eBay & Half.com:

The Internet Sets You Free

April 2004

I was going to write about RSS, but I'm not in the mood. RSS is cool, we'll cover it later.

Why am I not in the mood? It's a pleasant spring day, that's why. Spring puts me in the mind for cleaning, for a fresh start, for getting rid of the dross.

Which is what I've been doing. Simply put, I've got too much stuff. Have you ever had the experience of not being able to find something that you need because you have too much stuff? I want efficiency, I want to pare down life's baggage so that I only have the essentials.

I loaded up my car with a few boxes and took them to the local charity thrift shop. I walked in with a box, and the nice lady seemed none too thrilled. Can you imagine working in a thrift shop? All the stuff that people bring in, boxes and boxes?

"I've got more in the car," I said.

"What is it?" she said, a little wary.

"Junk," I replied.

I'd thought about renting a storage space. But then I thought about the irony--all these Americans so loaded down with junk that they must rent space to house it. And most of it is stuff they'll never use again.

And here's another irony: your junk may be another man's gold. One of the glories of the Internet is that you can actually get money for stuff that you don't want. It's a giant rummage sale. And it's fun. Almost too good to be true: someone actually pays you for your junk.

I had a 10-volume set of Mortimer Adler's great books, published around 1960. I'd picked it up at a rummage sale over 20 years ago for a dollar. There they sat on my shelves year after year.

I found a book dealer on the Internet, thinking this might be worth some money. I put the question to him: any value to this, or should I take 'em to the thrift shop? He recommended the thrift shop.

I was about to do so, but then thought, "Why not give eBay a try?" I laid them out on my bed, took a photo, and in less than 10 minutes had them listed.

No bids for the first five days of the seven-day auction. But on day six two collectors started bidding, and the auction closed at $38.

eBay is great. Next thing I'm listing is a plaid sport coat I've only worn once. The one time I wore it, a friend said, "Hey, that's a pretty loud sport coat you have there." Hey, I got it on sale, and it's 100% silk. Truth be told, I bought it because it was very cheap, not because I liked it. This'll be a true test of eBay.

Of course, for books, videos, CDs, and DVDs, a good option is Half.com. This has been working pretty well for me lately. I currently have 35 books listed and have sold five in the past seven days, two of them for $30!

It takes a couple minutes at the most to list a book. You type in the ISBN number, and Half.com calls up all the info from its database, including an image of the cover. You specify the condition from a pull-down menu, and then price the item.

Half.com suggests how much you might charge, based on the average sale price and the current price range. It also tells you what the lowest current price is that anyone is charging and the highest. It tells you the price that the item most recently sold for. And it tells you how many of that item are currently on sale.

Pay close attention to the lowest price and the most recent sale price. If either is less than $5, you're wasting your time. Stop right there. Also, if there's a large number available, it means that there's little demand.

On the other hand, occasionally you'll find that yours is the only one. Price it high to start with. You can always lower it later. I learned the hard way that a book that I sold for $30 could have brought $50 or more.

Overall, books can move pretty slow. But the one time I listed a video, it sold immediately.

It's springtime--time to clear out some stuff. You'll be glad you did. And if you're lucky, you'll make some cash in the process. Ah, the glories of the Internet.

© 2004 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen