Reading List: FutureShop

High-tech is hot again. This month's book finds riches in the eBay economy.

FutureShop

By Daniel Nissanoff
Penguin Press
January 2006, 256 pp., $24.95

It's been a few years since dotcom explorers claimed to have discovered an online El Dorado. But Daniel Nissanoff has been there, and he has returned with a map that he says leads right to a $250 billion market. The best part? The trailhead begins with the junk piled up in our very own closets.

As Nissanoff sees it, however, eBay and the clutch of symbiotic companies cropping up at its fringes aren't just one big tchotchke swap meet but an entire ecosystem that includes the stuff in your grandmother's cupboards and the institutional detritus of our largest corporations. The average American home is brimming with $2,200 worth of debris, from outdated computer parts to rusty exercise equipment. That '90s-era laptop sitting in the attic? It might actually be worth something. To somebody. Somewhere. And that's just the personal junk. Imagine what's sitting on IBM's shelves.

Enter the middlemen. This is where FutureShop gets interesting. Nissanoff describes a thriving industry of entrepreneurial scroungers just waiting to help us sell our junk online—for a cut, of course. Operating under names such as I Sold It on Ebay! and eAuction Warehouse (to name two that opened in my neighborhood in a matter of weeks), these drop shops are setting up everywhere. There's even a national service called AuctionDrop that has 3,800 locations nationwide. Moreover, Nissanoff claims that a host of other "facilitators"—business services that will authenticate, refurbish, and repackage our castoffs—are just around the corner. With a little effort, that junk we'd just as soon forget about could be worth 50 cents on the dollar.

Nissanoff has experience in the field: He's president of Portero, an online service that sells secondhand luxury goods on eBay, and which also picks up the merchandise, photographs it, and handles the auction. He built a business-to-business marketplace for the semiconductor industry before that.

Like the writers of so many "visionary" business books, though, Nissanoff gets gummed up in hyping his idea. He threatens those who would dare ignore his megatrend: "No matter how old or lofty their pedigrees, [they] will fall behind while the companies that creatively embrace the new inclinations will surge ahead." Shades of 1999! And Nissanoff's occasionally dry prose reflects his roots as an attorney.

Sure, some of FutureShop reads like the dotcom manifestos of yore. But there's merit here, too—if, like the drop-shop startups, you're willing to do a bit of the dirty work yourself.

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