Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2019 Issue

“Breaking Up is Hard to Do” Part II: Rant of the soon to be ex eBay Power Seller

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Breaking up is hard to do.

Back in April I used this space to rant about eBay and my 20 years of selling on their platform. I complained the introduction of a new “Good til Cancelled” (GTC) policy gave sellers even less control over their inventory and exposure and as far as I was concerned, it was the last straw in a long series of changes that made eBay an ever more complicated and less appealing venue.

 

Said I, “Sayonara.”

 

Well, just like breaking up with an old boyfriend who you positively absolutely will never take back is never easy, it turns out that splitting up with eBay is harder than anticipated. Here’s my report on what I learned in 60 days of trying.

 

As promised, I did write to every member of the board and to the entire management team from the CEO on down. I also contacted about twenty members of the e-commerce press and got two interested replies, but no resulting stories.

 

Much to my surprise toward the end of April I received long and detailed email from the office of Devin Wenig - eBay CEO. It was headed: Your letter to Devin Wenig SR# 1-208325851507, and I quote it here in full.

 

“Hello Susan,

 

Thank you for writing the office of Devin Wenig. He asked that I review your letter and respond on his behalf. I’m sorry to hear you wish to no longer trade on eBay. We value your participation in the eBay community and we'd be sorry to see you go. After reviewing your letter, I see there are some misunderstandings that led to your decision. I am happy to provide some clarification.

 

Please know that any changes made on eBay are not made lightly. A lot of research and testing is done prior to a change. In this case, we have seen that “Good until cancelled” (GTC) listings offer more sales opportunities than any other fixed price duration. The longer items are listed, they keep and grow watchers, sales history, and search engine optimization (SEO) authority as they maintain the same item ID and URL for the life of the listing. This is important for search engines.

 

Although some buyers come directly to eBay to search for an item, many of them find your eBay listings via search engines, advertisements on other websites, partnerships with sites like Mashable, links to listings in editorial features, and through the eBay affiliate program, the eBay Partner Network. All these other methods rely on each listing having a fixed URL (website address). This means that any listings which were using a shorter duration of 3, 5, 7, 10, or 30 days were, in many cases, not receiving this extra visibility.

 

GTC listings count toward your monthly allotment of zero insertion fee listings both at the time of listing and upon each 30-day renewal. Thus, sellers are getting a double benefit of this change, less insertion fees and better visibility.

 

We’ve also made it easy for sellers to identify GTC listings that are about to renew should they wish to not have the listing renewed. To see which of your GTC listings is about to renew, go to Seller Hub > Listings > Active. On the table, click Time Left to either sort by listings which are ending soonest, or which have the longest time remaining. Additionally, if you would like to review your listings and make tweaks to optimize them, there is a Performance tab under your Seller Hub that allows you to identify listings which are not often sold or not sold. In the Growth tab you can see how many products of this listing are sold. You can also download a report of the selling in this Tab. We do not recommend ending listings but to optimize them while they are live; otherwise, your performance and sales history are lost, which can have a negative impact on your search rankings with other search engines.

 

I trust you will find this information helpful in clarifying this recent change and the benefits it brings to sellers. However, I respect your right to do what you feel is best for you and your business. We have certainly appreciated having you as a member for over 20 years and would hate to see you leave. Whichever you decide, I wish you all the best in your endeavors.

 

Kind Regards,

Derek Ward

eBay”

 

That was certainly a courteous and nicely written letter and food for thought. So I thought.

 

I thought about my inventory and how at this point most of what I have left to sell are things I’ve had for quite a while which fall into the two extremes, ephemeral items under $25 and really specialized inventory over $250. What it needs, I thought, was not to be endlessly recycled, maybe all of it should rest, completely rest, for a while.

 

So in April I let all of my several hundred items run out and did not repost.

 

The first thing I noticed was a dramatic drop in income, because even though eBay has never been my main livelihood, the cash flow it provided every month was always welcome and at times a windfall. When those “sold” notices were no longer arriving in my mailbox I could tell the difference right away.

 

I took another look at sites like Bonanza, Pinterest, and Etsy. I’m told it’s an easy task to transfer all your listing over to those platforms, but the fit didn’t seem right on any of them for my mainly vintage and antiquarian stock, and even after watching some tutorials I still couldn’t quite figure out how to transfer from one platform to the other.

 

What about Facebook I wondered? Here in Hawaii I have a pretty decent Facebook page and though - just like my bookselling business it’s not huge - I do have some local friends and I keep up with quite a few dealers on the Mainland.

 

The truth is I’d never posted anything for sale on Facebook, but what the heck, how hard could it be, especially on those items with low price points and distinct local appeal? I started to put a few up daily and to my surprise they began to sell right away. It was easy, there was no commission, and there was also no shipping fee. Some of the things that sold did not go to my FB friends, but to friends of my friends who saw the listing and sent it on to someone else, who met me for coffee, paid in cash and picked it up within 48 hours. Each one seemed genuinely pleased with their purchase and took the time to say “thanks.” That was an eye opener.

 

What about something more expensive? I put up a series of early 20th century Pacific maps and they were out the door in 48 hours. Better yet, the buyer, an Oahu attorney, was interested to see what else I had in a similar vein. When he came to town we met and it was fun, personal, and best of all the things he likes best have 000 at the end of the price tag. It occurred to me I never would have found him without this flap about “Good until Cancelled.”

 

And he was not alone. I posted a lovely but fairly expensive antique Japanese print. Who bought it? One of my real estate clients who now lives on the Mainland saw it on my page, messaged me to hold it and sent me a check. I don’t think I’ve sold something paid for with a check in a decade.

 

But that still left all this low end inventory sitting dead, so even though in the past I’d seldom used the auction function I decided to boycott GTC and put every one of those suckers up for auction. Busy-busy- busy.

 

The next week the results came in and they were mixed. Most of the items got only a few hits and failed to sell. But there were a few items that I listed at what I thought were absurdly low prices that sparked interest, got multiple bids and sold for substantially more than I had asked or anticipated. What a pleasant surprise.

 

But I still wasn’t convinced, and thought I’d give the eBay phone help a call (Tel: 866-540-3229) and see if I could get some clarification on just how this GTC worked and also how to bail out of the platform entirely if all else failed.

 

The help guy was really pretty helpful. What was most helpful was he explained how to use the “formats” tab at the top of the listing page, and also explained how and where the days counted down were shown on each listing, so that if I wanted to I could call up just the items that were formatted GTC and then could end them in bulk with a few clicks, not at all the hardship I had anticipated, just until he explained it I didn’t know how to do it.

 

He also explained in more detail just what the benefits of my “store” were - which were actually quite a bit more than I had previously known about. As for my final question, he explained how to quit completely if I was really and truly “finished” with eBay (no more live listings, all accounts paid, all paid for items shipped, no cases pending).

 

So you guessed it, just like those old romantic flames that never quite go out, around the middle of May I put up my first batch of “Good til Cancelled” and we’ll see about the middle of June how that works out.

 

In the meantime, if any of you younger hipper tech savvy folks want to start a site that specializes in one-of-a kind vintage and antiquarian materials and also includes toys, fashion, oddball jewelry and small easy-to ship odd ball curiosities, I (and I think millions of other eBay power sellers) would dearly like to sign up.

 

I’d love to be on a platform that specializes in my kind of small but interesting older items. I’d love a site that helped me (and sellers like me) develop a niche market rather than makes our lives difficult and pushes us out to make more room for ever more high volume vendors who sell massive numbers of knock-off widgets from China.

 

If you know of any sites like this that already exist drop me a line. I’d rather switch than fight.


Posted On: 2019-06-01 02:51
User Name: canadense

Susan was active on one of the other booksellers' forum at least twenty years ago and I never forgot the vim and vigour she brought to bear on all tasks confronting her trade. This present piece has proved as valuable (to me) as many of her older shared stories of triumphs and tragedies. So good to read you again, dear lady!
David G Anderson - Canada


Posted On: 2019-06-01 08:45
User Name: hartmann

Peter Thomas created a now defunct website called CollectorsBookMarket. It would have been just what you, and many of us, need -- but, alas, the wonderful small seller sites never seem to last. The only currently operating marketplace I could recommend is eCrater.com


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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