A Printing Hooray for eBay

BY ERIK CAGLE

Way back in the early days of the Internet, around the dark ages (late 1998), someone asked me, “Exactly what can you find on eBay?”

Well, anyone who has visited the Internet auction Website behemoth will return volley by posing the following question: “What can’t you find on eBay?”

It seems that anything which can be stuffed in a box and have postage slapped on it would fit the description. Ah, but that’s not entirely true. Automobiles, viking ships, even internal parts of the human anatomy (one such lot was quickly quashed by the site) can be found there.

Founded in September 1995 by Pierre Omidyar—a man intelligent enough to write a software program for his high school library at the tender age of 14—eBay quickly went from a great place to buy sports memorabilia, beanie babies, toys and doilies, to being all things to all people. Who needs a dusty old antiques store when you can hang out your e-shingle for a percentage far below the cost of brick-and-mortar overhead? Weekend warriors and diehard ‘net merchants alike hawk their wares over what is easily the most popular site on the Internet. It is the place where supply and demand go to play, the ultimate tribute to capitalism.

Not only has the word become a symbol for Internet commerce, the symbol, it has also taken on the verb form. It’s not surprising to hear someone say, “This is worth over $500, so I’m going to eBay it.”

Omidyar and his cast of intellectuals appear to have constructed the perfect beast. eBay is to the economy what cockroaches are to a nuclear explosion—the only ones left standing in a worst-case scenario. In fact, eBay appears to thrive in the worst of times; as tech stocks remain volatile (mostly on the downswing), eBay continues to show sound profits, depending on how you define success.

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