Chapter 15 Preview

by Craig Stark

15 April 2014

An eBay Buying Tutorial

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Anybody who knows anything about eBay knows that, if you can count on anything, you can count on change. Nothing ever stays the same, not even the logo. This was not a venture that started with what you could call ... vision. Pierre Omidyar simply gave a bright idea a shot in the 1990's; it caught on almost immediately - fortuitously, I'd say - it grew explosively, becoming so big so fast that it seemed at times hopelessly out of control. Those of us who were on board early will recall the frequent outages, often at the worst time - namely, Sunday nights, when traffic was heaviest and our auctions were closing.

Site stability has gotten much better over the years, true, but a relentless tinkering with virtually anything that could be tinkered with has in many ways made things worse and demanded that we either adapt or leave. Many have left, and yet, many more have taken their place - and some who left have returned. And those of us who never left, well, we aren't masochists; we're realists: We know that this is still the best game in town - for buying and selling. This in itself is a kind of stability.

Contrast this with Amazon. This venture did start with a vision - a plan to sell new books and lose money. For years. And by gosh it worked. It worked so well, in fact, that a significant portion of eBay's tinkering over time has been inspired precisely by how Amazon did things - and now does them for profit because it was precisely this executed vision that eliminated so much of their original competition. Perhaps there's no better example of this than eBay's dramatic transformation from a seller-friendly venue to a buyer-friendly venue. (And keep in mind that this chapter is a buying tutorial, so this is not all bad news.)

But there is a big "but" for booksellers. Amazon is a great venue to sell new or nearly new books - commodity books, that is - not so great for selling antiquarian books. This has to do with serious, often insurmountable issues with their catalog, which I won't get into here. If you're going to take my advice and move toward antiquarian bookselling, eBay remains a better choice, not to mention Abebooks (and a few other venues). That's why I'm dedicating an entire chapter to it.

Some of you may have purchased the BookThink series on how to buy inventory online. This has been revised twice since it was first written to accommodate the many eBay changes that have occurred, but I can't help but smile when I think about the original version especially - how my advice for buying inventory on eBay was focused so keenly on building a virtual library of search strings, some of them quite complex. Most of my search strings from those days are now useless. These days I keep things much simpler; what follows is what for me now.

Getting Set Up

If you're serious about buying inventory on eBay, you should use a reliable sniping service. Sniping, scheduling bids to be entered in the closing seconds of an auction by a third party vendor, accomplishes several important things.

First, it eliminates the possibility that an early bid will fuel a bidding war, which may drive prices up to levels that are too high to enable resale for profit. Also, if you've read BookThink's "A Bookseller's Guide to Sellathon," you know that the presence of early bids in auctions alone can have a snowball effect - that is, attract further bidding that auctions without bids don't - and also inflate final values, if less dramatically. This is good if you're the seller, bad if you're the buyer. If you stay out of the auction until the closing seconds, you won't be contributing to this.

Second, you won't have to be at your computer to bid. It will be done for you automatically. Big time saver. You can specify to the second when you want your bids to be entered. If you allow enough time, say, 5 seconds or so, there will usually be time for several bids (up to the proxy you set).

Finally, sniping helps you remain objective and avoid getting caught up emotionally in bidding. Although you have the ability to change a snipe bid during the course of the auction, it's almost always best to place it and forget about it. You'll win some; you'll lose some. It's inevitable. But objectivity is always the tortoise in this race. Also, most sniping services offer the option of receiving email alerts when you've been outbid, so if the item is something unusually desirable, you can adjust things.

An important sniping rule of thumb: After years of doing this I can tell you that, if you're winning about half the auctions you place snipe bids on, you're where you need to be. Much less than that and you're probably being too conservative - and this matters because each auction you bid on represents a valuable investment of time. Don't waste it. Much more than that and you're cutting too much into your profits.

As you look for books to bid on, you'll need ready access to some evaluative tools. There are many possibilities for this but ...

EDITOR'S NOTE: In addition to this section on getting set up, other sections include what to look for and how to find what you're looking for.

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