Selling on eBay: The Inside Story
For both firms the average selling prices on eBay are relatively low but nevertheless worthwhile. Every book dealer has hard-to-sell material that is nevertheless worth something to someone. These are sometimes old and often interesting items that may be useful and collectible to a narrow audience that can be difficult to find. Whether the material relates to a subject, a place, an author, a printer or some other factor on eBay there are so many daily browsers looking through the tens of thousands of listings that most items get matched with interested buyers. For Dr. Goldman it is old and rare newspapers and for DeWolfe & Wood its ephemera and books.
It should be noted that prices on eBay are inconsistent. Items, thought to be rare, that come up often usually can not hold their prices over time while other material that may be obscure, rare and/or previously underappreciated by the seller, can defy all expectations and go high. It is a very efficient market generally but not always an efficient market specifically. eBay is, when all is said and done, an auction.
Everything doesn’t sell of course. There is the matter of luck. This isn’t an auction where the auctioneer focuses on a single item. This is a series of coincident auctions occurring at the same time. Tens of thousands of auction lots are up for sale simultaneously. Of course, at conventional auctions, not even a Van Gogh painting is actually auctioned for much more than a minute. On eBay the seller selects the period of the auction and 7 and 10 day periods are popular. An item is posted for sale, usually with a minimum bid, and the clock begins immediately to wind down. Over the next week browsers have a chance to read the description, view the images that are usually attached, contact the seller via email to ask questions and look at the bidding. If an item is interesting and has a low reserve and possibly no or only a few bids, the potential bidder may want to follow the auctioning item until it expires. Bidding is easy. eBay has made signing-up to bid very straight-forward and their PayPal payment option is breathtakingly fast and secure. If you win a bid you are usually only a few clicks from paying.
Okay, what is the catch? Two words come to mind: condition and obscurity. Generally sellers painstakingly describe every bump, spot and worn edge in detail. All this honesty can mask an underlying truth – the item is not too hot. Much of what sells on eBay, in this category, is often so uncommon as to be undocumented or occasionally in such bad shape as to be un-saleable in face-to-face encounters. The uncommon pieces may not necessarily be important but they are nevertheless great fun. The condition problems vary from seller to seller but don’t expect a swan if they show you a duck. The auction realizations are relatively low – around $25 for D&W and $50 for SAGHN. But the material offered might otherwise never sell or have to be lotted in larger groups to attract sufficient bids to justify an ABE or conventional auction listing. Selling this otherwise ornery material achieves several other objectives. It introduces focused collectors to these sellers. As importantly, buyers identify these sellers as potential sources. Sellers each have a short-cut code or “brand name” if you will - QRST for Stephen A. Goldman Historical Newspapers and Dewolfe-and-Wood-Books for D & W - that buyers use to see their everyday listings. Experienced eBay buyers learn to not only search by keywords but also to check the specific listings of sellers with whom they have had good luck.