Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Excrement Hits The Fan

When I was notified (via email) by online auction site eBay a few days ago that they were jacking up their fees considerably, I knew there was going to be hell to pay. There is a huge number of people who now make a living by selling their wares to the highest bidder. And eBay is the site they all use to do it.

EBay to Increase Fees, Angering Sellers
By RACHEL KONRAD AP Technology Writer

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- Some small business owners who reach most of their customers via eBay Inc. expressed anger Thursday at the online auction giant's plan to boost the monthly fee it charges sellers by 60 percent. Its shares lost nearly 4 percent.

EBay outlined the increase in a terse e-mail on Wednesday to all buyers and sellers, including small business owners who hawk clothing, electronics and other low-margin commodities.

"It seems as though the larger eBay becomes, the more greedy they become," said Lynette McDonald of Alton, Ill., who has sold Barbie and baby clothes on eBay since 2001. She says she may close her eBay store entirely because of the fee hikes or raise prices she changes buyers.

Starting Feb. 18, eBay said the monthly subscription fee for people who operate "Basic eBay Stores" will increase from $9.95 to $15.95.

The fee for a standard listing of 10 days will double, from 20 cents to 40 cents.

"This site used to be a place where one could get a good deal," McDonald said. "Now that the starting prices on goods are higher to accommodate the growing fees incurred, there are no more deals to be had."

Such reactions underscore the popularity eBay has achieved with small business owners who can't create their own Web sites or operate a traditional bricks-and-mortar establishments. Peddling vintage china, handmade sweaters, classic cars and other collectibles on eBay generates supplemental income for senior citizens, rural Americans and others who live far from commercial hubs.

EBay spokesman Hani Durzy declined to discuss how the price hikes would affect revenue at the San Jose, Calif.-based company, which reported sales of $805.88 million in the first three quarters of 2004. The company will report fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday. (link)

I won't claim to be an expert and I've never seen their balance sheet (although I'd like to), but my guess is this was a smart move on the part of eBay executives. When you have no competition, it is a good strategic business move to experiment with the price to see what the market will bear. After all, the first allegiance of a corporate head is to maximize shareholder wealth, not to the people who are hoping to sell you pantyhose via auction. If traffic declines precipitately, watch for them to back off the monthly fee increase.

I make about two purchases a year through eBay these days so I wasn't on the floor sobbing when they announced their fee increase. But for those of you who depend on eBay for your livelihood, well, it looks like it's back to the old flea market.

A Story That Has No Winners

I'm glad I'm not the judge who had to rule in this case:

Adoptive Mom Gives Up Custody of Fla. Boy
By RON WORDAssociated Press Writer

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The woman who raised a 3 1/2-year-old boy at the center of a custody dispute tearfully handed the boy to his biological mother on Saturday, then dropped to the ground and repeatedly screamed: "How can they do this to a little boy?"

The case began about 3 1/2 years ago when the childless Scotts [Dawn and Gene] met [Amanda] Hopkins, who was pregnant. She agreed to a private adoption, according to court files.

The Scotts watched Evan's birth in May 2001, and he was placed with them two days later. The adoption was supposed to be final in August 2001. But a month before that, the boy's biological father, Stephen White, filed a motion demanding custody. The
Scotts claimed White should not be able to block the adoption, but a judge disagreed.

Hopkins supported the adoption until it appeared the court might grant White's request for custody. Late last month, she was awarded custody and White was given liberal visitation rights. (link)

And the Scotts are out of the child's life forever. I hope somebody takes good care of the little guy. He certainly has not been dealt with well in his first three and a half years.

Growing Up Black

If you're African-American, you may not want to read this. Only because white guys are not allowed, as mandated by some unwritten code, to talk about you. So go elsewhere, just for today, because I have something to say about black America.

I can't help but feel pity for young, black youths trying to make their way into our world today. Not because of any obstacles erected by white America; most of those were removed many years ago. The barriers of the 21st century have been created - and are fiercely guarded - by the black leadership in this country. Jesse Jackson. Al Sharpton. Kweisi Mfume. Julian Bond. The NAACP.

They all deliver the same message to black teenagers around the USA. "Racism is, and always has been, a fact of American life and you will not succeed because of the institutionalized racism that exists and is promoted by - pick one: (a) white America (b) the Republican party (c) the United States government (d) all of the above." And like that 24 hour a day radio station that broadcasts all-the-news-all-the-time, the leaders of black America have one monolithic message and they will, whenever invited to appear before a camera or a Congressional committee, drive home that one message - all the time.

Of course Sharpton and Jackson and that bunch refuse to talk about, or even acknowledge, the rather large - and expanding - black middle class. They prefer to "dance with the one what brung ya." Racism. Bigotry. Persecution. Lack of opportunity. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Can you imagine being sixteen and black in, say, Detroit. Like all teenagers, you're trying to figure out what it is you are supposed to be doing with the rest of your life; where you fit in in this wild and crazy land known as the USA. Jesse Jackson will, if it doesn't conflict with his appearances on CNN or with the dinner parties thrown by Hollywood celebrites, come to your High School to lay out for you the cold, hard reality that you will not be able to succeed, no matter how hard you try, in this white world of ours. Racism. Bigotry. Persecution ...

Why try?

Too many don't. So today we have a nagging problem with black male unemployment and black male incarceration and black teenage out-of-wedlock pregnancy. And crushing inner-city poverty. Can anyone doubt it? You will not be able to succeed.

Only just recently have I heard and read about black leaders - heroes - coming forth in an attempt to reach out to our black youth and to send them a different message: The opportunity is there. Seize it. It is up to you. There are, for sure, barriers. And some ugly white people who still can't get past your skin coloration. But you can make it - if you try. So try!

You probably heard about a campaign that comedian Bill Cosby launched a few months ago, the message of which essentially is this: If you dress like a gangsta, talk like a gangsta, live like a gangsta, rap like a gangsta, study in school like a gangsta, you'll be as successful in life as a gangsta. Tupac Shakur success. Gold jewelry. Lots of bitches and ho's. Dead at the age of 25. And forget the jewelry if you don't have any particular talent. Then your only opportunity is in the drug dealing business. Good luck with that. Jackson State Prison is full of those who chose that career path. Here is what Cosby had to say to black parents:

“Let me tell you something, your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day, it’s cursing and calling each other niggers as they’re walking up and down the street,”

“They think they’re hip. They can’t read; they can’t write. They’re laughing and giggling, and they’re going nowhere.” (link)

Then today I read an article about another campaign; this one launched by Essence magazine. They are going after the music industry. And it can't have happened quickly enough.
At last, women lash out at hip hop's abuses
New York Daily News -

The most successful black women's magazine, Essence, is in the middle of a campaign that could have monumental cultural significance.

Essence is taking on the slut images and verbal abuse projected onto black women by hip hop lyrics and videos.

The magazine is the first powerful presence in the black media with the courage to examine the cultural pollution that is too often excused because of the wealth it brings to knuckleheads and amoral executives.

This anything-goes-if-sells attitude comes at a cost. The elevation of pimps and pimp attitudes creates a sadomasochistic relationship with female fans. They support a popular idiom that consistently showers them with contempt. We are in a crisis, and Essence knows it. (
I remember telling my son several years ago, when this general topic came up, that of all the people I've ever hired, I've never hired a black person. I paused for effect and then said, "But I've hired - and promoted - a number of excellent employees who happened to be black." I hope you fully understand the distinction.

I'm a white guy so I know I'm not entitled to an opinion when it comes to how black Americans should interact. But I'm also a guy who can bring to the discussion a number of real-life success stories of black men and women who chose to reject the snake-oil salesmen and their message of racism, bigotry, and persecution - and failure - and chose instead to succeed.

And I don't remember any one of them walking into a job interview looking like Snoop Dogg.