Nov
20
2013

Our Origin Story

Joe here:

Tom has been selling books for many years now. He started as a textbook reseller before the internet boom, and as Amazon started growing, he rented some office space a set up a little internet company selling used books. In those days, Kindles hadn’t been invented and the book market was volatile. People could suddenly find rare and out of print books with the click of a button instead of searching tiny used book stores.  Some books solidified their status as valuable collector’s items, while other books saw their value crash, as books once thought rare, suddenly flooded the market and the number of collectors was outweighed by the number of copies for sale. If you stroll around the book section in Amazon, you can find millions of books listed for less than $2.00, most on sale for only a penny (you develop a good sense for the value of someone’s books just by looking at them. We call low valued books, “penny books” for this reason and they include nearly every mass market book over a year old. Check out the Harry Potter books, for example!).

As the market became flooded with books, and as the popularity of e-readers grew, Amazon prices fell and kept falling. So Tom was left with the question of what to do with all these books? It’s not sustainable to go through the process of looking up books, shipping them and then dealing with occasional customer service issues if we were only selling books for less than a dollar, and on top of it Amazon takes a percentage of every sale. He had a seemingly unending supply of cheap books from cleaning up estate sales to people dropping off boxes of books and running away like babies at a firestation.

Still Tom knew that people still wanted some of these books. It’s always been hard for him to let go of books and he spends hours and days and months looking through discarded piles of books and picking out a few beautiful art books, or detailed factual accounts of transdimensional sasquatches, or 1,000 page books on the history of FDR’s wheelchair.  Each of these books might be found on Amazon for a penny, but they’re too interesting to be thrown away. So Tom started collecting the books even though he couldn’t afford to sell them individually on Amazon. Eventually he had enough that the collection was appropriately give the title of “Library” and it began to grow like creeping mold as the two room office space he rented grew to three and then four, each filled with books on everything from poetry to computer science. But what to do with all these books?

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