"...So how does Wattenberg finance The Book Thing? "I rob liquor stores," he cracks....MORE>>
Actually, he solicits grants from charities like the Abel Foundation and the Open Society Institute. He rents books to TV and film producers to decorate their sets. He also sells the rare books that come his way. "A benefactor recently donated half a dozen first editions of Faulkner, and a first US edition of 'Lolita,' " he said.
Wattenberg's online sales of valuable books – some donated, others discovered among the thousands that pour in and whose owners he could not locate – sparked a controversy this year when two local bookstore owners complained that he was competing unfairly.
Wattenberg's response: "That's how we're able to give away thousands of books every weekend. It wouldn't be possible otherwise. We may sell 2,000 books a year, only a quarter of 1 percent of those donated."
Others in Baltimore's used book trade side with him. Kevin Johnson, of Royal Books, says, "I'd never view Russell as a competitor.... We've sent about 15,000 books to The Book Thing." Clifford Panken, the owner of two bookstores, came to Wattenberg's defense in April when the controversy emerged. "It's actually a very noble thing he's doing," he told The Baltimore Sun"....
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