Buying on eBay -- It's all in how you look
By Bruce McKinney
Buying on eBay is different from buying on listing sites and at traditional auctions. eBay mimics other forms of buying and can seem familiar but at heart it is a different buying option and a powerful one for those who understand its differences and become their master. eBay is a marketplace and a very large one. You can buy almost anything and periodically one of the "anythings" shows up on newspaper front pages. The fact that eBay covers almost every type of material masks the fact that it covers books, manuscripts and ephemera very thoroughly. Traditional book auctions are events, eBay auctions a continuum of lots posted by thousands of people. There is no pre-announcement, no warning. They show up -- typically listed for 5 to 10 days. Half sell, the balance is often reposted. Recently there have been about 500,000 books, manuscripts and ephemera up for sale. Among this mountain of material are great rarities and interesting and difficult to locate materials. The trick is knowing how to find them.
Printed material on eBay is a chaos of possibilities that defeats every effort to see it as one would a traditional auction. eBay lets you see it this way because this is initially how you believe it should be seen. When you go to an auction you expect to browse the shelves or, if the sale is documented, read the descriptions. A typical traditional auction however has about 400 items, eBay on a typical day a thousand times more just in books, manuscripts and ephemera. Browsing doesn't work because these books lying side by side form a display 63 miles wide. The books at one end will be long since sold by the time you get to the other. Adding insult to injury, every book you examine will be replaced by another title so the line isn't actually 63 miles, it's never-ending. Many eBay virgins approach the listings with a traditional perspective and expectation and soon retire exhausted, never making the leap that makes buying on eBay potentially so effective. They simply look at the list of books as they expire and get manic as material falls into the abyss. At traditional auctions you can bring an open mind and consider all lots that strike your fancy. On eBay you must set parameters to screen out the debris that, left unfiltered, kills the enthusiasm of even the most inveterate buyer. To this many say "I don't know what I want." Well then, eBay is not for you. You are the blind man at the beauty contest. Even if only in a rudimentary way you need to establish search terms. Because the searches are fast and results easy to read anyone can experiment to find terms that are effective.
Let's search in BOOKS for Poughkeepsie. There are 39 matches, instantly culled from 509,000 listed items. Wow, that was fast! Most are not antiquarian but it takes only a few moments to see this. One that is, an 1815 Poughkeepsie imprint has a starting bid of $20, no bids and 3 days to go. eBay gives me the option to WATCH THIS ITEM. Next I change the search category to COLLECTIBLES and find 101 matches for the term Poughkeepsie. Here you see postcards, plates, menus, two revolutionary war letters, railroad tickets, CDVs, very old beer and soda bottles and much more. Okay, you prefer Pittsfield. In books there are 40 matches, in collectibles 129. In a few days there will be a new wave of listings.