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The World's Largest Used Bookstore

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

This New York Times article (Free Registration Required) details "An actual Internet success story." It would seem the Internet revolutionized the used book industry. Or, perhaps, it can be said the Internet created an industry where before their was little to no cohesion to speak of.

The Internet provided a means to unite used book stores from around the world, bringing together their inventory in a few monster databases maintained by companies such as Advanced Book Exchange, Amazon, Alibris, Book Avenue, and BookFinder.com.

The result is a change in how used books are, well, used. Instead of sitting on a dusty shelf somewhere for an interminable amount of time until someone stumbles upon the book while searching for something else, used books are recycled back into the pool more and more often. Except now, with each iteration, the book may find itself in another part of the world.

A new breed of quasi used book seller/collector has arisen. They attempt to piece together sets of books by a single author or on a certain subject -- or of any other relationship one could possibly imagine. The Internet unites these people with collectors from around the world. So, though there may not necessarily be anyone in Massachusetts looking for an entire set of 1st printing, pulp paperbacks by, say, Kilgore Trout, someone from Bermuda (Trout's birthplace), may be surfing the Internet right now in search for just such a collection.

So it would seem that just as every good fairy tale has to start with "Once upon a time," every good success story starts with, "OK, here's the problem." Nevertheless, though the Internet has made quite a few things more convenient, it is has yet to duplicate the sensation of digging though a pile of musty books in search of one book, striking out, but lucking upon another. Of course, I may be of a small minority of people who would enjoy such a "sensation." :)

Addendum
Just out of pure curiosity, I did a quick search on Google for "smell machine" (hey, that was the best I could think of) and the very first result returned was a story of an Internet company, DigiScents, which developed the iSmell. The iSmell apparently "plugs right into your personal computer and wafts virtual odors at you." So, if every time I performed a search on a used book site, my computer wafted a musty odor at me, maybe I could duplicate "the sensation of digging through a pile of moldy books." I love free enterprise and entrepreneurship.

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