[an error occurred while processing this directive] Celebrating Five Years of Pushing Comix Forward [an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive]

My name is Mike Sterling, and I sell comic books for a living.


I don't often look to buy comics for myself outside of our shop, as generally most of my comic needs are met there. But, not long ago, I found myself in need of a short run (about eight issues) of a particular DC/Vertigo series that we happened not to have in the store, and I went to eBay to look for it.

As it turns out, I was spoilt for choice for this particular series, with plenty of sellers offering the books I wanted, at a variety of low opening bids. After choosing a seller with a good feedback record and an auction that was ending relatively soon (to cut down on the chances of being outbid, you know), I placed my bid and hoped for the best.

A day or so later, I did indeed win the auction in question, and I received an e-mail from the seller detailing the payment and shipping instructions.

My winning bid on the lot of eight comic books was $3.99. The shipping cost on those eight comics? Thirteen dollars.

I immediately returned an e-mail to the seller...wasn't $13 a little on the excessive side for shipping? I told the seller that I've been handling mail order for our own store for years, and I know from a remarkable amount of experience that eight comics shouldn't even cost $13 to ship to another country, much less just a few states over.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending (the seller saw the light and shipped the books for a reasonable price), but this points out a couple errors people make when bidding on eBay, both on the seller's part and on mine as well.

First, I didn't make sure that the shipping terms were agreeable prior to bidding. The terms weren't noted in the auction listing, but every listing contains a link to a contact page, where you can ask the seller any questions you might have. I should have done so and pinned down the shipping costs right away, prior to placing a bid.

Second, the seller apparently was erring waaaay on the side of caution when it came to shipping these items. The comics were going to be packed in a huge box, packed with newspaper...by "huge," I mean about two feet across. For eight comics. Hence, the $13 shipping cost. Packing the comics between two pieces of cardboard in a flat rate priority mail envelope, and shipping for under $4.00, would have been more than sufficient.

Now, there are plenty of other errors, missteps, potholes, annoyances, what have you, when it comes to selling and bidding on the eBay, and as someone who's been selling funnybooks and other things on there since early '98, let me share some with you.

A caveat, first: I know a number of these hints and suggestions aren't necessarily comic book specific, but these are situations I have run across while both buying and selling comics on eBay.

FEEDBACK

One of the most frustrating omissions from eBay's site is the ability to search and/or sort someone's feedback file, where people leave reviews of their dealing with a particular eBay user. If someone has 8,000 positive feedback and 10 negative feedback...well, you probably don't have to worry about a seller with a ratio like that, but if you still want to see the negs, you gotta go in there and search page by page.

And sometimes the negatives aren't all that negative...some people have genuine complaints with the seller, but a few are just plain nuts. For example, here's a negative feedback left on a friend's eBay account:

"beware of people who make a living on ebay. will do anything to rip you off!"

That's the kind of negative you can safely ignore...this is one of about fourteen negatives left in a row on my friend, and they're all at about this level of intellectual power. This tells you more about the person leaving the feedback than the feedbackee.

It's best to look for patterns in feedback, rather than just depending on individual comments. Are there several people who mention slow shipping? Do several people complain about overgrading? Or poor packing? Looking for that sort of pattern in a person's feedback file is more informative than a negative "this seller sucks!"-type comment.

GRADING

At least some sellers on eBay are honest; they outright say "I'm not a comic book collector, so I don't know about grading conditions, but here's a large picture, and there are no tears or writing on the pages..." et cetera, et cetera. That is the right way to list an item, if you don't know a thing about comic book grading. "A picture is worth a thousand words," as the old cliche goes, and a nice big scan of the comic in question can easily answer any grading concerns.

The flip side, of course, is that a nice big scan can identify a seller as someone who doesn't know what he or she is doing. "This comic is in PRISTINE MINT CONDITION!" screams the description, while the scan shows a comic that apparently had been run over by a truck several times.

It's this situation that resulted in the rise of third party comic grading companies, like CGC, who would supposedly apply a consistent level of grading to all comics listed. However, the end result is a new comics market where prices for "slabbed 'n' graded" books are inflated far past their actual worth (like an $800 Spawn, for example), that their usefulness in correcting, shall we say, enthusiastic grading may be a bit limited.

If you do know how to grade, great. If you don't...like I said, throw up a nice, big pic. That should suffice.

THE LISTING

I don't want flashy animated GIFs or background music...I want a description of the comic, and a picture of same. Also, people who overuse terms like "RARE!!!!!!!!" and "SCARCE!!!!!!" and "HOT!!!!!" (or the dreaded and hated "SEXY!!!" and "L@@K!!!!") in their auction titles irritate the hell out of me. That's pretty much a guarantee that I'm not going to look at your auction. Hey, okay, I'll concede that it may work for you, even if you're using it on things that clearly are not "rare" or "hot" ("DARKHAWK #25 - L@@K! HOT 'N' SEXY!"). But, c'mon, it just looks tacky.

But you can go too far in the other direction: I swear to you, I've seen more than one auction with the title of "Comic Books." That's it, just "Comic Books." And in a couple cases, that's as much of a description as you get...the actual text of the auction listing would read "I have four comic books for sale." No note as to what comics they were, no indication of condition (not that it would have been anywhere close to accurate, as I'm sure you realize)...just comic books. At the very least, have the issue title and number(s) in your auction listing. Or, if it's a large lot of books, some representative names would be nice (i.e. "Lot of 30 comic books - Dr Strange Batman Ralph Snart"). You have 55 characters available in your title (and another 55 in the optional subtitle)...use them!

On a related note, please note that eBay has about a bazillion categories. There's an Identity Crisis section, even. It should be fairly easy to list your comic in the right one, so quit putting your Batman comics in the Wolverine section. I mean, honestly.

And don't "keyword spam" - it may be against eBay's policies, but I see it all the time. (For those of you who don't know, "keyword spam" is the practice of putting additional, usually unrelelated, terms in your description in order to attract more hits from eBay's search tools.) Some sellers can be very clever about it: I once saw a listing for a Peanuts book that included a lengthy biography of Charles Schulz. Okay, in this case, it was related to the item being sold, but didn't really tell you anything about it, and it seems pretty clear it was only there to add several more possible search terms to the auction. Less clever are the people who do nonsense like this in the auction titles: "SPEEDBALL #2 NOT NEW AVENGERS #2," or even "BATMAN 450 OMAC PROJECT." Putting names of "hot" comics you're not selling in titles of auctions for decidedly less popular books is just rude, and annoying, and not really fooling anyone. Particularly that first example, that makes it look as if the seller is doing the buyer a favor..."oh, see, this is Speedball #2, not the expensive and much more in demand New Avengers #2 with which it is often confused." Gah, that's aggravating.

And, please, post a picture. Scanners are cheap...you can easily get one for under a hundred bucks, and if you're relatively prolific and successful in the auction business, you'll make that money back in no time. Like I said above regarding grading, a big ol' picture can sometimes answer potential bidders' questions better than your description.

SELLING AND BUYING

Good for the bidders, not so much for the sellers...comic books really tend to be a buyer's market on eBay. Unless you have something particularly unusual (or one of the aforementioned pro-graded comics), a comic probably isn't going to sell for anywhere close to retail or market value. I've seen an awful lot of comic auctions end at $0.01, sometimes with a winning bid, sometimes not.

Another phenomenon I've noticed with our eBay auctions is that when items go for a lot of money, they get paid off right away. I've received payments right away for items that cost hundred of dollars. Usually the only time I have difficulty getting paid for something, it's on an item that only cost a couple dollars. Why? I have no idea. Is it because it's so small an amount, the bidder thinks I'm not going to go through the process of getting back my eBay fees for the item and then post negative feedback? (Because I will.) Is it because the bidder has decided he can't afford the item? (And if you can't afford a $2 item, perhaps you shouldn't be on eBay until you get your financial thing together.)

SHIPPING AND PACKING

Remember my story above? Make sure the shipping costs are noted, and if they're not, ask before bidding. Don't end up with a surprise like I did!

Sellers, make your shipping costs reasonable. Maybe you think with the time and effort involved, what with packing material and driving to the post office and the time standing in line, twenty bucks isn't too much to ask to ship that one issue of Semper Fi you have up for auction. But don't expect any bids.

Also, ship within a reasonable amount of time. I once won an auction for a copy of the Nostalgia Journal, the tabloid newsprint predecessor for the Comics Journal. I paid for the item, including priority mail shipping, almost immediately after the auction ended. Three months later, the item finally arrived. And it was postmarked only two days prior to its arrival, so it's not like it was lost in the mail. That is all kinds of unacceptable. Once you're paid for it (and, if paid by check, once the payment clears), get that item out! Within a week or two, fine...three months later? What are you smoking?

Now, in my own business, I've had one or two orders fall through the cracks and get shipped out late...stuff happens. If you screw up, delaying the shipment, e-mail the poor buyer and apologize. "I'm sorry, I fouled up, and your package is shipping a little late. You'll see it soon." See, easy? Okay, perhaps I'm still holding a bit of a grudge over the whole Nostalgia Journal thing, but really, it doesn't hurt to be a little more timely with the shipments.

Speaking of the Nostalgia Journal incident, when I finally did receive it, the packing job the seller did was a little lacking. It was just tossed completely naked into a cardboard envelope and sent on its merry way. Had it been raining in my area, I would have had a package filled with soggy newsprint. Given that we're talking about dealing in comic book mail order, some more stringent methods of packing may be in order. At the very least, a plastic comic storage bag on the comic, plus some cardboard on either side, should be the minimum packing requirements for a small comic order. Hell, I'd even take a sandwich baggie, or a Ziploc bag, or anything. Okay, if someone is bound and determined to do harm to your package while in transit, there's not much you can really do and still keep shipping costs reasonable, but anything is better than just placing your easily damaged paper product unprotected into the tender mercies of various shipping companies.

Oh, and you're bidding on an item, and all the associated costs are clearly indicated up front, don't try to renegotiate those prices after you've won the auction. If you don't want to pay those shipping costs, don't bid on the item! No one's forcing you. And no, this isn't really a "do as I say, not as I do" situation, since I bid without knowing the shipping cost in that story way back at the beginning of this rambling essay.

And, please, please, if you're given a final total on your purchase, please don't send a completely random amount in payment. That really happens more often than I care to recall. A comic comes to $15, it costs $2 to ship, and the bidder sends me a payment totalling $19.47, so I have to go through the trouble of refunding the overpayment. If I told someone repeatedly what the total was, and they overpay anyway, I'm sorely tempted to call that "stupid tax" and keep it, but, no, I'm too nice and send it back anyway.

ULTIMATELY...

Over the years, I have found eBay to be a useful tool, both as a retailer and as a bidder. Our store has been around for a while, with a quarter-century's worth of backstock, and I have found eBay to be an easy, and fun, way to get rid of old material filling our storage shelves. And, as a buyer, I've found plenty of hard to find items for our store and my own collection. I may gripe about some of the quirks of eBay and the people that use it, but I'm glad it exists. But don't you dare try to outbid me on those comic book fanzine auctions I'm following!

If you have any comments or questions (hopefully not any of the above!), please feel free to e-mail me at cbg (at) progressiveruin.com.

-- Mike Sterling

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