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Late last year Buy.com began uploading listings to eBay. Things moved slowly at first, but at the time of this writing a total of 511,601 Buy.com books now appear on eBay. To put this in perspective, there are 1,163,066 total books listed by all sellers. Buy.com listings, therefore, represents about 44% of all listed books, and most of these offer multiple copies.

Some facts:

Buy.com sells only new books, presently offering them in 7-day Fixed Price listings, a substantial percentage of which are promoted with free shipping. In recent months their average sales price has been between $15 and $20, their average conversion rate between a pathetic 4% and 6%. Their feedback currently stands at 99.6% with DSR's at 4.8 and higher - presumably qualifying them for a raised search status.

Obviously, given a conversion rate of about 5%, pursuing this business model would be disastrous if they were paying the same fees that you and I are. Lieberman's assertion that an "economically feasible" partnership had been agreed to clearly means that they are paying nowhere near the same fees. One wonders, of course, how this squares with eBay's stated goal of providing the best possible buyer experience. Could be I'm dense, but my conversion rate is usually around 80%, and it seems to me that offering more items that stand a very good chance of selling would improve the buyer experience far more than clogging the venue with books that have 1 chance in 20 of selling. Instead, eBay now offers an additional half million books that are essentially space fillers. Not only does this degrade the buying experience; it also degrades the selling experience. Your books ain't as easy to find now, especially if they're in Stores. Also, as more book buyers experience this "improved" venue, my guess is that many of them will soon be looking elsewhere for books.

So - what is the current state of the Search function? There's been much forum chatter about Buy.com listings crowding out other listings, especially on the all-important first page set at the default "Best Match," so I decided to do some informal investigating. Since all of Buy.com's titles begin with the word "NEW," I ran a search with this keyword, and 564,598 items were returned. Subtracting Buy.com's 511,829 books from this leaves us with 52,769 books (with "new" in the titles) offered by other sellers - about a 10-to-1 ratio. One would expect, therefore, that a search-results page of 50 items would be comprised of about 40 Buy.com items, all things being equal.

Not so, and this time we come out ahead. Here are the Buy.com totals for the first 10 pages:

Best match results: 4 out of 50 on the first page, 6 on the second, then 9, 4, 7, 6, 10, 11, 12 and 12. That's 81 Buy.com listings in the first 500 returned items - about 16%. Of course, these numbers gradually increase as you move deeper into the results until much later pages show most or all Buy.com listings. I also ran some random searches for items I'm selling and found no evidence of Buy.com books burying any of them. If anything, this demonstrates that at least some sellers seem to be getting better treatment than Buy.com.

Also, earlier this month, eBay announced changes to Search that will give greater weight to Auctions in certain categories (and greater weight to Fixed-Price listings in other categories). This could help or not, depending, but also included in those changes were exceptionally reasonable insertion fees for Fixed Price listings, which will now be extended to 30 days. The effect of this - I'm not sure how it could be otherwise - will be to encourage listings of lower-dollar books to proliferate once again.

Based on this, it's tempting to think we should be okay for the time being. I often list books in different categories than Buy.com does anyway, but even if I didn't, it seems that my books wouldn't necessarily be buried in search results - assuming that my buyers are finding me by keyword searches and not browsing. Browsing by category is a different animal altogether, however, and there are many instances where Buy.com's negative impact on competing books is far greater.

Another point: If you have an eBay Store, consider that results appear after Auction and Fixed Price listings on search pages. Since Buy.com's listings have nearly doubled the number of books now appearing on eBay, your Store items now stand a far worse chance of being encountered on the first search page or even early search pages than a year ago. As a result, Stores, once my greatest source of fixed-price venue income across nine venues, have become much less productive for me in the months coinciding with Buy.com's build up, especially after the surge in May of this year.

At present, the introduction of Buy.com might not be the most terrible thing that ever happened to us, but it seems far more ominous to me that eBay is heading in a direction that will eventually drive most small sellers out for good. Buy.com is far from the only mega-seller that eBay could reel in, and it would only take a few more to all but bury us under a mountain of underperforming books.

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