Sharing with Minimal Regulation? Evidence from Neighborhood Book Exchange
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Description: Informal peer-to-peer services to share or barter goods often succumb to free riding behavior because they lack the tools to enforce compliance and reciprocity. We collect unique quantitative data on a form of unregulated peer-to-peer in-kind exchange that appears internationally viable: the free exchange of books via privately owned public bookcases, also known as little free libraries. Other than previously studied honor-based exchanges, little free libraries use a non-monetary one-to-one book exchange rate. We find surprisingly limited free riding in this market. Users return 9 books for every 10 taken. An incentivized survey points to strong social norms and preferences for cooperation among owners and users as key behavioral primitives that can explain the observed high and stable level of reciprocal exchange. Keywords: Peer-to-peer exchange; Honor systems; Free riding; Social norms; Altruistic preferences; Sharing economy