mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

eBay, or the hard way to make an easy living...

When it comes to TV, my new favorite genre of shows has been "people who buy crap and resell it for a profit". It's like they made a show about my life, only with more interesting people and on a bigger scale. You know the shows I'm talking about - Storage Wars, Auction Hunters, Baggage Battles, American Pickers, ect. There is plenty of debate about how real these reality shows are - if the lockers are "salted" or whatnot, and the characters on Storage Wars admitted on one of the background episodes that for everything that makes it on the show there are a ton that don't - which I imagine are the ones where all the lockers turn out to be filled with pr0n and broken dishes. But besides the selective editing, there is the selective pricing. I remember one of the first episodes of "Auction Hunters", where they find an old Atari in the box and declare that it's worth $200. That seemed a little off to me - video game systems being one of the things I'm always on the lookout for for resale - and it was - they typically go for about $60 on eBay, and that's if it's got a bunch of games with it. Even for the stuff that gets estimates, the tricky part is always finding a buyer - I've bought a ton of things that would cost a bunch new, but were very difficult to resell at all, let alone at a profit. There's another episode of Storage Wars where Dave Hester buys a trailer full of books for $900, scans a couple with his phone and says they are worth $30 each, and eventually based on some off the top of his head accounting declares that he's going to get $30,000 for the trailer's contents. Which is the other problem with these shows - the used book business can be profitable if you get the right books, but it's a ton of work to go through that many books, list them, and ship them all out one at a time. It means spending a ton of time (which costs money), plus supplies and the like. The other thing with the book business is that many of the books that are listed on used sites like never get purchased - if you go to list a book, it will tell you what it's sold for in the past - and often, it doesn't have any data because nobody has ever bought that book. A few months ago, I purchased 150 music books from a bankrupt music store. After fees, I paid around $150 for the lot - plus the gas to drive 4 hours to pick them up (and a bunch of other stuff). Looking at my figures, so far I've gotten about $93 of that back gross, selling around 22 books - that's $93 before fees, packing supplies, ect. I'll probably eventually make back what I spent, but it will take years. My primary selling venues are hamfests and eBay. Hamfests have their own plusses and minuses, but it's eBay that I have the bigger love/hate relationship with. I've found some items that I've made hundreds of dollars on reselling on eBay - there is no other venue that compares to it for getting a national audience. But aside from the general disadvantages of being a reseller - squirreling away inventory and salvaged packing supplies until my house looks like something like hoarders, spending all my spare time at auctions and yard sales - eBay has been making piles of seller-unfriendly changes. It started several years ago, when they took away the ability of sellers to leave negative feedbacks for buyers who tried to scam them or didn't pay, and when they blocked sellers from taking cashier's checks or money orders - the payments that when eBay launched were the only way to pay. While few of my buyers paid that way, anything that takes away a single bidder takes money out of my pocket. They started charging fees on the shipping and handling portion of sales - meaning that when I sell a heavy amplifier or desktop PC, eBay gets a bigger cut just because the item is heavier and costs me more to ship. And now they've mandated that power sellers who want their fees discounted from outrageously high to just high have to offer a 14-day return period and 1-day handling time, and if your stats don't measure up you don't ge the discount. This is, of course, a pain to the bulk of eBay part-timers like myself who are also trying to balance real day jobs, lives, and the like. It's also especially inconvenient for people selling items that take a bit of time to package - if you are selling a pair of pants, you can just throw them in an envelope, but packing a used 40-pound piece of audio gear requires some time and lots of bubble wrap. Obviously, eBay wants to be Amazon or Wal-mart- they are trying to be a retailer, and giving breaks to big sellers of new items. But eBay was founded on individuals selling oddball items. I rarely buy off eBay, but when I do it's the oddball item - my Tivo (a lifetime subscription series 2 with a modded giant hard drive) or a pair of plaid pants. From a selling perspective, most of what I've been able to make money on lately has been business, office, and industrial equipment and accessories - the kind of stuff that's worthless to most people but useful and expensive to a few. I suspect I'll be selling stuff on eBay for a long time. But I also suspect that I'll be selling less - that I'll continue to pass up the smaller items that used to be worth selling because the profit margin won't be worth the headache. And eBay will probably see that and go even more to be less funky flea market and more Wal-Mart - and while I'm not one of those people who thinks Wal-Mart is evil, I do think the internet needs both Wal-Marts and flea markets.