eBay makes us all into participants in the market again. It's no coincidence that eBay's first great wave of participation came from the collectibles trade. The collectibles market occurs at the intersection of luck (discovering a piece at a yard-sale or thrift shop), knowledge (recognizing its value), market-sense (locating a buyer for the goods) and salesmanship (describing the piece's properties attractively). It requires little startup capital and lots of smarts, something that each of us possess in some measure.Link
Somewhere, in the world's attics and basements, are all the treasures of history. Someone is using the Canopic jar containing Queen Nefertiti's preserved spleen as an ashtray. Someone is using George Washington's false teeth as a paperweight. Somewhere, a mouse is nibbling at a frayed carton containing the lost gold of El Dorado. A Yahoo! for junk would never break even: you simply couldn't source enough crack junque ninjas to infiltrate and catalog the world's storehouses of *tchotchkes*, white elephants and curios.
And just as Napster found the cheapest way to get all the music online, eBay has found the most cost-effective means of cataloging the world's attics and basements. It's attic-Napster, and it's spread the cost and effort around. When you spy a nice casino ashtray on the 25-cent shelf at Thrift Town and snap its pic and put it up on eBay, and when the renowned collector of glass ashtrays, ColBatGuano, bids it up to $400, you have taken part in a market transaction that has simultaneously catalogued a nice bit of bric-a-brac and moved it to a collection where it will be lovingly cared for -- and you've left a record of where it is and what it was worth when last we saw it. Buried in eBay's backup tapes is a Blue Book with the last known value of nearly every object we have ever created as a species, from Trinitite (green, faintly radioactive glass fused at the detonation of the first nuclear explosion at Los Alamos, $2.59 a gram at last check) to commodity 40-gigabyte laptop hard-drives ($30 at press-time and falling fast).