A Bookselling Sci-Fi Nightmare: The Computers Take Over the Marketplace
by Renée Magriel Roberts
I don't know how many of you remember "Colossus: The Forbin Project" on the big screen. Released in 1970, this movie was the progenitor of all computers-run-amok-and-destroy-the-planet flicks. The basic plot is this: Forbin, a scientist working for the United States government, creates an expensive super-computer capable of running the country's strategic missile system. More intelligent than any human being, Colossus is designed to avoid human failings and respond rapidly to nuclear threats emanating from the former Soviet Union.
Everything seems just fine, until the computer starts killing selected members of the population, makes Forbin a prisoner in his own house, and when he drags his feet at complying with its wishes, Colossus lobs a few nukes at U. S. cities. Turns out that Colossus has gotten together with its Soviet counterpart, another super-intelligent computer, they've mind-melded, and figured out that humans are the real problem and therefore expendable. So they are going to just take over to insure "peace". The movie ends pretty grimly (I won't spoil it by telling you the finale).
Although not a 5-star tale, this movie made enough of an impression on me to create a certain wariness about computer technology. Nonetheless, I put these fears aside, became enamored of computers and spent many years in the industry before becoming a bookseller. In our bookselling business, we heavily use computers and depend on the Internet for our sales.
We all know there are dangers with spyware, identity theft, Internet credit card fraud, and even outright break-ins on computers. In earlier columns, I also discussed the proliferation of phony and stolen listings by computer programmers, who are not booksellers. But this week I was innocently introduced to a technological two-edged sword, that appears to solve a major bookselling problem, while at the same time creating a marketplace nightmare reminiscent of the Forbin Project.
My week began with an innocent email from ABE inviting me to find out more about Monsoon, a new software product designed specifically for the Internet bookselling industry. The heart of Monsoon is a book database with a powerful dynamic pricing engine under the hood. Simply put, this software will automatically help you set and re-set prices on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Alibris, ABE, and eBay stores as often as you care to have your listings uploaded. It does so by comparing each of your books to each of those individual marketplaces according to pricing rules that you set for each item.