The Viral Book Exchange on Instagram Is Tricky — Here's Why

Instagram trends, like its "Add Yours" story feature, have been hitting it big on the app lately, but one trend in particular — a huge book exchange — circulating the platform seems a little sketch, if you ask me. If you've seen Instagram posts touting a book exchange and thought the same, you're not alone. Many others have begun wondering whether the book exchange on Instagram is a scam. The answer? It's complicated, for sure.

The guidelines of the book exchange claim that all you have to do is send your favorite book to a stranger, and you could receive (roughly) 36 books in return. (POPSUGAR reached out to Instagram for comment on the book exchange and will update this story when we hear back.) There's certainly a lot to unpack here, but if you want a more straightforward answer, you should know you probably will not receive 36 books.

What Is the Book Exchange on Instagram?

The book exchange is a trend that's been spreading around Instagram and Facebook for several years and has recently picked up momentum (again) in the past few months. The book exchange's message is plain and simple: buy one book and potentially receive 36 books in return. People are posting the following message on their Instagram Stories and Feeds:

The book swap invites anyone from around the world to participate, and once you show interest by messaging the poster "in," you'll receive a message that states:

Yay! I'm glad you want to participate! Here's how it works:

Step 1: Repost the image/text I posted (you can post it on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, your blog, etc)

Step 2: Send a book to __________
The book can be new or used, but you should send a book you love! Write a note on the inside cover (on a piece of paper and put it inside) so they know who and where the book came from!

Step 3: When people comment on your post, send them the instructions but change the address in step 2 to my address and change the address in step 3 (this step) to your address!

My Address:
Step 4: Receive books!!
Theoretically, if you find 6 people to play along and those 6 people each find six people, then you should get 36 books!

Is the Book Exchange on Instagram a Scam?

Upon seeing the book exchange, some users have rightfully wondered whether the initiative is a scam or even a pyramid scheme, which recruits members with a promise of payments or goods for rolling others into the scheme. In traditional pyramid schemes, it becomes increasingly difficult as recruiting gets bigger for all members to profit — which is why pyramid schemes aren't viable and are illegal in most places. While it's unlikely the book exchange is a full-blown pyramid scheme, it seems to follow a similar path: the books act as the "goods," and the participant reposts the message to recruit others. The problem is that if someone's followers don't sign up, someone in the scheme won't get all the books promised to them. That said, the book exchange is one big game of luck, and if you want to take your chances, you could end up with one book, 14 books, 36 books, or none at all. No one is held accountable, so you never know what you'll end up with.

Does the Book Exchange Work?

Keep in mind that some people are receiving books from this exchange, and if you're OK with taking your chances (and sharing your address with others), you, too, could receive a few books. The only way the exchange wouldn't work is if exactly zero people show interest in your book exchange post. Regardless, it's important to note that you most likely won't receive all 36 books. The bottom line? The choice is yours.