Book exchange – a Literary pyramid

I stirred up a bit of a hornets nest recently when I pointed out the immorality of a post doing the rounds on Facebook.  (I didn’t put it quite as bluntly as that but I did say that this ‘scheme’ would have a few winners and many losers). Interestingly my comments pointing that out have since been deleted as have similar comments from someone else.

But I get ahead of myself. Imagine that someone called Robin has posted something in their Facebook status along the following lines:

“We need at least 6 people to participate in a book exchange! You can be anywhere in the world. The further we get the better. All you have to do is buy your favourite book and send it to one person. You will receive approximately 36 books back. If you are interested click “like” and I will message you all the details. :-) This is legit, no bank details required!!”

Actually if you paste “We need at least 6 people to participate in a book exchange” into the Facebook search field you will find that something like this has been posted by an awful lot of people not called Robin, often dressed up with hashtags like #savetheculture !

Have you spotted the problem with this scam, sorry scheme, yet? I haven’t seen the details but it looks as if the scheme is as follows.  All names are fictitious of course and any resemblance to an individual living or dead is entirely coincidental.

Robyn has recruited Robin to the scam, sorry scheme (well both words have ‘s’,  ‘c’ and ‘m’ in them).  Robin then posts on Facebook trying to recruit six suckers, sorry participants, who will then go on to recruit a further six suckers, sorry participants, and ever onwards. Each sucker, sorry participant, has to go out and buy a book and send it to someone further up the chain – not to Robin but to Robyn, the person who recruited Robin which  gets Robyn thirty six books. At the same time each of the people who Robin has recruited  (Mutt 1 to Mutt 6) has to recruit a further six suckers, sorry participants, to buy six books each. They then have to recruit Mutt 7 to Mutt 42 in order for Robin to get her 36 books.

Now I know Robin didn’t start this off, and I am pretty certain Robyn didn’t either,  so we are already in the middle of the chain and Mutt 7 will be at least step five or six.  If you do the maths (which might be a bit of a challenge for Robyn) you can work out that after ten steps there will need to be seventy two million participants – more than the entire population of the UK – and all the bookshops will have long run out of stock. Of course as you get further down the chain it becomes less and less likely that you will be able to find six willing participants, after all a significant proportion of the UK population is able to do the maths and spot the flaws in the scheme and wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole. So you make do with four people who either can’t do the maths or who think they can get away with conning another group into the scheme. The next group has to make do with even less because all their friends have either taken part or are reaching for their bargepoles, and feeling increasingly unloved they only buy one or two books instead of the required six. So you rapidly reach the point where each participant is spending far more than the value of the four and a half dog-eared copies of the Beano Annual they receive. It is just a typical pyramid scheme or chain letter  but using books rather than anything else.

Now I have no objection to people giving each other books and it is even better if they then go ahead and read them! (My friend Mikey claims he has read a book, but it was the workshop manual for a V8 engine so I am not sure that that counts).  Indeed we help keep our local charity bookshop stocked with books we have read which gives someone else a chance to enjoy the book and raises money for the charity. The “Book exchange” however asks suckers to spend out good money on books and postage with the ‘promise’ that they will get thirty-six times as many back.  A more honest post, which I might put on Facebook to see what reaction I get, would be:

 “We need at least 6 people to participate in a book exchange (well actually not really an exchange more a book donation scheme)! You can be anywhere in the world (except USA – see later). The further we get the better (it means paying more in postage which we are sure you won’t mind and which the post office will be grateful for). All you have to do is buy your favourite book and send it to one person (not just any old person of course, just send it to the person who persuaded me to post this status).  There is absolutely no guarantee that you will get anything in return. However to make it more enticing I will claim that you will receive approximately 36 books back. (“Approximately 36” actually means anything between zero and thirty-six, most probably zero). If you are interested click “like” and I will message you all the details (well the name of the scuzzbucket that you need to send your books to). This is legit (well nearly, actually chain letters are illegal if they request money or other items of value and promise a substantial return to the participants, pursuant to Title 18, United States Code, Section 1302, the Postal Lottery Statute, so you better not take part if you are based in the USA unless you only send books of no value), no bank details required!! (after all I am not offering to put $1m in your account once you have paid me a ‘small’ amount to enable me to unravel the paperwork)”

 Apart from possibly being illegal any scheme which benefits people at the start and costs people further down the chain without any ‘health warnings’ is immoral.   Perhaps I should leave the last word to one enthusiastic participant,   “. . .not a scam I’ve had 6 books so far only bought one!” Duh!

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