eBay and Collectibles

August 8th, 2013

Montblanc fountain pen

This is the first item I ever purchased on eBay, a Montblanc Meisterstuck fountain pen. I purchased it in the mid-1990s, after I first discovered the site. I bought the pen from a seller in Germany. I was amazed that it arrived in one piece, packed in a little plastic pen container like a test tube. That’s when I was hooked. Over the years I not only bought on the site, but I sold as well. I briefly became a PowerSeller. I also wrote five books about eBay. eBay was a big part of my life until the mid-2000s.

I don’t have anything to do with eBay any more other than write articles about the site occasionally. I probably don’t have to explain why. You know why. The things that made eBay fun aren’t there any more:

The sense of competition from auctions is gone, mostly.
The ease with which you could buy and sell is gone. Fees are up, and requirements have grown complex and intimidating for all but professional sellers.

You don’t have to take my word for it. I interviewed three experts in the antiques and collectibles field: Harry Rinker, Terry Kovel, and Bruce Hershenson. They said the same thing. I previewed the first of two articles based on their interviews on ECommerceBytes this week. This “teaser” provoked a lot of comments both pro and con about eBay.

Collectibles used to be the centerpiece of eBay’s business. Now, they’re just a small part of it. Fixed-price sales are the norm, and product lines offered by large sellers and well-known businesses proliferate on the site. Why, after an initial innovation, do corporations feel that bigger is better? Why do they feel like they have to keep making bigger and bigger profits? Is it all about the shareholders at that point? I don’t know the answer to these questions. But people at eBay ought to look at their current decline in popularity and think about the bigger-is-better approach to business.

Harry Rinker says that when eBay abandoned collectibles in the mid-2000s that part of the company was still generating billions of dollars in revenue. Why did eBay consider this to be insufficient? He suggested that they spin off their auction operation and make that a separate company. Seems to me like this would still be a good idea: spin off, or sell off, that part of eBay and create an easier-to-use collectibles market like the one we all remember.