Scott Sorochak is the CEO of BookCrossing, a company and website based on a simple and revolutionary idea about sharing books. BookCrossing was founded in 2001 by Ron Hornbaker, Heather Mehra-Pedersen, and Bruce Pedersen. Since then the community of bookcrossers has gown continuosly. Scott, a bookcrosser under the name of redsoxbookguy and a blogger, recently became the new CEO.
While BookCrossing is not related to the CAD world in any obvious way, I believe that great and innovative ideas — like this one — can change the way we look at things, people, and processes around us, inspiring new ideas and pushing further innovation.
Unfortunately I missed the opportunity to meet Scott in person at the last meeting of my BookCrossing group in San Francisco (I couldn’t attend the meeting) and therefore asked him to answer a few questions by e-mail. Here is the interview.
Scott, can you tell us a bit about yourself and BookCrossing?
as an avid reader, I was completely awe struck at how this tiny company has gained so much worldwide popularity
I grew up and went to school in Boston but I’ve been working in Silicon Valley for about 20 years now. I came across BookCrossing after meeting with the founders and working with them to map out the next 3-5 years of the company’s growth. As an avid reader, I was completely awe struck at how this tiny company has gained so much worldwide popularity, yet still remained relatively unknown. BookCrossing is simply the act of Reading a book after you’ve purchased it and rather than toss it on shelf to collect dust somewhere, you Register it on the www.bookcrossing.com website so it gets a unique tracking number and then you Release it. Leave it in a coffee shop, hotel, public transportation, anywhere, for someone else to also enjoy… it’s a blend of serendipity, altruism and fanaticism over books all rolled into one.
How do you balance the for-profit motivations of BookCrossing as a company, with the altruistic, sharing attitude of your members?
the core elements of BookCrossing have been free for 6 years now and that will not change, period
That’s a great question. The core elements of BookCrossing have been free for 6 years now and that will not change, period. But without question, we are a company that employs staff, has built a global platform to service our nearly 600,000 users in over 130 countries and all that takes money. We have a nominal amount of advertising on the site which we really try hard to tailor to the members and we also have some affiliate relationships with book retailers so that our members can buy the books through our site. We also did a survey a few months back and one of the questions was whether or not members would be interested in a "premier membership offering" that would be above and beyond the core offering. Nearly 50% said yes, so we’re thinking about how that would play out and what would be included in that offering. Our members have always helped to contribute in one way or another to the financial support of the site through these and other methods and we are grateful for it.
What is the impact of your members’ community on the evolution of BookCrossing?
what is amazing to me is the community "bridge" between online and offline
As I mentioned before, we’re now nearly 600,000 members strong in over 130 countries worldwide and have registered over 4,000,000 books in those short 6 years. What is amazing to me and something that cannot be easily replicated anywhere else, is the community "bridge" between online and offline. What I mean by that is the core part of BookCrossing is registering your books, making journal entries on books you’ve read, tracking their progress as they bounce around the globe from person to person. All that is done online. However, nearly 50% of our members actually get together-locally in their communities weekly or monthly to meet-up in small groups(10-20) and swap books, share stories about the authors and characters, and release books. When you have a product and service so strong that it connects that online and offline community like that, it’s irreplaceable… this is only going to grow and get stronger as BookCrossing grows regionally in each country and we expand into countries we’re not yet in.
Do you think the BookCrossing idea can be applied to other areas? Are you aware of similar groups or companies?
Sure, why not. But as I sort of implied before, you can’t just throw up a website, put together all different types of offline/online marketing programs and say "hey, we’ve got x thousand members now, we’re a success! Because you have to measure it by how active the users are, and most importantly are they coming back to use your product or service. I can’t name many companies that are like that in the vertical social networking space.
What are people’s main motivations behind the act of releasing a book “in the wild”?
people just feel good about passing along something they’ve already paid for, enjoyed and now giving it away for free
I think its a couple things. First, more than likely you’ve just finished a book and you’re dying to tell someone about it, the characters, the author, etc., you want someone else to enjoy that book. What better way than to drop it off in a convenient location on your way to work or at a coffee house, or at a school function. People just feel good about passing along something they’ve already paid for, enjoyed and now giving it away for free. Another reason is that our system automatically tracks when that book is picked up again and someone makes a journal entry after having found, read the book and reviewed it. No personal identifiable information is shared, but our system ties your screen name to your email address and let’s you know when that book is found. I’ve released books up in Tahoe during last ski season and just now some folks found the books in the lodges. Someone else just emailed me that they dropped a book in a plastic bag off the back of a ship and the book was just journaled after someone found it on a beach… 4 years later… just like a message in a bottle. When you get that email, even if it’s 4 years later, you remember that book and how much you enjoyed it and now realize someone else has it. Lastly on this topic, many books travel all over the world as people travel on business, vacations, etc. We have ties into Google maps which allows you to visually track the books caught and released and its amazing to see your book traveling globally… it fascinates people.
What was your first experience as a bookcrosser like?
Amazing. I attended a local BookCrossing "meet-up" or gathering in my local area and I just listened intently on how each person loved this book, the characters, authors… others would chime in and agree/disagree… 3 hours later I left with 6 books, 3 of which were from authors I’d never heard of but sounded so interesting from what the other BookCrossing members had said about them. I was amazed at how much more I was reading and the diverse set of interests I had in the various genres. I suspect most BookCrossers go through that experience.
The Internet is changing the way people read and enjoy books from an individual activity to some sort of collective experience. How is BookCrossing supporting these changes? What are your plans for the future to support this evolution?
(Expanding a little on my answer above to "What is the impact of your members’ community on the evolution of BookCrossing?") We are actively partnering with traditional "brick and mortar" companies that see our vision of sharing books. We’ve announced partnerships with organizations such as Panera Breads and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, whereby, the BookCrossing community is getting together in those locations to conduct their weekly/monthly meet-ups. The BookCrossers love it because its a nice, comfortable, safe setting for them to exchange books and the companies love it because rather than a customer stopping in for a $5 latte and leaving in 5 minutes, our BookCrossers typically stay upwards of 2+ hours and you can bet they’re spending more than $5. These are great partnerships and we’re actively engaging others on a global basis.
How is the Bookcrossing idea being re-interpreted in different countries?
We have many support and mirror sites today: German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French and many others. We try to give folks the ability to localize the sites to provide a regional look and feel, while still maintaining the core parts of the BookCrossing technology. That’s worked well so far and we are expanding quickly in other countries with this "cookie cutter" approach.
I would like to thank Scott Sorochak for taking the time to answer my questions from London. A special thanks to Susan Tunis for her superb management and support of the San Francisco BookCrossing group and for helping me to arrange this interview. If you have any questions for Scott or for Novedge, please leave a comment below and we will be glad to answer.
P.S. July 6, 2007 — Thanks to Maracuja, Zazie, and LaVale we have an Italian translation of Scott Sorochak interview. The translation was published on the Italian BookCrossing forum, here.