Booksellers as a group (he says, gesturing expansively) exhibit a strange combination of hail-fellow, well-met collegiality and knives-drawn competitiveness. I blush to admit that as a bookseller I can appreciate the impulse to hoard information (the identity of a particularly live customer, the sources of inventory, the bids I’ve left for an auction, etc.). In general, asymmetric information has been the bookseller’s friend.
Back in my youth, when I was but a callow clerk for an antiquarian bookselling concern on the West Coast and the telephone was the preferred medium for the dissemination of information, I was on the phone attempting on behalf of my employer to inveigle a colleague out of a selection of what we were pleased to call “Jackson material” for a remunerative institutional customer.
The colleague posed an innocuous question about the scope of our customer’s collection; I was momentarily puzzled, so I moved the telephone receiver about three inches from my mouth and called back to my boss’s desk, “Hey, do you think [Name of the Institution] would go for thus-and-such?”
“Did you just say [Name of the Institution]?” my boss answered.
“[Common gutter expletive],” I answered. I put the phone back up to my ear. The colleague was laughing.
“I promise not to use this information against you,” the colleague said, collegially.
The model of one-to-one information sharing seems as quaint as my past reliance on the Ameche. Today of course I would have typed the customer’s name into my blog in a moment of idle distraction and seen the balance sheet laid waste by the persistence of the Google cache.