I'm just going to come out and say it. I did the '36 book exchange' thing on Facebook. I know it's bad. I know I should be ashamed of myself. I know I am basically a moron and I have done The Worst Thing Ever.
But shall I tell you what else I know?
We got a load of books through the post and my kid was over the moon. They were all addressed to him, which is pretty cool when you're three. And all I did was spend £3 on a book for someone else's child.
Shoot me now, right?
For anyone who doesn't know what I'm banging on about, I'll assume you're not on Facebook/don't have children/have been on holiday. For a good few weeks, my news feed was peppered with statuses that read something along the lines of this:
"I am participating in a book exchange for my child. So, I need 6 mums, mums to be, grandmas, or anyone interested in the book exchange that will actually participate and follow through. Here is how we play: You must purchase and mail ONE book to a child and then your child receives 36 books in return (if all goes well and everyone follows through). Let me know if you are interested, and I'll pm you the instructions...it's super simple! First 6 to commit will be in. X"
Now don't get me wrong. I ummed and aaahed for a long while. It was pretty obvious what it was: a pyramid scheme (more on that later). I knew there wasn't a chance in hell I'd get 36 books (and that). And I hate chain posts and anything of the sort.
And yet, I'm feeling a bit festive in the run-up to Christmas, and my son like books, and - well - I guess for once I just mellowed a bit and didn't really think it through and... I said yes.
That's right, dear reader. I said yes.
My friend sent me the info, including the details of the child I needed to post my book to, and once I'd sent it I pasted the same status on Facebook asking if any of my friends wanted to get involved. And that's when someone sent me a link to this lovely thread on Mumsnet and, after a bit more Googling, I realised I was basically doomed and had sold my soul to the devil.
At least, that's what you'd think judging by the stream of vitriol being shared across the various mummy forums. And that's my issue - not the fact that friends were keen to warn me of the perils afoot (which is nice, and which is what friends are for), but the fact that everyone seemed to be getting really really worked up about it. Seriously, people. With everything else going on in the world right now, is this really worth raising your blood pressure over?
Don't answer that. First, let's clear a few things up...
Yes, there are data protection issues. You're asked to send your child's name and address to a friend of a friend. But you can use a work address, change your child's name (or use your own) and don't give out their age, which probably makes a lot of sense.
Yes, it is a pyramid scheme. Of sorts. There are plenty of explanations of what that is around the web, but it basically means the person right at the top of the pyramid is going to have a lot more success than the people towards the bottom, because - basically - everyone's already done it. That said, this isn't a traditional scheme where the person at the top of the pile continues to 'profit' the more people join in. Because it's only two-tiered, once that top person has received their 36 books (or whatever) they're out of the game. Rest assured, nobody is making millions (or setting up a bookshop) from this. But - and it's a big but - it is unsustainable. As in, the people right at the bottom of the pyramid aren't getting any books. And I agree that's pretty crap.
No, you won't get 36 books. I've yet to meet anyone who has. We've had seven within a couple of weeks. Friends have had one or two. At worst you spend £3 on a book for someone's kid and don't get anything but a nice feeling that you made someone small really happy. At best you get to give your bookshelves a bit of a boost.
Yes, it's illegal in the US. There are schemes based on a similar premise - like the Secret Sister gift thing - which involve sending gifts, or money, to people. And there was even a high-profile case this year in the UK. Bear in mind the latter was a traditional pyramid scheme - not a two-tier system (and nothing to do with books) - so someone at the top did indeed get rich quick.
No, you don't have to do it. You really don't - it's not for everybody, and that's really fine. Nor is Marmite. That's fine too.
Yes, we can still be friends if you don't. Lots of my friends either ignored me or said they didn't fancy it, and that's cool. Some even warned me they'd tried something similar and got zilch in return. Also cool. What's not cool, though, is a) assuming everyone who's done it has no idea it's a pyramid scheme and is a complete moron, and b) assuming that - because you opted out - you have the moral high ground.
Alright. So you do have the moral high ground.
But you don't have a pile of new books.
This post first appeared on www.therewegoblog.com.