A Seattle man is offering his Chevy pickup for rent at $20 a day. In Tiburon, Calif., a fellow is offering anyone the use of his garden sprayer for $10 a week. A teenager in Oneida, Wis., will lend you the new Norah Jones CD for free.
Those are some of the deals available at Moogul, a new Web site that opened for business Friday, billing itself as the eBay of renting and sharing.
"Just like eBay facilitates buying and selling, we facilitate lending and borrowing," says Joel Maske, founder and chief executive of San Francisco-based Moogul Networks Inc.
At first glance, Moogul (www.moogul.com) may seem to be a dot-com parody, or the punch line to a lame Internet joke, as in, "What do you get when you cross Google with a cow?" But the quirky start-up is for real, and it says something about the state of innovation in Web commerce today: While it may not be flourishing, it's not dead, either. And who knows; what seems ridiculous today can go mainstream tomorrow.
That's precisely what happened with eBay, Yahoo and Amazon in the mid-1990s. When they launched, hardly anyone understood what they were trying to do. Even the founders had murky visions, which evolved gradually as people used their services.
So it is with Moogul, which takes its name from the Indian dynasty that built the Taj Mahal. Maske's idea is to create an online marketplace helping people to rent and lend things to one another. He contends it will drive down the cost of using stuff for everyone, since you could pay, say, a modest fee to use your neighbor's rug shampooer.
But my reaction when I first saw Moogul was: Why would I want to rent books, music or other stuff from people I don't even know?
To check out the service, I searched for a Dan Brown book I wanted to read, "Angels and Demons," and discovered that Maske was one of those offering it for $1.89 for a 30-day loan. Since the price included shipping, it was about $4 less than I could find anywhere else online. Of course, I could drive to my local library, but that takes too much time. On Moogul, it took about 10 minutes to sign up, figure out how it works, request Maske's copy and pay him via PayPal, the electronic payment service. Soon I got an e-mail saying he had shipped the book to me.
Moogul's rules of the road, however, struck me as complicated, perhaps because the concept is still foreign to me. Basically, it works like this: The person offering an item for lending or renting sets the time period and price each borrower must pay. Borrowers pay lenders directly, using PayPal, paper checks or other payment forms the lender may accept.
Moogul charges no listing fees, but collects a commission from the lender each time an item is rented -- 35 cents plus 5.25 percent of the lending fee.
Next, the owner ships the item to the borrower. Lenders can avoid the post office by using special mailing labels available from Moogul, or by making their items available for local pickup. After the time limit for borrowing is up, Moogul will post the item as "available" again on the network. Then when a second borrower orders it, the first borrower must ship it directly to that person -- that is, unless the owner has required it be shipped back. But for books and other media, it appears most Moogul lenders are letting their items circulate rather than having them sent back, which reduces overall shipping costs.
Moogul's pricing rules differ for music. Because copyright laws prohibit people from renting their CDs, Moogul requires music CDs to be offered for free in an "open sharing" system. No such copyright restrictions prohibit owners of books and movies from renting them to strangers, according to Maske.
The Motion Picture Association of America said it had no problem with Moogul, at least not based on the sketchy outline of the service I provided. The Recording Industry Association of America had no comment.
In addition to its sharing marketplace, Moogul offers a social networking feature allowing people to connect and build networks of friends. And like eBay, it provides a virtual reputation system that encourages people to publicly rate one another after they've been involved in a transaction. As for deadbeats, Moogul said it will kick off those who fail to follow the rules three times. So far, Moogul has a few thousand users and fewer than 2,000 items offered on its network. Some who are using it seem enthusiastic.
PapaMedia.com, an Internet-only bookseller in Miami, has already listed 40 books for two-week rentals at $2 a pop, including 11 copies of "The Da Vinci Code."
"At PapaMedia, our prices are often 40 percent lower than Amazon or Barnes & Noble, but we don't have the marketing arm to adequately compete with these giants," said Gary Kanal, PapaMedia's chief executive. "So we are trying new ways of selling, like Moogul."
Another business trying out Moogul is San Francisco chain Cole Hardware, which is in the process of listing hundreds of items that it has available for rental at its four local stores.
"For us it is a no-brainer, because we already rent tools and supplies to our customers," said Rick Karp, president of Cole Hardware. "If Moogul is successful, it will give us an opportunity to drive more traffic into our stores."
Maske envisions most of the site's revenue, at least initially, coming from local businesses that have goods to rent. "One missing piece on the Internet so far has been a site that can really connect you with local retailers in a way that's efficient and as easy as Amazon or eBay."
Of course, changing people's behavior is really hard. It remains to be seen whether Moogul can offer enough incentives to get people to add its rental marketplace to their already crowded list of Web bookmarks. Will Moogul become a new verb for renting?
I don't think so. Then again, who would have thought we'd all be Googling everyone and everything around us?
Leslie Walker's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.