Updated on 08.18.09

The Valuable Art of Media Swapping

Trent Hamm

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.

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  1. J says:

    When we were kids and had Atari 2600’s, game swapping gave all the kids many of the same advantages. It continued on in the same manner when we had a NES and I still trade/loan games with my friends today. Of course, there are many other ways to obtain games at a discount today, too — used games, craigslist, library, etc.

  2. We actually had an informal system like that for videos and DVDs going in a cul de sac we lived in when our kids were much younger and it worked pretty well.

    In fact it can work really well with young kids because they watch the same videos over and over for a week or two, get tired of it, then they’re ready to move on.

    We saved quite a bit of money just with an informal exchange with friends.

  3. Emily says:

    List2Lend.com is a site that tracks your lent/borrowed items and lets you browse your friends’ collections. It’s kind of neat.

  4. Michael says:

    That saves a little money, but the real savings come from sharing snowblowers and lawnmowers. Or cars.

  5. anne says:

    mad men!!!!!!

    i LOVE that show

    do you watch the commentaries?

  6. Mr. D says:

    Lifehacker posted another website to keep track of what you’re lending to your friends (LendAround), similar to what Emily described:


  7. marie says:

    I love lending and borrowing media, books, etc. However, I find that at least half of the stuff I lend out takes quite a while to get back to me. Sometimes 2-3 months when I eventually have to ask them if they can give it back, which I feel uncomfortable doing.

    Also, I have at least one book that I’ve given up on ever seeing again. I’ve asked the friend multiple times over the past year, and I’ve yet to see it.

    I’ve also made the mistake to lend my roommate’s dvd season of Heroes to a friend who took a few months to go through them. It was hell because after a couple months, my roommate who had agreed to lend them, wanted them back, and felt it had been way too long.

    My question is, how much time should you expect a person to take with a book, and with a dvd?

  8. MegB says:

    I am always willing to lend books to others. (We don’t really collect DVDs at our house.) I don’t read books twice, so for my paperbacks I always tell the borrower to just pass it on to someone else when he or she is done. I keep my hardbacks, though, so I expect those to be returned.

    On the flip side, I think everyone is responsible for being a good borrower. If you have something that isn’t yours, you need to take good care of it and make sure it is returned to its rightful owner unless he or she tells you otherwise. That’s a huge pet peeve of mine.

    As an aside, Mad Men is hands down my very favorite show. It’s brilliant. I couldn’t wait for this season to start!

  9. This is an excellent suggestion. I agree that the real benefits come when you trust your friends and family enough to start borrowing and lending larger items, like specific tools, or snow-blowers, as Michael mentioned.

    If you look at thriving immigrant communities, you see they share just about everything, often even housing. The benefits of sharing seem to be lost on Americans after we leave elementary school.

  10. Don’t get it. I watched the first season on DVD and thought it was just OK. Someone tell me that the 2nd and 3rd season gets that much better?

    Pretty slow compared to Lost and 24!

  11. MegB says:


    I think that two weeks for a DVD is more than enough time. If someone can’t watch it in that timeframe, then he or she shouldn’t borrow it, or they should just return it and say they didn’t have time to see it.

    With books, I think 2-3 months isn’t all that unreasonable. I try to read borrowed books first, but even then I sometimes get backlogged on my reading. If I’ve had someone’s book for a while, though, I just let them know that I haven’t forgotten about it and ask if they need it back. Again, I think it’s common courtesy.

  12. amelia says:

    i like the idea of a post-it note inside a book to remember who it’s from. i wish that whoever i loaned my copy of the chronicles of narnia had done that…and that i had written it down somewhere as well.

    i keep small labels or masking tape on hand and put my initials on the spine of all of my DVDs. when i borrow a DVD, i also put a label on it with the person’s initials. it makes it easy to remember who gets it back.

  13. Ramona says:


    I have the same problem. Some people just DON’T return the item in question, then you start to feel like a nag. Which you really shouldn’t, but there it is. I’ve had stuff which I’ve given up ever seeing again. Otherwise I love lending out media that I’ve really enjoyed and letting friends benefit.

  14. Hannah says:

    I recently signed up for paperbackswap.com on your recommendation, and I’m really disappointed. I posted 10 current, popular books and within seconds got requests from people to ship them. But when I searched for books to use my “credits” on, there were no current bestsellers or popular titles, just a bunch of old romance novels and out of date reference books.

    I can’t imagine that Swap a DVD is much better, because of situations like yours, where you don’t want to post your nice new DVDs. I’m not holding that against you, I wouldn’t want to offer up a popular show in return for a 1993 copy of Buns of Steel either. Just wondering why you promote these sites when it seems like, from this post, you agree with me that they don’t really work. I would love to hear people’s comments on this.

  15. J says:

    @Hannah — sites like the paperbackswap and swap a dvd don’t really have all that much appeal for me. We have an excellent local library where I can request pretty much any book in print. If it’s a new book, there may be a backlog, but quite honestly there are more books in print than I can every read, so it’s not a big deal to wait. For DVD’s we have the cheapest Netflix plan — and if we wanted to, we could cut that and use the same request service at the library — they have pretty much anything that’s in our queue already, the only difference is that we would have to go there and pick it up.

  16. Sarah says:

    The great thing about this principle is that it can apply to almost anything! Borrowing and swapping are an important part of building community – just think about the cliche of going to a neighbor’s for a cup of sugar. The more we decide to share, the more people we’ll know to share it with!

  17. J says:

    Oh, and of course the library DVD would have a due date, unlike Netflix!!!

  18. Diane says:

    @Hannah – I felt the same way about Swap-A-DVD at first. All my “Good Stuff” was grabbed right away, and the selections didn’t seem that great. I’ve learned two things: Good things come to those who wait – put in a request for things you’d like to have in your collection and be patient, they will come. (If you want it NOW, try Redbox.) Second, I have been using Swap-A-DVD to replace my favorite old videos. The demand for older material is not as strong and there’s more of it out there. I just received a DVD of “Waking Ned Devine” yesterday. “The Wizard of Oz” and “Les Miserables” are coming soon. Good luck to you!

  19. LDH says:

    People worry too much about getting stuff back. The point is you aren’t using it, so why not let others use it? Most of my books I give to people and say “whenever, I don’t care.” And I truly don’t. I’ve been known to buy two or three used copies of a book so I have enough copies to give out and still have one on hand if it’s something I reach for a lot.

    I also have a 640 square foot home that has a home office, two cats, and one bedroom. But the need to “keep” stuff all the time kind of baffles me, quite honestly. If it’s a collectible, keep it. If it’s just a DVD, who cares???

  20. I have a similar arrangement with one of my friends. We’ll swap books, DVDs, magazines, etc. It feels good to give things a second life.

  21. Sara A, says:

    I would rather use the library than create weird entanglements with friends. Besides my friends are lame black holes who would never return anything.

  22. Craig says:

    A great program and I know there is one for books as well. If I didn’t have to deal with the hassle of shipping them out I would definitely do it.

  23. Caryn says:

    My solution for remembering what I’ve borrowed is to reserve a section of my shelf for “borrowed things,” and that’s where they go. Everything has its place.

  24. tambo says:

    Might i also suggest donating used DVD’s – especially sets, like Mad Men – to your local public library. All libraries, especially small town ones, have very tight budgets and many would love additions to their DVD collection.

  25. Amy says:

    For selling CD’s and DVD’s, try a website called secondspin.com. They will pay you pretty good prices for more recent CD’s and DVD’s, and they’ll even reimburse you for shipping.

  26. Mary W says:

    Most of my DVD and book needs are taken care of by the library, Netflix and a local paperback exchange. I don’t collect either books or DVDs and am willing to loan/give books to friends when I’m done IF they’ve expressed an interest. If I don’t get back, oh well.

    My husband, OTOH, likes to keep his books and DVDs. He will press them on friends who he thinks *should* read/watch them. Then he’s distressed when they aren’t returned promptly. I say that if he only loaned things that people have asked to borrow they are more likely to use promptly and return.

  27. AS a teacher, I’ve lent many books to desperate students–then I don’t get my stuff back.

    I tend to lend to people with whom I have a reciprocal relationship.

    What I say to students–and perhaps would say to others–is “leave a hostage”! Perhaps a dvd set,a book, whatever…

  28. MANDOLIN says:

    I would like it if Trent gave his books away to the simple dollar readers sometimes it would be fun and he seems to read a lot of useful books.

    I give away my stuff and I do not like to borrow I have too much going on to remember whose is whose…unless it is something expensive. I say if you love it don’t lend your only copy…if you like it pass it on. Don’t hold grudges either if you never get anything back or worthwhile from a friend…stop lending to them. I get a lot back from what I give to most of my friends. When I do not get repaid or an item back my only note to self is do not lend again to that person…unless I do not mind losing it.

  29. MK says:

    Regarding the last point, on forgetting what you’ve borrowed: I have chronically bad memory for that sort of things. Seriously. I’ll borrow something from someone, or loan an item to someone, and promptly forget about its proper whereabouts. Previously, I used the post-it-note-in-item approach, but that requires that you physically go through the collection, and it works poorly for loaned items. So these days, I keep two lists right along with the Someday/Maybe GTD list: “borrowed items” and “loaned items”. For each, I list which specific item it is (book title and binding, movie title and format, or whatever else helps jog my memory), as well as either who has it or who should have it. I also attach a note if any particular opinions have been expressed about when the item should be returned, like “return before the end of September” or “return when convenient”. One movie on my shelf is actually on the borrowed items list right now, with a note “return on next visit” as that’s what was agreed on. If the person I borrowed it from would want it back right away I could of course mail it off tomorrow and it will be in their mail the next day, but since we see each other on a reasonably regular basis, it just makes sense to bring it with me on my next visit, or hand it over when they visit next time. (Good movie, too. “Flood”. If you liked The Day After Tomorrow, chances are you’ll like that one as well.) Since I have a library of like 600 books (yes, I know, but it’s basically my one indulgence, and I *LOVE* to read) and a few dozen movies, it’s not always easy to keep track of the whereabouts of each single item.

    Anyway, so far (a few months now) this system has worked great for me; it provides me with a list to help my memory, and many times that’s all I need.

  30. Jules says:

    It’s probably just me, but I think you’re being selfish when you give away/swap your books and media when you’ve finished with it. Granted, your kids probably aren’t old enough just yet to appreciate a good book, but having a variety and a lot of books around is the best way to encourage reading–and who knows? Maybe a particular book will strike a particular chord with one of your kids; I remember being fascinated by How Men Think when I was 10, and in no way immersed in office politics–I’m still not. Ask the guys who wrote Freakonomics.

    Admittedly, 99% of the stuff that’s written is crap (and I do not exclude myself from this), so I guess there has to be a balance of what gets included and what doesn’t. All the same, I just don’t understand what possible benefit not having a library could possibly confer to you or your children.

  31. Brian says:

    I believe you’ve said you own a Mac. If so, you can use Delicious Library to catalog and track loaning of your DVDs, books, etc.

  32. Technophile says:

    Me and my friends swap stuff all the time. Movies, video games, etc. In our apartment we put all our games and movies in the living room so we can all watch/play them. If I lend things I usually put a sticker on the inside with my name.

  33. J says:

    @Jules — we take the kids to the public library about once or twice a month. They can pick whatever they want to read, and we don’t have to keep a bunch of books on hand. They also have access to far more books than we ever can afford on our own.

    I recall when I was growing up I’d devour 3-5 novels a week in the summer from the library. No way my parents could have supported that habit other than with their tax dollars! :)

  34. prufock says:

    This was pretty in-depth for something we all know implicitly. An odd little article.

    Like other commenters, I remember the days of trading video games, books, movies, etc when I was a kid. I still do it to some extent.

    These are still valuable practices, even if we’ve gotten a little more sophisticated with our methods. Now we have websites devoted to this sort of thing, which lets us trade all over the world.

  35. rosdj says:

    I definitely agree with this article. It would be great to establish a network like this among friends. The site Emily suggested seems good, but would require getting all of your friends to sign up to work.

    I’ve often thought it would be great to have a similar app built into Facebook. I’ve searched, though, and there doesn’t appear to be any.

  36. Marsha says:

    If this works for you, great. Swapping dvds is too much trouble for me – besides, I don’t have enough in-town friends with the same tastes that there’s that much swapping to do. Easier to rent from Netflix.

    As for books: I strive to sell used/read books at a used bookstore. Sometimes I just give them away. Other times, I’ll donate to a local library fundraiser sale.

  37. Walt says:

    If you do a lot of swapping, there’s a great iphone app called “Circulator” that tracks all of the stuff you lend and borrow. Love it.

  38. Shirl says:

    I swap books within a circle of friends. Each time we read a book we lightly pencil our initials on the inside front cover. They get passed along until all of us have read it and then returned to the original owner (top initials on the list). If you don’t want it back you put DNR after your intials and the last person in the circle donates it to the library or passes it outside the circle.

    If I loan to someone else outside our circle I put a post it on the front to return to me along with the date it was loaned.I also put a post it on the wall calendar’s back page with what I loaned out and what date. I also put a post it with the date I borrowed a book and set up a due date so I don’t procrastinate in watching or reading something I borrowed. It works well for the most part.

  39. Jeff says:

    As for branding you media for return, a friend of my was great about lending CD. What she did was take the free return address labels charities send you in hopes that you will donate and stuck those on her CD. I picked up the habit and it works great.

  40. One of the best things I like about this blog is that first, the content is always fresh and second, it is not limited to simply ways to save money or impact your personal financial situation.

    Trent very well could have said to re-sell these DVDs and make some money back.

    One thing I never lost sight of during my financial recovery was to not become consumed by it.

    We still need to live our lives, we stilll need to have fun, we still need to laugh, we still need to connect with friends.

    Thanks again Trent for keeping it all in perspective.

  41. Caroline says:

    My b/f and I use Delicious Library to keep track of our stuff. Sure, it’s $40, but when if you have a good sized collection, it’s worth it (maybe it helps for insurance purposes too?). Only problem we kept having with lending (to some people) is that they wouldn’t give the item back in the condition we loaned it in. That’s one of our pet peeves.

  42. Gigi says:

    Like many here, I love books. But I’m the type that once I get a book in my hands I (unconsciously) consider it mine. I tell my friends not to loan me things because I’m so bad at giving them back. I do pay a lot of fines to the library, but I consider that ‘rental’ to a good cause. What I don’t like is when friends insist that I borrow something because ‘I’ll love it’ and even after repeated refusals, still shove it in my hands or purse or something. Then I’m stuck with something that I really wasn’t that interested in (yes, I’m sure it is very good, but my time is limited and I can barely fit in what I’ve been planning to see/read) and then have to somehow remember to give it back and then they want to know how I liked it, so if I haven’t read/watched it they’re disappointed. Plus, I find collecting DVD’s and books, other than very old classics (a strong interest of mine), and favorites, merely expensive and space consuming,(I’ve got the library and Redbox! Even with fees, much cheaper) and I’m not into the latest releases, so I have very little to lend back, and what I do have to lend I treasure or it was hard to come by, so I don’t want to lend it.

  43. Stephanie says:

    Hi Trent, I might also suggest mailing any DVDs that you no longer need/want/watch(TV series are very appreciated) to some of our soldiers abroad. We do this through http://www.anysoldier.com. Lots of our servicemen and women have moments of downtime where catching up on popular series gives them a sense of home. We have found the soldiers to be really appreciative of this gesture and have received some very special responses from this.

  44. Erin says:

    Netflix would solve this problem. I never ever rent DVDs from a store and only buy one if it a favorite that I know I’d want to watch a lot. I’ve been rewatching The Office on my computer through Netflix as part of my monthly fee and it is great.

  45. Lise says:

    Sad to hear that so many people had bad experiences with Paperbackswap! I guess it depends on what kind of books you’re looking for. It’s probably not good if you’re looking for new fiction books; for me, I read a lot of nonfiction, and pick up recommendations just about everywhere. If a book’s not in stock, I add it to my wish list and it usually finds its way to me eventually.

    There’s also a carousel you can browse of books available in your favorite categories; I don’t remember if you have to set that up or if it picks them based on what you’ve received before. But mine is almost always personal finance books, and there are a lot of good picks on there.

  46. Lou says:

    When i borrow a book from a friend, I ask – is your name in it? When I lend anything I want back, I stick one of those freebie address labels on it.

  47. DaveW says:

    I wonder what RIAA would think of this? Isn’t the point of RIAA’s lawsuits is to stop people sharing movies, etc.? If you loan a DVD, that’s no royalties for the artist. (and yes, I’m playing the devil’s advocate here – I borrow and loan movies a fair bit).

  48. FFB says:

    I love the fact that you mention the social aspect of swapping DVD’s and such. In this day with Twitter and Facebook and whatnot it’s nice to have a reason to meet up with your friends and family and talk. And we get to stretch our dollars a little further too? Awesome!

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  50. Chris says:

    A good website for this is http://www.list2lend.com,

    it lets you list your movies, books, video games and CD’s you can then Add friends, browser through their list, request items. And it will keep track of everything for you.

    Its really easy to add stuff to, you just select the media type and enter the name, it will try to find the rest of the information for you in their database.

    I strong recommend it.

  51. My favorite media swapping place is the public library . . .

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