Saturday, September 13, 2008

Database Bookselling

Mick Sussman (NYTimes) pens an interesting essay on the application of book databases to retailing and the particular impact on second hand and antiquarian bookselling.

Indeed, the state of the art in used-book selling these days seems to be less about connoisseurship than about database management. With the help of software tools, so-called megalisters stock millions of books and sell tens of thousands a week through Amazon, AbeBooks and other online marketplaces. Some sellers don’t even own their wares. They just copy other sellers’ lists and then buy the books as necessary, pocketing the markup (though none acknowledge the practice, since it is banned on most commercial sites). To small sellers like Joe Orlando of Fenwick Street Used Books and Music in Leonardtown, Md., megalisters treat books as “simply a widget that they can make a few bucks on.” The megalisters — a name originally intended as a term of abuse but now accepted by the accused — don’t quite disagree. “What we’re trying to do is provide cheap books for everybody,” said G. Seth Beal, the president and chief operating officer of Thrift Books, which lists three million books and has 180 employees. Beal says he personally loves handling and collecting old volumes, but his business model is based on achieving economies of scale through automation.

An interesting essay which ends on a positive note suggesting there is still a role for old fashioned book intelligence (even if it may be aided by blogging and list-serves) and that 'if you know what you are doing' as a seller you will win out against the megalisters.

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