My grandmother, Big Mama, never liked flea markets or yard sales.
"You're just buying other people's junk," Big Mama would say.
But my grandmother never had a chance to see the growth of eBay, the online flea market and yard sale extraordinaire.
I've never bought or sold anything on eBay, but I have spent time window-shopping on the site.
As eBay has grown, so has the variety of its inventory. You can buy such items as CDs, collectibles, cameras and cars. While millions of people see eBay as a one-time opportunity to unload unwanted items, a growing number of people are using it as a chance to make a little extra cash or start a small business. Some folks have been able to make a good living selling stuff on this online auction site.
In fact, in a study conducted for eBay by ACNielsen International Research, more than 724,000 Americans report selling on eBay as their primary or secondary source of income. In addition to these professional eBay sellers, 1.5 million individuals say they supplement their income this way, according to the July survey. In the first six months of 2005, eBay members in the United States sold merchandise worth approximately $10.6 billion.
So would you like to get in on this action? If you do, I suggest you get a copy of August's Color of Money Book Club, "The eBay Millionaire" by Amy Joyner (Wiley, $22.95). Joyner is a former business and technology reporter and now columnist for the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C. For more than three years, Joyner has run her own eBay business, and her book offers advice based on her experiences.
But the bulk of the book focuses on profiles of 18 successful eBay businessmen and businesswomen, whom the site crowns "Titanium PowerSellers." If you sell at least $150,000 a month on eBay, you get this top-level status.
The highly profitable sellers Joyner profiles come from all around the country and sell a variety of products, including vintage Rolex watches, golf balls and costume jewelry.
"There are many eBay hucksters around -- people who promise that amateurs can earn quick and easy riches by selling on the Web site," Joyner writes. "But these top-level PowerSellers are frank about the hard work that is required to truly build a multimillion-dollar business."
It's the stories of these PowerSellers and the question-and-answer sections at the end of each chapter (with each online merchant) that make this book interesting.
Here are some of the successful selling strategies from top eBay sellers:
* Become a buyer. "It's only through personal experience that you'll learn the nuances of finding products, bidding and buying on eBay," Joyner says. "Use what you learn to set your own auction practices and policies," she writes. And "once you've done an ample bit of buying . . . you'll be ready to start selling yourself."
* Set your price low. Begin your auction with a low opening price, even as low as a penny, to attract more bidders.
* Use misspelling to your advantage. Since many people misspell when they search for items, include both the correct spelling and common misspellings for your auction title.
* Remember that a photo is worth more than a thousand words. Joyner says it's important to include a quality photo of the items you want to sell.
* Count all expenses. You may know to include the upfront fees that it costs to list your items, but Joyner says don't forget to include all the other expenses that come with running your business -- Internet access, gasoline for trips to the post office to mail items or the cost of long-distance telephone calls.
* Don't forget to give feedback. After completing a transaction, buyers and sellers are asked to rate one another. Be consistent about posting comments about your buyers, sellers say. And read the feedback your competitors get. "You'll learn what they are doing right and wrong," Joyner writes. Feedback is like the Better Business Bureau of eBay, she says. "It tells community members which users are reputable and which are not."
Maybe you won't generate millions in sales by reading this book, but it certainly offers some sage and sophisticated advice that could help you build a profitable business on eBay.
If you are interested in discussing this month's book selection, join me at noon Aug. 25 online at www.washingtonpost.com. Joyner will be my guest and will be available to take your questions.
To become a member of the Color of Money Book Club, all you have to do is read the recommended book and chat online with the author and me. In addition, every month I randomly select readers to receive a copy of the book, donated by the publisher. For a chance to win a copy of "The eBay Millionaire," send an e-mail to email@example.com. Please include your name and an address so we can send you a book if you win.
* On the air: Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online at www.npr.org.
* By mail: Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.
* By e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses are not always possible. Please note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.