Before This Week's Scheduled Post: My Answer

This last weekend has been a very emotional one for me, as I faltered in the pursuit of my dream. I do believe in being a consummate professional, but I don't think that that precludes me from being vulnerable and showing my customers that I am human like them. I've been scared. Very scared. I spent three years building a business on E-bay only to find that E-bay had betrayed me, like it does with all its long term sellers. If you just sell casually on there, you would never notice what goes on: you have to be a professional long time seller to see what is really happening. Suffice it to say for now, that E-bay manipulates the visibility of sellers' listings: the thing they pay dearly for and uses this manipulation to bully sellers into continually lowering their prices and offering buyers other concessions, which oftentimes do not make economic sense. E-bay doesn't care though, because like a lot of other companies that have sprouted up in the economy now, they don't produce anything: they make their money by skimming off the top. They promise you, the buyer something that is not theirs to give you: no risk purchases, guaranteed delivery, the right to change your mind on an impulse buy and get all your money back etc. They steal from the sellers to give you, the buyers what they know you want.

So, I have had no choice but to leave after 3 years. What it means to me though is a scary foray into uncharted territory: trying to re-build a business with my existing customer base at a time when most of my capital has already been spent. Needless to say it is stressful, and because I spend 12-16 hours a day in my office, by myself, 5 days a week, it is very easy for me to experience mood swings and negativity. It was this negativity that was the genesis of my weekend post.

I shared this post with all my major Facebook groups. Together these groups comprise well over 30,000 collectors. I had hoped for some useful insights. I was surprised at what came back, both pleasantly and unpleasantly.

On the pleasant side, I had an outpouring of support from my loyal customers. All of these people were dismayed at the idea of me giving up. Some did suggest that I might have to consider being a part-time dealer, but each and every one of them affirmed what I do and validated my approach to stamp dealing, saying that they enjoy dealing with me, that the service I provide is impeccable, etc. I even had one very kind man over Facebook - a man that I have never done business with before, praise my approach to my business and tell me that he would buy from me if and when he begins collecting Canada. This outpouring was more than enough to talk me off the ledge and get me back to work, and for that I am deeply thankful regardless of how this all turns out for me.

On the negative side, I encountered several comments from other collectors who were not so postitive:

  1. One person used the comment thread to basically make it all about him, telling me who he bought from, what he collected, how the hobby is in decline and the exchange ended with him posting what I gather is his favourite stamp. 
  2. Another went on and on about how the hobby was in decline and how I just couldn't compete against large sites like Delcampe and E-bay. He didn't seem to realize that these sites are simply collections of individual sellers, but he smugly asserted that values such as honesty, service and professionalism just don't count anymore and the only thing that really matters is price. He wasn't saying this in a way that shows he thinks it is bad - he thinks it is good because it serves him.
  3. A few more people basically chimed in that dealers cannot compete with the prices on E-bay.
  4. Another person didn't comment on the post, but took me to task about the fact that an auction of 83 of my best stamps that I posted on E-bay on Thursday last week, got taken down by me on Sunday after I noticed not a single bid on any lot. He said that he didn't see any auction items only buy it now. I replied politely and explained why. His next comment was "Ya, I've looked at some of your items and I use them for postage". So, he was basically insinuating that I am overpriced, and that what I provide to collectors is worthless to him. But he didn't make that comment privately, he made it publicly. The overall tone of his remarks implied that it was somehow wrong of me to take those auctions down. I politely called him out on it. He played the victim - responded with teary eyed emoticons saying that he didn't mean anything by his remarks and was just making an observation, and then followed it up with "Wow what a great way to win new customers!"
All of these comments illustrate to me that there are really two groups of collectors: those who are giving, and who will likely appreciate what I bring to the table as a professional philatelist, and those who do not. What strikes me about the negative comments is the sense of entitlement many collectors have. Not all of course, but many. My last post was heartfelt and I raised what I think are many important questions. I welcome collectors disagreeing with me, but the above comments were all flippant and shallow. There was no real discussion about the future of the hobby, or what I could do as a dealer to appeal to them, other than basically giving my inventory away - just an assertion largely that there was nothing I could do. It is not a kind, helpful way to respond to what I had written. The entitlement manifests itself in a basic indifference toward the future health of the broader hobby as a whole and with being concerned only with price, regardless of how that affects the hobby as a whole in the long run. 

It is hard to explain what I mean without writing a whole other essay, and maybe that is a topic I will broach on some future date. I have a Centennial issue post that I want to get to now. That is way more interesting to most all of you anyway. But I really do believe that just because the hobby might be slowing down or slowly declining is not an excuse to behave in a way that hastens the decline or makes it unpleasant and unwelcoming for everyone else who still love it and want it to thrive. I was very discouraged on Saturday night and Sunday morning because most of the comments I had received by then were the negative ones. But by Sunday afternoon, I started receiving the positive comments, and I realized that I just have to keep doing what I am doing and appealing to those collectors who want what I have to offer. I may eventually have to give up full time dealing if I can't get enough business to cover my bills in a sustainable manner. But even if that is the case, my good customers will understand, and will support me, until I can go back to full time dealing. Hopefully it doesn't come to that, but I am working in getting to a place where I can accept whatever does happen. 

Now on to my regularly scheduled programming...


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