Off the Block: eBay's Post-Auction Future

I vividly remember, a dozen years ago, standing in the parking lot of an anonymous San Jose (I thought it was Campbell at the time), Calif., office complex.

I was walking back to my car after a meeting at a tiny, but fast growing, online auction company I was advising … when I ran into the founder and CEO coming the other direction.

"Hey, Mike," he said, pulling out a manila folder, "check this out. Our design firm has come up with a new look for us."

Pierre Omidyar pulled out a sheet … and at that moment, I was one of the first people to see what is now one of the world's most famous corporate logos: the colorful, overlapping lowercase letters that spell out: eBay.

Though I was struck by the cheerfulness of the logo -- and quickly said so to Pierre -- I was also concerned. The latter I was a little more diplomatic in expressing. I asked Pierre if he was certain that he wanted the logo to be so childlike. Wasn't he worried that customers wouldn't take the company seriously? Not a bit, Omidyar replied, showing why he is now a multibillionaire and I am a humble columnist.

But a bigger concern of mine was the time itself. I had briefly known the company as AuctionWeb and hadn't really concerned myself when the name had morphed to eBay, figuring it didn't really matter what the company called itself if it wasn't successful.

But now eBay was growing like a rocket and becoming not just a national, but an international, phenomenon. Did Pierre really want to stick with what seemed like such a local, even provincial, name? With a new logo now in development, it seemed to me that this was the last moment for the company to settle on a more expansive name. Perhaps, I suggested, as we stood there in the parking lot, the company might want to finalize on a name that once again included the word "auction" in it.

Pierre shrugged. No, he said, everybody's pretty used to the eBay name now, so we probably ought to just stick with it.

I got a lot of things wrong in my dealings with Pierre (and Jeff Skoll) during those early days at eBay. Sure, eBay has become a household name in the last decade, but you can argue that it was the sheer success of the company that popularized the name, not vice versa. And so, I've always secretly thought that I was right regarding the company name…

Until this week. That's when I finally realized that I was wrong on this one too, and that Pierre was more prescient than even he knew at the time.

That's because Tuesday night, eBay, the world's biggest and most famous auction company, took the first step to becoming an auction company no more.

For such a momentous move, the announcement was decidedly low key: Tuesday evening, eBay quietly announced that it was instituting special fees for fixed-price listings in its "media" category (books, music, DVDs and movies, and video games). Henceforth, it would charge just 15 cents per listing, and extend the standard duration of that listing from seven days to 30 days. The company also announced that during a special promotion to drive holiday sales, beginning Sept. 16, that same fee would be cut to just 5 cents.

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