AE Monthly

Articles - October - 2005 Issue

Up for Bid: eBay, Auctions & Book Sites

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These issues, notwithstanding, eBay has a well developed and proven book selling mechanism that will in time resolve many of these descriptive issues because market makers can impose standards. As they do this they will deliver a higher percentage of the retail price.

This makes me wonder why they haven't stepped up to buy one of the major listing sites. Such a site that has internal links and easy options for moving material from online listings into the auction cue is going to be very popular with anyone who doesn't want to have to learn multiple ways to handle their material on line. In other words: with everyone. It might work this way. When a book is listed it carries with it the date first posted and gathers with it over time the accumulating history of changes to the listing. If the price is changed or the descriptive text revised this would be part of the book's information. To this informed approach eBay could offer sellers such options as, at specific dates after first listing, automatic price reductions according to a schedule the seller selects. Perhaps the price drops by 5% or 10% every three months. At one year a seller could then opt to post the item for auction starting the bid at one half of the last price or 30% of the original price. Buyers would understand the book is a relative bargain with the pricing stage identified in color.

Of course some, perhaps even the majority of sellers, will want to control every aspect of their marketing. They won't participate in an automatic sequence of price reduction and conversion from on line listing to online auction. But some will because, with more than 20,000 sellers on ABE, Alibris and other selling sites there is always a population looking to exit even as others are trying to break in. Lawyers who have the responsibility to liquidate book inventory will certainly use this approach because it provides both the potential for maximum income and guarantees that every book sells by some specific final date. In time this will attract buying interest and stabilize the market. In helping to clear the market of its current excess inventory eBay could emerge as the established mechanism for clearing book inventory, something that has real value long term. I believe it might become a legal monopoly.

Of course a decision by eBay to buy Alibris or Abe would probably awaken the sleeping giant at Amazon and they too might want to create a vertically integrated business, perhaps primarily out of fear of an eBay juggernaut. Then too, a combination with Barnes & Noble is logical. In either case two sellers might get a good price. And of course there is the other guy, Bill Gates, who if he decided this was an interesting business and came at it from the database side, could make a battle of it with anyone on the planet.

Finally there is Google who dreams of things not yet contemplated and materializes them out of thin air on a regular basis. While all the world thinks of what is and how to make it better, they think of what has never been but could be.

For those who watch the unfolding world of selling old and rare books on the net there is a sense of what it must have been like in the days of the Roman Coliseum. We all sit in the front row watching the action, wondering what will happen next and hoping the next meal for the lions isn't us.

AE Monthly


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