Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2002 Issue

The Means of Book Trading That Dares Not Speak Its Name: eBay


By Abby Tallmer

eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY; http://ebay.com) is the world’s online marketplace.

Founded in September 1995, eBay is the leading online marketplace for the sale of goods and services by a diverse community of individuals and businesses. Today, the eBay community includes 49.7 million registered users, and is the most popular shopping site on the Internet when measured by total user minutes according to Media Metrix.

eBay's mission is to help practically anyone trade practically anything on earth. ---From eBay’s Company Overview, found at: pages.ebay.com/community/aboutebay/overiew


The initial idea for this article was for a rare books specialist but relative eBay novice like this author to do a piece on the pros and cons of using eBay to buy or sell rare books and Americana. Of course I had heard of eBay before, and had even spent several questionable hours at previous jobs lurking on the site, looking for bargains. But truth be told I was practically an eBay virgin: I had never bought anything on eBay and didn’t even have a grasp of the essential eBay speak. In fact, I didn’t even know how to get on to eBay, except abstractly. [See the Easy Steps to Getting on eBay and Understanding It When You’re There and the eBay Glossary at the rear of this article for more on this.]

Once I started working on this article – which had the simple original premise of informing AE Monthly’s less informed readers about eBay’s role in the rare books world today – I quickly realized that my premise wasn’t so simple. The more time I spent on the site, the more I got it: this eBay thing was complicated. It was also practically a separate community, or a community within a community. They had their own language, their own rules, their own ongoing arguments: hell, it was almost like a cult that nobody talked about that existed right in the middle of the up-front rare books world. One element that made it especially cult-like was people’s reticence to talk openly about the subject. I had to have gone through about thirty or more of my book collecting and dealing acquaintances before I found anyone who would admit to using eBay and talk to me – even anonymously – about it. What I ran into was a fifteen foot thick brick wall of stigma. Sure, everybody knew someone else who was doing it, but they weren’t doing it themselves.

Once I sensed the bizarre level of secrecy and stigma involved with using eBay in the rare books world, I became more determined than ever to do the story. I also became more determined than ever to have people speak to me about eBay directly rather than just taking the eBay immersion Berlitz course myself and telling AE Monthly’s readers what I found out. (As it was I did end up doing a lot of background research, reading in part or full five different books and taking an online course on eBay as well as just spending a lot of time on the site.)

Rare Book Monthly

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