Thursday, September 23, 2004

ABOUT FACE AT EBAY Book-loving cheapskates can relax: Half.com will be staying open.

Here's the e-mail sent out by parent company eBay earlier this afternoon:

Dear Seller,

In our last announcement earlier this summer, we said that Half.com would be closing on October 14, 2004. We have decided not to go forward with this plan and will keep Half.com open indefinitely.


We have heard from many of you that you want the Half.com site to remain open and to have the option to sell on both platforms. Your input, as well as the data and experience we have gained during the transition efforts, are the basis for our decision to keep Half.com open. There will be no substantive changes to Half.com in the foreseeable future...Going forward, we will invest in both platforms and allow sellers and buyers the flexibility to benefit from the unique opportunities they each allow.
Talk about a reversal.

That eBay is changing course so late in the game suggests their efforts to convert Half.com fans into eBay users failed miserably.

It also means that despite their vow to shutter the site--and the migration of users to competing platforms (Amazon.com and Alibris) that announcement must have spurred--Half.com remains popular enough to be worth keeping in business.

Someone, clearly, should be fired.

But the more interesting upshot may be the lesson eBay's experience teaches about the network effect.

When it was introduced, Half.com was the cleanest, simplest, fixed-price platform for non-professional sellers of books and CDs. It attracted devoted buyers and sellers right away. And the more people who bought and sold, the better the selection and prices got.

You'd think the folks who run eBay would understand the power of that network-driven virtuous circle, and how complicated it would be to pull the plug.

It sure took a while, but at least they finally got the message.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.