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Published Monday, March 22, 2004
MIT Grad Opens Inman Square Bookstore
By Sarah Grafman

APPIAN STAFF WRITER

“Everyone has always wondered what ‘Lorem Ipsum’ is, and now there’s an answer,” Matt Mankins says.

While Mankins may use the word “everyone” liberally, his new bookstore – with a name inspired by that pseudo-Latin phrase traditionally used as dummy text by graphic designers – may get people talking nonetheless.

Located on Hampshire Street, just around the corner from Cambridge’s Inman Square, Mankins’ sun-filled store has cheerful green walls, cushioned window seats, and used books running from the floor to the ceiling—from Mark Twain to French sex guides.

The idea for Lorem Ipsum sprang from a domestic tiff.

Mankins graduated this past September with a Masters in Media Arts and Sciences from MIT’s Media Lab and, for the first time, found himself without an office.

He brought his shelves and shelves of books home, but “that didn’t go over so well with my girlfriend.”

He began selling his books online and eventually developed a computer program to automate the process.

He then decided that a store would be the perfect compliment to his Internet sales, combining the tangible pleasures of a used bookstore with the efficiency of online shopping.

Each book in Lorem Ipsum has been inventoried and priced according to Mankins’ computer program. This program looks for the book title online and then determines its price based on the title’s availability and that specific book’s condition.

Beyond its own inventory, Lorem Ipsum also searches for hard-to-find books for its customers, again determining the price based on Mankins' computer program. Mankins hopes to bring his software to other independent booksellers: “The idea is to figure it out and perfect it and then share what I’ve found.”

There are small technological surprises throughout the store—from the cabinet lid that says “close the door” to the register drawer that pops out at the click of the computer mouse. Lorem Ipsum also sells locally-written ‘zines, small bouncing balls, and Mexican candies. Future plans include vending machines that dispense small artworks and “word of the day” sales, where all books that contain that day’s word are discounted.

So far, Mankins has been enjoying the new experience of owning and running a store, which he and a “motley crew of unemployed” friends converted from its previous incarnation as a bicycle shop.

“My other jobs have all been in software where you’re a few steps removed from people, and you don’t know if they actually like it,” he noted. “Here, you get to see people, and most of them are excited that we’re here.” Lorem Ipsum is Inman Square’s only current used bookstore.

The new entrepreneur’s only problem? “I don’t have time to read,” Mankins says. “I haven’t read a single book since I started this.”

Sarah Grafman, a masters studstent in Technology in Education, is a staff writer for The Appian.