Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Buy Buy! Sell Sell! Bye Bye!

And in the charity shop
Mrs Brown sits at the counter pricing down some old stock
The Moon's A Balloon, two copies of Every Loser Wins,
Noel's Blobbyland Deluxe Edition

There's not much left on the doorstep recently
Something to do with eBay, Johnny reckons
He's bidding on it now - a Subbuteo catalogue '81-'82
He'll win it, put it in a drawer, and forget he ever bought it
Teenage Winter by
Saint Etienne from Tales from Turnpike House (2005)

Has anyone else noticed that eBay is a bit rubbish these days? It used to be that you could find pretty much anything on there – sometimes two of everything - being sold by someone cleaning out their cupboards or just sticking it out there to see what happens. You could pick up strange and interesting items at relatively good prices and feel like you’d actually enjoyed the shopping experience. Increasingly it seems I can never find anything that I want, and on the few occasions that I do it’s at such ridiculous prices that it’s not really worth the effort. When did eBay stop being fun and become just another way to sell things?

Part of the problem seems to be that there are far fewer private sellers online. Most eBay listings are put up by shop owners or people running online businesses. These ‘power-sellers’ may be an inevitable consequence of such an open marketplace but having flooded the site they take away the fun of random browsing which used to make eBay so interesting.

More disappointingly the range of things for sale on eBay seems to have shrunk. To give you an idea I occasionally have a little search for Housemartins curios. Over the years I’ve seen (and sometimes won) original posters from the eighties, their out-of-print biography, deleted VHS cassettes and even a special embossed badge to mark a gig that they did to support miners during the strikes. These days I’m lucky to find anything apart from the usual second hand CDs and records – all of which makes me less inspired to visit the site for window-shopping.

My own theory on the decline of eBay is that we’ve come to the end of a five-year long global episode of Multi-Coloured Swap Shop. For those who didn’t grow up in the UK in the late seventies and early eighties
Swap Shop was a Saturday morning children’s TV variety show where kids could bring along unwanted belongings and literally swap with other children for something they wanted more. The initial popularity of eBay led to something similar where we all rummaged through our unwanted things, chucked them up into cyberspace and waited for them to land in someone else’s cupboards. Meanwhile we thought about those things that we’d always wanted – a film you haven’t seen for years, perhaps a rare toy Smurf to finally finish a frustratingly incomplete collection – and found them with glee amongst other peoples’ rubbish. Maybe now we’ve all completed our various collections we have no more need for eBay. Childhood dreams have been fulfilled, nerdy collecting instincts sated; job done.

It’s probably also true that people also got smart to eBay. Where there’s muck there’s brass and people are much slower now to give up on their junk without realising its full market value. Much like those second hand and vintage shops full of retro knick-knacks that the owners pick up in charity shops for $1 and then sell on for $30, eBay sellers have become adept at sorting the wheat from the chaff and there are fewer true bargains to be found. I’m sure they’d say that they’re only making a crust but charity shops and car boot sales were the last bastions of not-for-profit shopping until this decade and I wanna go at these people like a ninja Jesus in the temple.

There are still happy stories to be had from eBay, as
my recent score of Bizzy Buzzy Bumbles will attest, but the glory days already seem long behind us. This might be a good thing; my cupboards are still full of crap – only now it’s other people’s second-hand crap – that I had to pay for. Perhaps it’s time to step outside of the rosy glow of nostalgia and live in the here and now? Maybe – but if anyone has a cheap Star Wars Land of the Jawas Action Playset they don’t want then feel free to get in touch.

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