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Taking on the giants

Hot on the Web

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on August 10, 2001

(Issue 1932, Business Computing)

In the retail world, mom and pop stores are facing extinction at the hands of the big chains. Wal-Mart and Home Depot roll into town, and the locally owned stores suddenly can't compete anymore, either in prices or inventory.

But in an interesting development, small independent shops are combining forces to offer real competition in the online world.

By creating large shared shopping portals with a comman database, independent shops can create the kind of large inventory previously available only at the big box warehouses. And since each shop is still independent, the kind of personalized service that the smaller outfits are famous for can be preserved.


The Global Electronic Music Marketplace is composed of thousands of independent used record shops from around the world. While every decent-size city has a good used record shop or two, combining the inventory of thousands of such shops makes finding what you're looking for that much more likely.

GEMM's web site is organized much like that of or – tabs at the top of the main page will take you to indexes for music, books or video.

While the book section is fairly in-depth, it can't compare to that of dedicated book sites – nor to GEMM's own music section, which is now bookmarked on all my browsers.

You're reading a column by someone who's been collecting music since he was 12, and who now has more than 1,600 LPs, twice that in CDs, plus assorted 45s and reel to reel tapes.

But in all that mess, there's one LP I've been unsuccessfully searching for over the past 5 years – a mid-'80s release by the Staple Singers with a cover of the Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime." Couldn't find it anywhere, as it was never released on CD.

Took me all of about two seconds to find a copy on GEMM. If it's still in stock (I'm waiting for an e-mail response from the merchant – a record shop in Cleveland, Ohio – as I write this), I'll finally have it. And the process was a far sight easier than my usual M.O. of leafing through the record bins at the local thrift stores hoping to get lucky.

The main music page of GEMM lists the most popular artists in the database, with the Beatles (who else!) in the lead with almost 15,000 items in stock. But there are 11 million items in total (music, books and videos combined), so finding what you're looking for may not be a sure thing, but this is the best place to start your search.


When my oldest was born 10 and a half years ago, I quit my full-time job to stay home with her – to supplement my wife's income, I took a part-time job at a used-book store. Drove my poor wife nuts when I'd bring my paycheck home in currencies of Hemingway, Camus and Sartre.Seems the landlady didn't accept literature in payment of rent.

Which is by way of saying that my library of books is nearly as overwhelming as my music library, and that there is always some odd little edition or book I'm searching for.

And that when I want to find a book fast, I go to

With more than 8,000 independent book dealers (including my old employer) offering their inventory through, it is to the literary world what GEMM is to music.

Recently, I remembered a book my sisters had liked as kids – "Minnow Vail." It was one of those cheap teen romance job from the '60s, long out of print. But I thought my daughter might like it. Went on Abebooks, found it immediately. Same with the old Dana Twins mysteries (a series like the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew) and the Cherry Ames nurse series.

In fact, I've yet to stump Abebooks – never looked for a book I couldn't find there. They're not always cheap, but there's usually a good range of prices from the different dealers – and since this isn't some large impersonal corporation, sometimes you can haggle with the dealers, especially if you can show them a lower price elsewhere.

Yes, Abebooks is also bookmarked in all my browsers – if you love books, it belongs in yours, too.