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Writing an eBay Ad 101, Part Two...


Okay, before continuing, I'd like to say that I do hope potential eBay sellers find this entire topic useful in some way. I welcome questions about any advice I may give here, so don't hesitate to ask. As we finished last, we discussed two of the four things a seller should absolutely know about his item. Those first two were manufacturer and what the prop does. So, now we'll continue with the remaining two, condition and value/rarity.

The first of those two is the most subjective and probably the one that causes most problems with seller/buyer relations. That is, of course, condition of the item. One pair of eyes may see a prop as "pristine mint" and another may see it just okay. But, there's one rule of thumb that is pretty easy to follow. That is that "mint" has a precise and exact meaning!

I have sold and bought antique mechanical banks for some time and in that field it is commonly understood that there is NO such thing as a mint condition bank. Why? Because they are all over 100 years old and even if they were simply stored in a vacuum, age would affect and deteriorate them somehow. So, mint is impossible because the term "mint" means "exactly as it came out of the factory." It means if we could travel back in time and walk into Petrie Lewis and buy a Vanishing Alarm Clock directly from John Petrie, the prop would look exactly like that one when we tore off the red tissue.

Unfortunately, as magicians we have come to understand the term to mean something less and most of us are content that a really fine condition prop is considered "mint." Before I go further, there is one point I really want to emphasize. There is NO SUCH THING as "mint for its age." So, when a seller describes his item as such, stay away or, at the very least, inquire a lot further. Can you imagine going to a Coin Shop and asking for a mint condition Morgan Silver Dollar and he hands you a nice, but tarnished 1888 coin and says, "Well, it's mint for its age...after all it is 120 years old." If you learn nothing else from this "course" as an ad writer or a buyer, learn that there is no such thing as "mint for its age." The use of that term in describing a prop should be a big red flag!

The first requirement to accurately assess your prop's condition is to have it right in front of you as you write the ad. Examine your item carefully. If it's painted, does it have chips, flaking or scratches? Is there obvious overpaint? Are you sure it is the original color of the item? I've seen a lot of blue P&L Phantom Tubes on eBay but never saw one on a dealer's shelf when P&L wholesaled to them.

Again, a basic rule, simply be honest. As I mentioned in the first part, "everything you write should be of advantage to the buyer..." Always give the buyer the benefit of the doubt. You see a little tiny scratch, but otherwise it is perfect? Then call it excellent or beautiful condition, but not mint. If it really is perfect, yes, call it mint, even pristine if it's still in the wrapper, but be honest in your assessment. I always use this simple gauge when I write. I read the ad and look at the item. I then ask myself if I would be happy with this item, regardless of the price, if this is what I received as a result of reading this ad and bidding on the item. If I can honestly answer yes to that question, then the ad is a good one.

One further thing. If you item has a "bad side," be sure to either mention it or, better yet, include a photo of that side of the prop. I can't tell you how many times I've bought items based on a photograph that did not show a side that had water damage or cracked wood or some such. Point out the flaw and, even though they may be minor to you, again, give the buyer the benefit of the doubt and assume he might find a little disappointment in the flaw and describe it honestly. Doing it that way really will avoid problems because most buyers are very happy to get something that is a pleasant surprise. Finding out that a flaw was not nearly as bad as it sounded in an ad, is one of the joys of auction buying.

Knowing your manufacturer also helps in determining condition. For example, an item from Richard Gerlitz, for example, is always exquisitely made and beautifully decorated, so when it is described as mint, there should be no scratches or peeled decor anywhere. However, a prop made by Ed Massey is just the opposite. His workmanship was quite crude and it would not be surprising to find a mint condition prop from him that is poorly built with scuffs on the paint and imperfect right angles. I've seen Cabinets of Deodar (one of my favorite tricks, by the way,) for example, where the doors are so crookedly installed that when you close them you can still see inside the box! And, since he used no primer for his metal paint work, it is not uncommon to find a genuinely mint condition one with spots of paint missing. I'm sure the paint often flaked in transit from the manufacturer to the buyer. If that's the case, so state it. A "beat up" Massey prop could be every bit as mint condition as a gleaming P&L prop.

Point out little condition elements that might make your item more appealing. For example, if a set of Loyd Candles has never been lit, it will be immediately evident since the wicks will be intact and there will be no charring or blackening of the paint around the tops. So, enhance your ad by writing, "Loyd Candles in mint condition, in fact, never even lit...." Any evidence that can further emphasize the good condition of your item should be noted.

The final item is value/rarity. What's the most overused word in magic ads? "Rare." Second? "Very" put in front of "Rare." Third? "Scarce." Everything is rare now! I've seen Tenyo items listed as rare and there are very few that, in fact, are. A P&L Phantom tube is desirable, but by no stretch of the imagination rare. Ironically, there is a "rare" P&L Phantom tube on eBay right now as I write this. There is also a "Rare Find" which is a Nielsen Vanishing Ketchup Bottle. Gee, I guess Norm ran out? Also a rare Grant French Arm Chopper. I tripped over three of them on the way to my closet. I think you get the idea.

Yes, there are items that are rare. So what determines that? Well, as a VERY basic beginning, first eliminate any items that are still made today (unless, of course it is a very limited edition like Richard Gerlitz' magic,) or available in magic shops everywhere. If they pop up all over eBay all the time, guess what? They are not rare.

Luckily, the people who specify rare on currently available items are usually non-magicians who are just trying to sell a magic prop they found in an estate or some such. But, for us who have at least a working knowledge of magic, use the word on itself. In other words, use "rare" rarely. Once you've passed the "currently available" requirement, try to get a rough idea of how many were made. Again, a fine example, the P&L Phantom Tube. Yes, they are not made today, but I would imagine literally tens of thousands of them were made over the Petrie Lewis lifetime. In fact that estimate may be conservative.

So, either do your best to determine the actual scarcity of an item or make no mention of "rare" or "scarce." Over the many years I've sold magic on eBay, I have learned that it probably sounds really good in an ad, but the word "rare," doesn't often determine whether or not a buyer will bid unless it's an item commonly known to be rare, like an Okito prop. It's use has become so common that the word is pretty much neglected in an ad. So, use the term sparingly.

Value is another thing that's difficult to determine. One thing that I find very appealing about eBay (not so much the other online magic auctions,) is that it gives the buyer the opportunity to set his own value on an item. You can use the sale history of an item to help determine your sense of current value. The best approach is to determine the price of the item when it was originally sold. Offset that with the price you paid for the item and it's "value history" on auctions, and see if the balance of those three figures is such that you can make your opening bid at your cost or a bit more and then let the bidders set the final value.

I'll give you a couple of examples. Back when the Paul Kozak Salt Pour sold for $300.00, I was fortunate enough to be able to buy a few dozen of them for $75.00 each. They had a history of selling for about $185.00 on eBay at that time. So, I determined my opening bid to allow me to make $20 per unit and started them at $95.00 each. I make an okay profit, assuming bids go no higher, my supplier got his price, and potential buyers had a chance to get one at less than 1/3rd retail. The buyers did determine their own value and they sold for $159 each. Everyone is happy. You will rarely go wrong if you determine an honest, fair value of your item, adjust that value to protect your investment or even give you a small profit, and then let the market set its own true value.

One quick thing. I am not a big fan of putting reserves on my items. On the occasions that you see them, you can usually figure the item must be a consignment and the consignor requested one. I like to let the market decide. The only way to do that and not lose money, is to purchase wisely and carefully. I get emails often asking me the value of items. My response is always what I think the item would get on eBay, not my personal evaluation of the prop. I've been fortunate to have a high accuracy percentage in determining value in that respect.

Now, with those four things under belt, we are now armed with the information needed to actually write an ad. In the next installment, I'll give the real basics of eBay Ad Writing 101 and give you examples of how to make an ad that makes your item really appealing to potential bidders, yet remains honest and accurate and avoids potential problems. If you're enjoying this, let me know. If not, let me know, too, because I am WAY too lazy to keep adding on to this if nobody is interested. Thanks!

More to follow......


1/21/2007, 7:55 pm Link to this post Send Email to John Mendoza   Send PM to John Mendoza
 
fredreisz Profile
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Re: Writing an eBay Ad 101, Part Two...


John:

I have appreciated the thoroughness and honesty of your ads. They have been a great help on E-Bay, and even an education in magic.

Peace...Fred Reisz
1/21/2007, 9:45 pm Link to this post Send Email to fredreisz   Send PM to fredreisz
 
kingano Profile
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Re: Writing an eBay Ad 101, Part Two...


More people are interested in what you have to say, John, than you know. Both chapters were filled with great pointers, and anyone who reads John's adds, know that what he is teaching here, is exactly the way he writes his own. I've often e-mailed him to say thanks for the great history lesson. Let's not forget his uncanny ability to make an item so appealing, that many of us, (me included) have bid our fool heads off, and on occasion paid big bucks for a small bucks item.I don't mean this to be negative. It's great fun for me, and no matter what I've paid for an item, I've received on every occasasion, exactly what was described.

Consider this post to be a Thank you to you, and ooops it looks like I started to veer off into a slight "Big T" rebuttal. Who I might add, needs a few grammar lessons.
Looking foward to part three.
1/25/2007, 10:49 am Link to this post Send Email to kingano   Send PM to kingano
 
kingano Profile
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Re: Writing an eBay Ad 101, Part Two...


More people are interested in what you have to say, John, than you know. Both chapters were filled with great pointers, and anyone who reads John's adds, know that what he is teaching here, is exactly the way he writes his own. I've often e-mailed him to say thanks for the great history lesson. Let's not forget his uncanny ability to make an item so appealing, that many of us, (me included) have bid our fool heads off, and on occasion paid big bucks for a small bucks item.I don't mean this to be negative. It's great fun for me, and no matter what I've paid for an item, I've received on every occasasion, exactly what was described.

Consider this post to be a Thank you to you, and ooops it looks like I started to veer off into a slight "Big T" rebuttal. Who I might add, needs a few grammar lessons.
Looking foward to part three.
1/25/2007, 10:51 am Link to this post Send Email to kingano   Send PM to kingano
 


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