The fascinating and appalling Confessions of a Used-Book Salesman, by Michael Savitz, tells what it’s like to “spend 80 hours a week trawling junk shops with a laser scanner”:
There is competition in the used book game because it is actually possible to make a living doing what I do. I see my adversaries packing their hauls into decent cars, sometimes with the help of family members. A good load of books found all of a sudden might be resalable for many hundreds of dollars. With diligence, someone working alone can make $1,000 per week; with a more insane commitment, or with the help of a wife or child, the business might yield more, especially once a sizable inventory has been built up.
If it’s possible to make a decent living selling books online, then why does it feel so shameful to do this work? I’m not the only one who feels this way; I see it in the mien of my fellow scanners as they whip out their PDAs next to the politely browsing normal customers. The sense that this is a dishonorable profession is confirmed by library book sales that tag their advertisements with “No electronic devices allowed,” though making this rule probably isn’t in the libraries’ financial interest. People scanning books sometimes get kicked out of thrift stores and retail shops as well, though this hasn’t happened to me yet.
On the one hand, to the extent these guys rescue books from the trash compactor and sell them to people who want to read them, they’re performing a valuable service. On the other, they’re incredibly annoying if you’re at the same sale; not only are they shoving you out of the way and keeping you from looking at books, they don’t even care about the books as such, just about whether they can make a buck off them. I don’t wish ill to befall them, but I’m glad they’re banned from some library sales. (Thanks for the link, Paul!)