Um, Is the Instagram Huge Book Exchange Just a Giant Scam? Here's What We Know

Kelly Corbett - Author

Jan. 7 2022, Published 11:04 a.m. ET

Instsgram Book exchange
Source: Instagram / @thebookwormbotanist / Twitter / @mxrxmxshxl / Getty Images

Who remembers chain letters? They're one of my first memories of the digital age.

Basically, someone would send out an email, a text, or write a Facebook status, and then recipients and/or readers would be asked to pass the message along to others. Usually, if you failed to do so, nothing happened. But in some cases, the message promised grave consequences (like you'd die in seven days).

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In the past few years, these copy and paste style chain messages have manifested in new ways. Now instead of just promising to repost, users may be tapped to take action and provide personal info.

In 2018, Instagram's Huge Book Exchange was born. It has since died down but continues to be brought back to life every few years. In theory, it sounds like a great way to celebrate the joy of reading with new friends, but also it seems very impractical. So, is it real? Keep scrolling to find out.

YA Books 2021
Source: Getty Images
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What is Instagram's Huge Book Exchange?

Instagram's Huge Book Exchange is a book swap exclusive to the platform that invites literally anyone in the world to participate. You may have seen the message before. Users everywhere are copying and pasting the same three paragraphs either to their stories or onto a pretty background for an in-feed post.

The premise is simple. You buy your favorite book and then you send it to it stranger. To get this stranger's address, just DM the person who posted about the book exchange. Easy peasy, right?

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Then in return for sending a complete stranger your fave title, you're promised that you will receive a maximum of 36 books in return from strangers around the world.

To get started, just reply to the original poster with the word "in," and then you'll be sent information on how it works and what you need to do to receive your books.

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It sounds very wholesome and well-intentioned, but also ... perhaps ... a little sketchy?

Like how do you go from sending one book to receiving up to 36 books in exchange? Is your address being sent to multiple people? Can you ask to be sent a certain genre of book? "Favorite book" just seems very broad.

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Also, what happens if the person who is supposed to send you a book doesn't? And if this is an international exchange, will there be any language barriers?

Social media users have mixed thoughts.

So is it real? It's hard to say. Many were quick to dismiss the Instagram Book Exchange as a "pyramid scheme." One user even tweeted, "This Instagram book exchange sounds about as legit as that red bathing suit," referencing Sunny Co. Clothing's Instagram spam campaign in 2017, which promised users a free bathing suit for reposting a brand photo.

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But lo and behold, some users actually had photographic proof of the exchange's legitimacy. Apparently, some book lovers were actually sending each other books in the mail.

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So is the Instagram Book Exchange a scam? Yes and no.

In 2018, Slate writer Heather Schwedel penned a piece assessing the Instagram Book exchange. She spoke with Leni Zumas, a writer based in Portland, Ore. who was hesitant at first but decided to try anyway. How'd it go? Well, she received 14 books, with titles ranging from classics like The Alchemist to newer fiction like The Vegetarian.

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As Heather explained, the exchange works like this: User A reads a post about the Instagram Book Exchange and then messages the original poster, User B, to get involved. Then, User B provides User A with two addresses.

One address is for User A to mail a book to. The other address is for User A to pass onto their followers who want to participate in the exchange. User A, of course, must repost the message. They must also give User B their address to pass on.

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Man reading book
Source: Getty Images

So, in actuality, the people mailing books to each other will share mutual connections. But there's still no promising that you'll actually receive a book or books.

For example, if your address falls into the hands of someone who doesn't have any interested followers to pass it along to, then you won't get a book. Since there doesn't seem to be anyone officially in charge of this, it becomes more of a game of luck. You may get a book. You may get several. You also may get none.

Our thoughts? Don't take the risk. Instead, organize a smaller book exchange Secret Santa-style with your group of friends.

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