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.

Harry Rinker

July 18th, 2013

I had a nice talk with antiques and collectibles veteran Harry Rinker yesterday. Harry is 72 and lives in Michigan. He has been in the business 35 years. He is still having fun because of the changes in the industry thanks to the Internet. Here are some takeaways:

1. eBay has moved away from auctions, unfortunately, which has taken much of the fun out of shopping for antiques and collectibles online. But be careful with the Buy It Now prices. They are hardly accurate. They vary widely and you have to scroll extensively to find bargains.

2. Marketplaces like GoAntiques, TIAS.com, and Ruby Lane are doing well and have taken much of the business that eBay gave up when it abandoned the collectibles field.

3. Only a quarter to a third of antiques and collectibles sold online go to collectors. Most buy for decorative purposes. Many repurpose items and re-use them in their households.

I felt an affinity with Harry because he is making a living as a freeance writer thanks to the Internet. Our words don’t appear in print (for the most part) and it’s OK. “It’s a damn fine time to be around this business,” he said.

7th edition is out!

July 9th, 2013

The first edition of Starting an Online Business for Dummies came out in 1999. Those were heady days for e-commerce. In just a few months the bubble burst. But this book has gone on through the ups and downs in the economy. The 7th edition is out this month. I really made an effort to build in new content and new profiles. Here is a quick roundup of what’s new:

  • The rise of mobile commerce. It’s now a given that you have to have a mobile version of your website in addition to your desktop version.
  • Raising money. Venture capital has gone mainstream with sites like Kickstarter that help anyone get off the ground.
  • The rise of local commerce. There is a whole chapter in the book on location-based marketing–taking advantage of your store’s physical location to attract customers.
  • Apps. You can make money by creating and selling your own app. You can either hire a programmer or use one of several innovative websites that lead you through the process of designing your own app interface.
  • The preeminence of WordPress. A blog used to be a supplement to your website or business. Now it’s the centerpiece of many business and personal websites. WordPress has become the de facto standard application for creating websites, even though it’s still primarily a blogging program.
  • Curation. Content sells; in chapter 1, I profile Dean Pettit of Space Coast Outdoors, who has arranged tourist information about the space coast in Florida and is making some extra bucks by attracting visitors and selling ads.

Another change is in the amount of hardware and software you need to create an online business. Chapter 3 of Starting an Online Business used to be a rundown of all the hardware you used to have to buy. I sort of tore up that chapter because devices like smartphones and tablets make a lot of that hardware unnecessary. You can focus more on envisioning the kind of business you want and planning your business rather than investing in so much pricey stuff.

I’m very happy with this book and am glad to respon to questions about it. So ask away!

At IRCE

June 4th, 2013

I’m spending a couple of days at IRCE in Chicago, focusing on search marketing.

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I’ve just posted a 30-minute video on the Three-Part Profit Plan on YouTube. This is an interview of me that was done in Oct. 2012 prior to a public talk at Waubonsee Community College. You’ll find some background about how I became a writer and a PowerSeller on eBay. Most of the interview is about how to start an online business. I’ll provide links to specific parts of the interview in subsequent posts.

Pine Grosbeak

May 9th, 2013

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This beauty was loving our cherry tree this afternoon.

An older beekeeper told me to cut an escape slot in my inner cover. The inner cover didn’t come with one. It does have a rectangular opening where the bees can get out. But he said this is better and will help with ventilation.

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You can see it here.

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The Illinois Dept. Of Public Health it’s deciding whether or not to regulate our raw milk away. There is great energy in the room against this effort. Give us choice!

My bee mentor, Medo, told me that in the cold days of April (here in Chicago) to put a layer of newspaper, in between the inner cover and outer cover. The heat rising from the cluster of bees will stay inside instead of dissipating through the outer cover. Now that the temperatures have hit the 70s I have taken out the newspaper. I haven’t seen this tip anywhere else.

Weather turned awful after we installed the bees–cloudy, rainy, cold. The bee books and bee forums say not to go near them when the weather is like this. Naturally, I was reluctant. But Medo encouraged me to go up there. After all, I had to remove the box the bees came in and replace it with frames. Everything turned out fine. The bees were still calm. The weather stayed bad for several days. But I checked their food stores every two days as instructed. I fed with 1:1 sugar water in one hive and 1:1honey in the other. I also (at Medo’s recommdation) put some patty right on top of the frames inside the hive. Each time I checked on the bees I was less fearful. It began to dawn on me: they need me. They have nothing to eat and are totally dependent on me. Why should I be afraid of them?