I’ve not been blogging much lately — though the reason for my slowdown is a matter for another day. Tonight, as I was describing to friend what had been happening in my life the last couple of months, I realized that I had the makings for a good blog entry, one that would cure my blogging drought.
My name is Raymond Yee, and I am a half.com/ebay addict.
As with many addictions, it all started innocently enough. In August, I wrote about giving my books away to people who could make good use of them. Around that time, one of my housemates told me about half.com (which was owned by ebay), where he was selling off his books. I had never sold anything on ebay but had bought a CD-ROM and a computer cable on that site. I knew how popular the company had become through creating essentially the world’s largest garage sale. But I have never been a fan of flea markets. Moreover, I had never sold any of my books, accumulating them as I go. But being the Web geek that I am, I was always up for trying out something new on the internet — and placed one of my old physics books up for sale on half.com.
Nothing happened for weeks until one night, I got email from half.com. “Funny”, I thought. “I didn’t buy anything there — why am I getting email?” Well, it was a message saying that someone had bought my book! The rush that came from having someone out who I will likely never meet be willing to pay much more for an old book that I ever imagined getting for it laid the foundation for my addictive ruin. These books that I had been planning to just give away (to worthy folks, of course) had monetary value that wasn’t that difficult to extract.
I packaged up the book, made my way to the post office a couple of days later, and sent it off. I should be seeing the $30 I was paid soon. I guess that I hadn’t lost that much money from the purchase. Sure, I probably shouldn’t have bought the book in the first place. I had a soft spot for advanced physics and math and computer texts — and I tried to steer myself away from those dens of iniquity (a.k.a. bookstores) where I knew I’d succumb to temptation. I even had told myself that the real costs of the books weren’t the list price of the books — but the 100-200 hours (and that’s optimistic) it would take to master the materials of the books — and hence, the real question at stake was whether I had scheduled that time into my life by buying the book. (Of course, I hadn’t!)
But now, half.com redeems some of my experience — at least partially. It seems that the resale value of physics books is fairly high — or at least much higher than what I had naively believed it to be. I can’t imagine getting that much money from the used bookstores around campus. Still, as I packaged up the third book that I’ve sold in the last couple of weeks, I could not help noticing that the only marks in the book was my own name. I had been living a fantasy that I would become a master of solid state physics by buying the book. Slowly, I struggle to give up that illusion. When I was a Ph.D. student in biophysics, working for a theoretical chemists, at the peak of my scientific “prowess” (such as it was), I couldn’t find the time and energy to master arcane topics like the condensed matter physics of complex fluids. Over seven years later, with my mind immersed in totally different fields (which I find overwhelming enough), what chance do I have to study physics seriously? The time has come and gone — and yes, I am flourishing quite well, thank you very much, without physics. (When I was a kid, I never imagined that I would be happy without math and physics being at the center of my life….)
So I’m on a tear to sell off most of my books. My current inventory is around twenty books. I can see placing dozens more books before I’m done. I surprised myself this morning by using the repricing mode on the books. How much time should I be spending tweaking my selling price for various books? My housemate’s strategy has been to sell his books at cut rate prices. When I started with half.com, I thought that I would use the same procedure. Now I am trying to squeeze some more dollars out of my inventory.
Odd, isn’t it?