The Book Depository is a UK-based enterprise with world-wide ambitions. Basically, it's a bookselling business. It aims to deliver books to the customer cheap(ish) and fast; and not just today's bestsellers either, but highly obscure books too. It works, as I can testify from a recent test.
To call this enterprise ambitious is an understatement. If you want to know more, take a look at the About Us page on the company's web site.
You will note that the underlying technology is being developed by a team at the University of Bath (one of the UK's better universities, specialising in science and technology), and the research is being part-funded by the UK's Engineering & Physical Science Research Council. What that means, in plain English, is that the underlying science is considered highly respectable and vitally important. The Book Depository is committed to making all programming open source.
The average customer, however, is not going to be too concerned by that. What your typical punter wants is a copy of a given book, at the cheapest possible price, and to have it delivered as near instantaneously as possible. By interacting with other retailers and distributors, the Book Depository seems to be getting as close to that ideal service as anyone could reasonably ask. Their software aims to work out the optimised purchasing route of each isbn, depending on cost, availability and historical service delivery, and then places orders.
Unless I've been more than usually sleepy, the Book Depository has been attracting little public attention. Instead of pumping out bullshit publicity, it's just been developing systems that actually work, and setting up arrangements with other companies, who also want (naturally) to maximise their business.
I first came across the company when I looked for a book on Amazon, and found that the Amazon page showed that the cheapest way to get it was to use the BD. I thought this was very odd, but did not complain, especially when the book arrived the next day.
Independent booksellers will not like me saying all that, however, and the truth, I fear, is that the BD constitutes yet another serious threat to your friendly neighbourhood independent -- and indeed to that favourite secondhand shop of yours, where you cough your way through the dust to unearth (you hope) long-lost treasures. Before long you will find that the BD will have reprinted that 1930 item that you were looking for, and a lot more besides. POD, naturally.
The BD has recently reported 3rd year sales of £24 million, £12 million up on 2005/2006, showing a treble-digit increase for the second year running.
There is a massive amount of material to explore on the BD web site -- too much to describe here. Though you could begin with the very sensible article by Mark Thwaite on the possible death of publishers.
And don't think the BD isn't relevant if you live in the US. At present they are able to ship 700,000 US books from 8 fulfillment centers across America, and the range will doubtless increase fast.