Monday, April 17, 2006

Read It? Watched It? Swap It

For Heather Perlmutter, a 41-year-old investment portfolio manager in Manhattan, the Web site with the whimsical name made perfect sense. Like many Americans, she found herself awash in CD's, DVD's and VHS tapes that were seldom if ever played anymore. They just took up valuable space in the Upper West Side apartment where she lives with her husband and two young children.
Then a friend of a friend told her about Zunafish, a new Web site that matches people with discs and tapes to trade and video games and paperback books, too.
"You feel like you're getting something special, that you're getting the better part of the deal," Ms. Perlmutter said. "Wow, somebody wants your stuff. I guess it's one man's trash is another man's treasure."

That was certainly the thinking of Dan Elias and Billy Bloom, the unlikely founders of Zunafish.
In a highly competitive era, independent tinkerers who are convinced they have a big idea can face big problems getting the idea to market. Even video games, once famous for whisking their creators from makeshift workshops to fast fortunes and expensive cars, are mostly made today by corporate teams of designers and programmers in sprawling office parks.

But Mr. Elias, a television news anchor in western Massachusetts, and Mr. Bloom, the owner of a volleyball league in New York City, both self-described amateurs at creating a digital service and company, spawned Zunafish, a singularly simple-to-use media trading site.

"We have no background in technology," said Mr. Elias, a 45-year-old native New Yorker who now lives in Northampton, Mass. "I think we always thought from the start that it was a big idea. There are hundreds of billions of dollars of idle media materials sitting in people's homes."

Mr. Bloom, 47, said of the company's humble origins, "If we lived in the country, it would have literally been created in one of our garages."
The site, which looks remarkably similar to a prototype Mr. Bloom sketched on notebook paper four years ago with Mr. Elias, trades only one-for-one items within the same category CD's, DVD's, VHS tapes, video games, audio books or paperback books. No item (for example, a seven-disc DVD set of the first season of the television series "24") is worth more than any another (say, a DVD of Peter Jackson's "King Kong").
Traders using the site determine the relative value of an item by choosing to swap or not. No one is ever forced to make a trade, Mr. Elias noted.

Each trader pays Zunafish $1 through credit or debit card for each trade. The site then calculates the postage costs and creates addressed mailing labels that can be downloaded and printed out. Each trader, Mr. Bloom said, is responsible for paying the postage and mailing the item promptly.

Like buyers and sellers on eBay, the traders on Zunafish rate each other, providing a confidence index for future transactions.
One notable feature is how easy it is to post items on Zunafish to be traded.
Mr. Bloom said Zunafish used a database that was updated weekly. Type in the name of an item or its universal product code (usually found near an item's bar code) or the I.S.B.N. number for books and the database pulls up a full description of the item and a digital photograph of its cover. If the match is correct, the user clicks O.K. and the item is posted.

There are other online trading sites, including Peerflix and BarterBee, which started last summer, that offer trading in similar categories. But other sites tend to offer a more limited range of items, or they use more complicated systems, requiring points and memberships to execute trades.

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