Last weekend I got up early to go to a huge book sale held at a local high school cafeteria. I picked up some neat computer books and magazines. What disturbed me, though, was something I had never seen at a book sale before.
I might be out of the loop on this, but I was boggled to find that 5 or 6 people were scanning mass amounts of books using bar code readers hooked up to PDA's. My first thought was that they were associated with the book sale, but then I realized something sleazy was going on. They were playing the middleman by sifting through as many books as possible to find valuable ones they could mark up online. In other words, they were flipping books at a high school book sale.
One guy asked a scanner, "Hey, are you scanning those to mark them up?" The scanner ignored him and quickly moved on. I occasionally took a moment from my browsing to watch the scanners. They looked up at me nervously. The guilt I thought I saw on their faces could have just as easily been the addled state of mind brought on by hours of fast-paced scanning. One guy even had a cell earpiece on for additional connectivity.
This phenomenon disgusts me for a few reasons. First, flipping in any setting is an unnecessary and dismal step in commerce. It's no better than ticket scalping.
Second, the scanners are a leech on the community event of a book sale. They are there solely to rip people off. There is pleasure of searching and finding books with knowledge value in mind, not market value. Scanners destroy the aesthetics and mechanics that allow this search to happen.
Instead of being found by someone at the book sale, the books end up in an online marketplace where discovering a book is about as exciting as executing a Google search. All the scanners are interested in is jacking up the price, so the people actually interested in books get screwed. When all transactions migrate online, the "magical find" of the physical marketplace is replaced by credit cards and flashy Web2.0 interfaces.
There have always been people who have drawn on their knowledge of books to find the ones with high market value. Technology, as it often does, has scaled this situation to the extreme and created WiFi Vultures that skeletize book sales with unprecedented efficiency.
On my way out, I asked one of the cashiers "Do you have a policy on the cyborgs with the scanners?"
"They get here at 6:30AM," he shrugged.