I recently talked to The Whine Seller e-commerce blogger Hillary DePiano on my collectibles site, the VintageMeld, about her own specific vintage selling niche, My Little Ponies. Today she continues her blog tour stopping by The Collectors Site to talk more specifically about e-commerce.
Hillary DePiano at the My Little Pony Fair
By way of introduction here’s what I’d written about Hillary in the earlier VintageMeld post:
I came to know Hillary through Twitter a little more than a year ago as one of my “e-commerce buddies,” and she blogs regularly and candidly about e-commerce on her blog, The Whine Seller, but over time I’ve been most impressed by the variety of her interests and accomplishments, including published and award-winning fiction. To learn more about Hillary DePiano see her personal website at HillaryDePiano.com.
Q: I’ve often heard you say that despite your youth you’re an old-timer on eBay. When did you start and what’s the biggest difference of that eBay to today’s eBay?
Hillary: It feels very weird to call myself an old timer but I started on eBay in March of 1997 when the site was still pretty new. Sometimes I have to pull rank on people when they start giving me the “I’ve been selling longer than you” nonsense. But I was, ready for it, all of 17 years old at that time. I was registered with my father’s name and credit card because I wasn’t technically old enough to sign the user agreement as pathetic as that is. (I’ll save the curious the math, I turn 30 this October.) Sometimes I like to play with the whole “old timer” element because I am disproportionally young compared to some people doing this.
In many ways, though, I grew up with the marketplace. As I learned what I was doing, so did they. My business grew with the site advancements they added. It was a pretty exciting time. For a while there it seemed like you only needed to think, “Man, I wish they would offer this” and before you’d know it they’d announce that they were, in fact, going to start offering that.
I know some people talk about the recent changes on eBay as ruining the marketplace. I have to say that no matter how it changes, they have still come so very far since the early days, they have a long way to go before they really ruin it, in my mind.
On a side note, to this day, the first thing every new Trading Assistant who hires me says upon meeting me in person is, “But you’re so young!” I think the day they stop saying that might make me a little sad.
Q: The tone of your posts indicates that, like me, you still see the eBay Marketplace largely in a positive light. If you could demand one change would you restore an old rule or implement something totally new?
Hillary: One thing I’m a really bitter about is the digital downloads rule. If you’d never used it, it allowed preapproved sellers to sell electronic files. I think it was originally created for the purpose of the sale of digital music but you could use if for software and eBooks. What was really slick about this was that right in the listing template you could automate the order based on when the buyer paid. So I could set it up to automatically reveal the download link for the item only when the buyer’s payment cleared. Thus I could make money on electronic items without having to do any work whatsoever because the shipping was totally automatic on eBay’s end.
I don’t know if everyone even really know that program existed but I used it a lot for selling my own eBooks and also we used to offer a variation on the Trading Assistant service where we would sell people’s eBooks for them which was a big money maker. Not everyone was an approved digital seller so it was worth it for people to pay us to list for them since we had the reputation and the store traffic.
But sadly, when the DSR program was introduced, there was this outcry that people would use the digital download feature to scam feedback so eBay got rid of it. Now you can only list a download item as a Classified Ad which is both much more expensive and not as automated as the old system. I really want to find those foil hatters who started that paranoia about downloads and smack them.
I wish eBay would institute some policy where I can sign some agreement whereas I promise not to bitch and moan about any feedback resulting from a digital sale and in exchange I would get the ability to sell them back. That is the one thing where eBay caved to seller pressure in the stupidest possible way. I am still annoyed about that.
Q: Do you or have you ever sold on any other online marketplaces? Do you have a favorite eBay alternative venue?
Hillary: My favorite other venues are both gone: Amazon and Yahoo Auctions. That said, I sell through Amazon Advantage and Marketplace. I have been trying to sell on Bonanzle with not much success and I gave Overstock the old college try for a full year before giving it up. I mostly use Amazon for books and other media but I almost always double list items on both eBay and Amazon so whichever place sells first gets the sale. I think I am signed up on just about every eBay clone around but nothing can come close to the real thing for us.
I also like the print-on-demand marketplaces like Cafepress, Lulu, CreateSpace, etc. You have to be good at what you do to make money through sites like that because the production costs are higher but it can be really handy to not have to store inventory or pay for goods upfront.
I am also really watching Etsy with interest. I don’t sell on there now but my mother is retiring at the end of this year and she and I are planning to launch a new part of many company that is craft related so I am hoping to use the Etsy platform for that. So while I haven’t used it yet, I am always eagerly keeping tabs on how it is doing.
Note: After I’d submitted my questions to Hillary and prior to publication her tour stopped at TameBay where she went into much greater detail in answering this question as the focus of her post. Check it out!
Q: Blogs often first appear as an attempt to express one’s self towards a specific problem. If that’s the case of The Whine Seller what would that issue have been?
Hillary: My problem was actually that my personal blog was starting to become more about writing and my career as a writer and the readership I was building over there was somewhat unrelated to the occasional rants I wanted to do about eBay and e-commerce. I decided to segregate the e-commerce posts to another address. At first, I didn’t think I would have more than a few posts a year but I discovered that once I got started it was pretty much a daily thing.
The other big thing I wanted The Whine Seller to be a place for me to explain how to do some things that I might know, but that others were trying to figure out. When I finally figured out how to do something I’ve been trying to figure out forever, my first inclination is to explain how I did it on the blog so that the next guy could just read my solution instead of starting from zero.
I am actually trying a somewhat crazy idea on The Whine Seller in the next few weeks called Free Online eBooks. A lot of people give away the eBook version of their books to try to sell the printed version but I wanted to try a different tact. I have a lot of really great non-fiction content that is either from projects I never finished or was cut out of finished books. I wanted to post that material, in its entirety on the site. People could read it online, totally for free, the only catch being that there will be ads on it. If they want to read it without ads or just “make a donation” as a thanks for the content, I’ll have an ad free PDF version available for a few cents that they can purchase and print.
My idea behind this is that people will come to the site for the free content but might stick around to become a regular reader of the blog or they may purchase my other stuff. Hopefully, the upswing in traffic will make it worth it to just give the content away but, with any experiment, you have to just be willing to see how things go.
Q: I know you’re deeply involved with publishing. We both deal in vintage goods but our niches are quite far apart. There’s so much to collect and so much information to share–would you like to see more vintage sellers self-publish guides to their niche?
Hillary: I would rather that niche collectors published their books through Priced Nostalgia Press!
I think that just because someone is an expert on a certain collectible doesn’t mean they are an expert on layout, design or even writing. I think even the most authoritative collector, if they want to put their best product forward, needs to acknowledge their own limitations. If they are confident that it is worth it to sink the money into a good editor, layout person, designer, etc., then that is fine. But having knowledge of a product doesn’t mean you’ll be able to great a good book.
I have seen a lot of self-published guides that were pretty horrible. Microsoft Word may be OK for laying out text but when people are trying to layout a whole book with color photos and prices, the result is a mess. You want to give your content the best possible chance. Even if what you have to say is fantastic, if you’ve presented it poorly, you are costing everyone in the long run.
That was one of the biggest things we set out to do with Priced Nostalgia Press. Our philosophy is, basically, there is no niche too small. As a result, we end up picking up a lot of collectibles and price guides that a bigger publisher may turn their noses up at because they want something that will become a bestseller. Our goal is more to get the information to collectors.
Priced Nostalgia is always seeking new authors so if anyone reading this has a collectible that they are interesting in writing a guide for, please email us! We’d be happy to put our know how to work for you. You have the information about your collectible, we have the marketing power, design and layout tools you need to give your book the best possible chance.
Thanks so much Hillary for stopping by not just The Collectors Site, but allowing me to quiz you twice and have you on the VintageMeld as well. It’s truly fascinating to see how many of us transcend eBay seller to involve ourselves with so many other interesting projects.