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Books make bid to cover giant world of eBay

You don’t have to look far for information on eBay, the world’s most popular online auction. Just doing a casual search I found about a dozen serious books offering tips and guidance on how to make money there.

If you throw in all the self-help CDs being hawked, plus the dozens of Web sites with a focus on online selling, one could spend weeks digesting information on what was, 10 years ago, just a little Web site with lots of curious items being sold by moms and pops across the country.

Today eBay is a global enterprise with vast catalogs of items for sale from small companies and large. It’s become too large for one book to summarize.

Two recently published books lay claim to being simple, how-to guides to eBay. Both are good, but one is clearly better than the other. Neither, however, covers the whole enchilada and both include information that is already out of date. That’s the risk of printing a book about an online business that constantly changes.

“The eBay Survival Guide: How to Make Money and Avoid Losing your Shirt,” by Michael Banks (No Starch Press) is by far the better book. The second volume, “eBay: The Missing Manual,” by Nancy Conner (O’Reilly Media Inc.), has much of the same basic information but doesn’t present it as clearly. Plus, Banks is an experienced eBay merchant; numerous personal examples of how he found rare items, priced unusual items or dealt with quirky buyers makes his book a far more personal guide to eBay.

Banks’ book also offers one of the clearest summaries of how to search for eBay merchandise I’ve run across.

His major shortcoming is a tendency to throw in too many references to third-party Web sites. For me, a shorter but more careful selection would have sufficed. He refers to one site, HammerDrop, that doesn’t seem to exist any longer (although it may have changed its name, since there is a HammerTap site that does the same thing).

Conner’s book has some useful information. One handy tip, through a third-party site I hadn’t heard of, helps spot unusual misspellings of items for sale on eBay. “Compac labtop” instead of Compaq laptop, for instance.

The site, Fatfingers.co.uk, lets you identify a product and its search tool looks for all sorts of possible misspelled versions of that item.

Conner also spent a page or two highlighting the virtues of eBay’s Anything Points program, a service meant to encourage use of certain credit cards or payment systems. Don’t bother. Anything Points was shut down by eBay earlier this year, before the book was published.

Both books have one thing in common: they go to some trouble to point users to eBay’s own wealth of how-to guides and resources. They also show users, for example, how easy it is to track the hottest selling items on the auction site.

My last thought: If you want more tips for advanced eBay use, a couple other books would serve the need. One in particular is the useful 2005 publication, “ebay Hacks, Second Edition,” by David Karp, published by O’Reilly Media.

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