I used to sell all kinds of stuff on eBay, about a decade ago. It was fun, easy, and I made some dough.
So, when my friend Liam Kincaid released his latest book, Operation Break Iron, I suggested that he list it on eBay. Why not, right? It’s fast, free, easy, and even if he doesn’t sell anything, at the very least it’s a bit of additional exposure, right? I mean, right?
It started well. He got his publisher, Joe from LBME Publishing, to create a new eBay account, which took five minutes. Then he was asked to place an ad. Great! He filled out the forms, uploaded a JPG of the book’s cover, put in the description, and so on. Previewed and revised a couple of times, and approved the auction. Total time? 20 minutes, tops.
But then it all went to hell. He got a message to the effect that “to keep eBay a safe environment, we’ve put your account on hold, and cancelled your auction.” What!?! Worse, he was to follow the instructions he received in an e-mail within 48 hours to avoid Dire Consequences. (To the best of my knowledge, that e-mail never arrived.)
So he jumped onto the live chat, explained the situation, was put on hold for over a half hour. Finally, a barely-audible agent with either a speech impediment or an unidentifiable foreign accent came on the line. Thanks for holding, just have to ask you a few questions. He asked all the questions that Liam had already entered when he started the account, then some really strange ones:
“Is this a business account or a personal account?”
“I don’t know; no mention of that was made when I started the account. Business, I guess.”
“What type of business is it?”
“Well, you see the user name, LBME Publishing?”
“Yes, I do, sir. What type of business is that?”
<I’ll give you three guesses.> ”It’s a book publishing business.”
“I see. What is it you’re selling?”
<You’re kidding, right?> ”Um. Books?”
“Can you authenticate that you have the right to sell the item?”
“Sorry, I don’t understand. ”
“Well, do you have the book there with you.”
“Yes, I have a whole box of them right here on the floor next to me. They just came from the printer.”
“Can you authenticate that they’re yours to sell?”
“Um… Well, I wrote it… then had them printed…”
“Can you prove that?”
“I have a copyright certificate from the US Copyright Office and a receipt from the printer. Shall I send them in?”
No, that won’t be necessary.
<Then what was the point of the question?> “Okay…”
The conversation went on in that vein for another 20 minutes, then:
“Okay, you’re account is ready to be reviewed.”
“I’ll hold,” Liam said, afraid that if he hung up, he’d never get a return call.
Frenetic classical music began blasting out of the receiver, and continued unabated for the next half hour, interrupted only by a recording explaining how import Liam’s call was to them. Finally, the agent came back online and informed Liam that the account and the ad were approved, and the ad was reinstated. Just one problem:
“I see that you’re using a stock image of the book.”
“Well, not really. That’s original artwork of the book’s cover that we commissioned.”
“Yes, but it’s a stock photo.”
“We require actual photos of the item being sold.”
“We require actual photos. You can’t use a stock image.”
“Lemme get this straight.” Liam’s voice was tight and cracking, and his face was livid. I could feel the heat radiating from his body from across the room. “You want me to get my camera, hold the book up, and take photos of it?”
This was followed by a set of incomprehensible instructions for turning the ad back on. Liam had to ask over and over again until he could understand.
So there you have it, folks — It’s the new millennium. The new “customer is always right” has been replaced by “let’s make war on our customers.” This isn’t the only such case, either. It’s pandemic.
When he’d gotten the ad running again, a full 90 minutes from when it was cancelled, Liam turned to me and Joe. “Remind me again why I quit drinking?”
“I dunno,” I said.
Joe just shook his head.