The Valuable Art of Media Swapping

Recently, I’ve been enjoying the first season of Mad Men on DVD. Literally dozens of readers had recommended to me and I picked up the DVD set with a gift certificate a month or so ago. I’d never seen it before and it’s been a real pleasure to dig into it – it’s as subtle, funny, and beautiful as I thought it would be.

The only problem is … what do I do with it when I’m finished? Sure, I could post it on a site like SwapADVD (which I’m an active user of), but that means I’d be swapping the four DVDs in that set permanently in exchange for four DVDs listed on the site, which I may or may not want.

On the other hand, I have several friends and family members who would like to watch the series.

So, instead of just letting it gather dust on my shelf, why not just loan it out to my friends who are interested in seeing it? Once it makes the rounds, I can always swap it or sell it used, but until then, I get a lot of value out of it.

What value? Here are six ways I get personal value out of loaning DVDs and other media to my friends.

It’s a favor to my friends. If I send a friend home with a big pile of books they want to read or DVDs they want to watch, they’re usually quite happy. They’ve suddenly got a big pile of things to enjoy that they didn’t have before with minimal effort – there’s no real deadline to return them, nor is there any real cost for them (something I’ll mention again below).

They’re willing to loan me media in return. If I lend my things freely, my friends are likely to do the same for me. I can go to their home, find items on their shelves I’d like to borrow, and they’re very likely to say, “Sure, take it home and enjoy it!” This provides some free entertainment.

It gives me (pop) cultural touchstones with my friends and family. If both of us have read a book, watched a film, or enjoyed a series, we now have a cultural touchstone in common. We can talk about them, make references to them, and enjoy in-jokes related to them. It becomes something we have in common, the foundation of a stronger bond.

It saves my friends money. If my friends can borrow things from me, it saves them money. That means they can put that money to a better use – or at least a different use. That benefits me in a subtle way – they’ll perhaps invest in some other media I can borrow, get themselves in a better financial state (meaning they’re less likely to ask for a loan), or do something else positive in their life.

It encourages regular social encounters. If I’ve borrowed an armload of stuff from a friend, I’m going to eventually have to return them, right? This means we have to meet up at some point. Borrowing things from friends pretty much ensures that you’re going to have future social encounters with that person, likely sooner rather than later.

Once an item reaches a point where no one wants to borrow it any more, I can still sell it or swap it online. I tend to keep boxes of such items (particularly books, in my case) until I reach some sort of critical mass. Then I’ll swap a whole horde of them at once online, making sure that these books (and other items) wind up in a happy home. Even better, swapping them means I get a big, new fresh batch of books (and other items) to read and enjoy … and, of course, swap with my friends.

Of course, lending out your items opens up a completely new can of worms.

What if they don’t return the items? Unless I have a specific need of the item, I usually don’t sweat this too much unless it becomes a trend. Why? If I’ve already watched the DVD or read the book, do I really have a use for it any more? I do tend to curb my lending to any friends that are obviously not returning things that I lend to them on any sort of regular basis.

What if I forget who I loaned them to? For us, this can sometimes be a real problem, as we’ll loan books and games and DVDs to all sorts of people. My solution has been to make a list of them and keep them where we store the items. So, on my bookshelf, I have a list of books I’ve loaned to friends (I don’t keep track of them if I just decide to gift them, which I do sometimes). On our DVD shelf, I’ve started a similar list. The same goes for our game closet.

That way, if you’re digging for a particular item and can’t find it, you can check the list. Boom, you know who has it, and if you wish, you can ping them and see if they can return it soon.

What if I forget what I’ve borrowed? Again, this is something that can happen. You borrow a DVD, it winds up on your shelf during a cleaning session, and a few months later, you forgot all about borrowing it – or who you borrowed it from.

There’s no real solution here that I’ve found. The closest thing to a solution I’ve found is to put a Post-It note inside the DVD or inside the book’s front cover stating who I borrowed it from and when I borrowed it. That way, if I go through my collection in the future, I’ll see the note and return it.

The end result of all of this is that you build good friendships and you get to watch a lot of movies, play a lot of games, and read a lot of books for free. That, to me, is a tremendous bargain.