Written by Emily Glaser | Photos by Anthony Harden
With independent bookshops on the endangered species list and Amazon’s monopolistic presence in the marketplace a constant threat to them, Brendan Sherar’s online marketplace, Biblio, has become a significant lifeline for the booksellers.
Traditionalists may rail against the commoditization and digitization of books, classicists may decry the evolution of e-books and Amazon, but the truth is this: Books have long been big business.
Since Gilgamesh took his first, typewritten steps across the page, books have been monetized. The earliest book collectors, iconic intelligentsia like Aristotle and Plato, paid good money for their scrolls. (Plato purportedly paid a whopping 100 minae for three small treatises of Philolaus the Pythagorean.) At the height of the Roman Republic, personal libraries came in vogue, and the taberna librarii that stocked them did a booming business.
As empires rose and fell, and their missives with them, books transitioned from costly paraphernalia of the educated aristocracy into commonplace commodities. Spurred by early edicts of free speech like the Magna Carta, the invention of the printing press, and the rise of the publishing profession, a veritable industry rose from the papyrus prints of yore.
There’s a simple equation to business: Price is driven by supply and demand. Over the course of centuries, the supply of books burgeoned, and prices dropped. But industry loves scarcity, and a new trade arose to fill the void: rare books.
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