became new dad, traded the DVD Fear and Loathing in LasVegas for the children’s DVD Baby Mozart. Now that’s responsible parenting.

CS: How much does shipping cost typically? Do you have to ship using a specific carrier like UPS or FedEx, or is regular old mail OK?

MH: Shipping items usually costs between $2 and $3. The vast majority of our users take advantage of our postage label service and print postage labels directly from the site and simply drop their packages in their outgoing mail. These labels are tracked by the USPS and provide the security of delivery confirmation. However, if standing in line and licking stamps is more your thing, you’re always welcome to make a trip to the local post office, and mail your item the old-fashioned way.