A little bit true. We were online booksellers before Amazon came in. We made money first, but they seem to have had a better business plan.
“Hi. It’s Jeff.”
We started in our basement. They followed a few years later in their garage. We both sold used books on line. That was as close as we came to being Amazon.
They knew very little about selling books. Jeff would call a few times a day. “We’ve bought thousands,” he asked. “How do you price them?”
“We use the industry recommended technique,” we explained patiently. “Get five large garbage cans. Label the cans $5 through $25 by fives. Line them up with the lowest price nearest you and toss the books into the cans. Mark the books that miss, “rare.” For those, pick a price that makes you smile.”
Jeff was on the cover of Young Entrepreneur. In the interview, he described his garbage can method for pricing books. Not a word of thanks. We sent him a copy of “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie. Do you think he read it?
“I bought a mess of musty books,” he whined. “What do I do now?”
“Put the books in a bucket of cat litter for exactly 30 hours,” we told him generously. “Then shake them out, flare them open, and direct a strong fan on them. After precisely two weeks, you must set them out in the afternoon sun. An hour or two should do. Then throw them out.”
Jeff did an interview on CNBC. When asked about musty books, he whispered “cat litter.” We did not get a mention. We sent him a musty copy of Catch 22.
“Condition is driving me nuts,” he practically screamed. “How do I describe condition?”
“Everything is very good to someone,” we said kindly. “Label the ratty stuff “scarce”and sell it high.”
Jeff was interviewed by Time Magazine, the week before his IPO. He fielded the book stuff with aplomb. “Everything is very good to someone,” he said of condition.
We sent him a 5 ton crate of old German family bibles—the only books that no one, ever, has been able to resell.
That Sunday, Jeff had an ad in The NY Times Book Review. It read: “Incredible find! Free old German bible with any order over $100. While they last!”
“One swell deal,” we thought, and were almost tempted to order.
Jeff only called once again. “I’ve decided to become a re-reseller,” he said, sounding happier. “I’ll let people like you deal with the booky stuff and I’ll just take a commission.”
“I hate books,” he said and hung up.
We helped make Amazon what they are today. No finders fee. No thank you. Not even a gift card we could use to buy back that slightly musty copy of Catch 22, which is ratty enough to be rare.