Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2007 Issue

Yahoo Closing Auction Site -- Did Anyone Notice?

Yahoo

Yahoo auctions recently displayed four five-figure books, including two first edition Oz books and an inscribed JFK.


By Michael Stillman

The auction arm of the world's most visited website (according to Alexa rankings), Yahoo, is closing down. That would seem to be astonishing news. Online auctions appear to have become an enormous force in the field. As best we can tell, there are always far more books being offered for sale online than at all traditional auctions combined. The closing of the online auction of the most visited site on the web would seem to be a momentous event. The world yawned.

As you are undoubtedly aware, though Yahoo may be the most popular website, it is not the most popular auction site. It is undoubtedly in the top ten, and from what we can tell, probably the top five. It might even be top two. It doesn't matter. In this competition, there is only one site that matters, and as we all know, it is eBay. Now, even Yahoo recognizes that fact. According to Reuters, citing tracking firm comScore, eBay controls some 94% of the auction market. Yahoo obviously was not making inroads.

From looking at their listings, books may have actually been one of Yahoo auction's stronger suits. At the time of their announcement in early May, they were showing almost 90,000 listings for books, though half of these were comics. This compares to over 450,000 for eBay. Perhaps more tellingly, Yahoo had 1,882 listings for "antique and rare" books, compared to 62,462 for "antiquarian and collectible" books on eBay. A small start-up site might be happy with that ratio, but it is a sign of defeat for so major a force as Yahoo. They recognized it was time to throw in the towel. To gather listings, you need sales, and to achieve sales, you need listings. Yahoo was not able to break in to this chicken and egg scenario at either end.

There are still a few other auctions trying to compete with the eLephant of online auctions. uBid is perhaps the oldest and most notable other online auction, though "notable" is a relative term here. However, books appear a low priority for this auction. They do not have a books category, other than as a sublisting under "collectibles." I found only 12 items here, not a one of which appeared collectible to me (I fear the Uzi modification manual offered is intended for practical use, not collecting). For those who buy and sell books, Amazon is likely the most significant other site. They do have an auction section, and a search under "books" found 20,894 listings (about a third of what Yahoo located). However, some of these have no discernable relation to books I can find, such as the $150 worth of repair service on your computer's motherboard that showed up as a "book." If there is a way of finding just antiquarian or collectible books at Amazon's auctions, the means are not clear, but I think it can safely be noted that rare books are not Amazon's strength in the first place.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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