Next week it will be 19 years since eBay was founded in San Jose, California by French Iranian Pierre Omidyar. His previous joint venture with Albert Whatcanthematterbe was caught in a storm of controversy involving the three old ladies locked in a lavatory scandal.
One of the first items tested in 1995 was a broken laser pointer which sold for $14.83 and Omidyar is reputed to have contacted the buyer personally to check that he realised the laser pointer was broken. "I'm a collector of broken laser pointers", came the response.
Omidyar knew that he was setting out to create a "perfect market", which as my school economics lessons used to teach involved a "perfect" flow of information, infinite buyers and sellers, no bars to entry and several other things that escape me now. Certainly the ability for a seller of a broken laser pointer to find what must have been one of very few collectors of such does illustrate the principle.
EBay now produces over 16 billion dollars revenue and is the accepted single best place to buy and sell stuff. Although it is a lot smaller than the mighty Amazon it is far more interesting, flexible and transparent with greater scope for individuality. It has had a significant impact on all the major "collectables" markets in the world, with a steady downward pressure on prices as items which in the nineties were considered extreme rarities gradually became more common with the much more perfect market.
Key to the success of eBay has been the concept of feedback and the visibility of price data. Feedback was one of the earliest examples of internet crowd sourcing and really essential to building confidence in the site as it would certainly not have taken off without it. The price data of all sales transactions is available to all, so buyers and sellers can both get a pretty good idea of what prices similar lines to their own are making, not just in their own locality but Worldwide.
We've been part of this madness for quite a few years now and it was a vital ingredient in our downshift of lifestyle about seven years ago when we walked out of proper salaried jobs. The only regret is that eBay hadn't been around a few years earlier. We've sold stuff to celebrities like Jonathan Ross and Tracey Thorne, to famous museums and collections and to 40 or 50 different Countries but most transactions are to ordinary bods in the UK with similar interests and passions to our own. The only thing missing is the personal and individual contact that you get if you sell at antique fairs or in a shop and generally people can be more abrupt and curt online than they would be in person. Every now and then, however, we come across an extra special customer and it's very nice when you get nice feedback such as this letter which arrived the other day from a young chap who bought a vintage typewriter from us recently.