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The Perfect Store: Inside eBay Paperback – June 3, 2003

4.1 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the short but wild history of the Internet, few companies have developed such an ideal approach to utilizing the uniqueness of the medium for business as eBay--hence the title of Adam Cohen's colorful and insightful corporate biography The Perfect Store. Cohen, chief technology writer for Time magazine before joining The New York Times' editorial board, is the only journalist to receive complete cooperation from the company for such a project, and the combination of access and experience leads to a well-researched and well-written tale capturing the essence of this online auction-house phenomenon. In the process, Cohen reveals how the pioneering site first developed into a vibrant virtual community, then a cultural icon and a model for Web-based commerce that reported revenue of $749 million in 2001.

From its beginnings as a hobby site on a Silicon Valley PC, to its maturation as a real company under the burgeoning fiscal pressures of cyberspace, to its present status as one of the few original e-business practitioners to survive the dot.com implosion, eBay has always been part of the crowd while managing to stand out from it. Cohen helps us understand why by taking us inside the heads of major players like Pierre Omidyar, the cofounder who imbued his site with a Libertarian philosophy responsible for its heart and soul, and Meg Whitman, the seasoned manager who brought business savvy and a Harvard MBA to its roller-coaster world. What helps make the book so readable and informative, though, are Cohen's accompanying observations of the many other people and events that also helped eBay develop its trademark direction and characteristic personality: the company that formulated its distinctive logo, the Kansas City clothing-iron collectors whose pastime was transformed by the upstart Web site, the quirky listings that generated controversy (and publicity) like the one in 1999 for a "fully functional kidney," even detractors who decry its big-business underpinnings. Fans of the site, along with students of the online world in general, will find Cohen's account both instructive and enjoyable. --Howard Rothman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This book's huge cast of supporting characters is considerably more interesting than its nominal stars, eBay's founders and senior management. To some extent that's unavoidable. How can anyone be more colorful than the Elvis aficionados and bubble-wrap entrepreneurs that inhabit eBay's virtual landscape? Yet readers may wish for a little more meat to the descriptions of those who built eBay into the leading online auction site. Cofounder Jeff Skoll and CEO Meg Whitman, MBAs from Stanford and Harvard, never come across as anything but one-dimensional. The most refreshing detail about Pierre Omidyar, eBay's other cofounder, is that before making his billions in the company's IPO he always knocked off work after eight hours. Unfortunately, with Omidyar the book descends into the usual hagiography of high-tech entrepreneurs. Cohen, a New York Times editorial board member and former technology reporter for Time, is much more evenhanded toward the hordes of eBay loyalists and more than a few detractors. Their zeal supports his claim that part of the company's market dominance is based on a sense of community. The company has carefully cultivated this perception, one of the book's most fascinating revelations. In the early days, staffers routinely sounded off on the site's bulletin boards using pseudonyms, even denying that they worked for eBay when asked. Cohen's quality of writing and research is above average for a high-tech tome. One wonders, however, if his insider access he claims to be the first journalist to be granted this at eBay makes him a little too nice to the principals.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (June 3, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316164933
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316164931
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #791,843 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Not a seller or buyer on Ebay, I wanted to learn something about this e-commerce phenomenon. I hoped to get some behind-the-scene information but Adam Cohen gives us much more--an insider's look at how a tiny free website called Auctionweb, hosted by Pierre Omidyar on his personal website, grew into the multi-billion dollar company where 100,000 people now make their living.
This engrossing story takes us from the first days of Auction web--where Omidyar, as a lark, successfully auctioned a broken laser pointer to the evolution of a bare bones company where employees worked in cubicles and had to assemble their own desks from kits and finally to a very profitable and thriving business.
The most intriguing aspect of the story is the development of the Ebaysian philosophy--Omidyar's vision of a perfect market, an online auction, where the seller would get the market price for the item on that particular day. Part of this philsophy was involvement of the community in key aspects of Ebay operations. The community embraced this concept and, on a volunteer basis, staffed user bulletin boards giving advice to newcomers on how to get started, and sharing marketing and other business operations advice. After Ebay's IPO and the need to generate increasing profits for their stockholders, management ventured into some practices and ventures that violated this philosophy such as commercial ventures including a Disney site that competed with Ebay's own sellers. The Ebay community protested some of these ideas and management did listen and made changes.
Just as fascinating as the story of the evolution of the company is the story of the people behind the company. One fascinating character was Pongo, a message board regular who gave tips on adding digital photos to auction sites.
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Format: Hardcover
The legend of Internet auction site eBay's birth is irresistible: a smart young guy starts it so that his girlfriend, who collects PEZ dispensers, can find more. Pam Wesley, Pierre Omidyar's fiancée, did want more PEZ dispensers in 1997, but in fact this creation myth was dreamed up by AuctionWeb's (later eBay's) Mary Lou Song, who pitched it to Omidyar, reasoning later that "No one wants to hear about a thirty-year-old genius who wanted to create a perfect market."
The boyfriend, Pierre Omidyar, was born in Paris in 1967, and moved to the US as a six-year-old. He grew up in Washington, DC in a home that prized brain power and education. (His father's a medical doctor, and his mother has a doctorate in linguistics.) He loved computers early on, and snuck out of PE in order to tinker with his science teacher's cheap Radio Shack computer in a school closet, eventually teaching himself to program in BASIC.
But this was no asocial loner/misfit writing code in a closet. Author Adam Cohen draws a portrait of the young Omidyar as a dyed-in-the-wool humanist and idealist, a brilliant programmer who was also a sociable and thoughtful young man who fully believed that cyberspace ought to be about people and community. Cohen asserts that Omidyar "wanted his corner of cyberspace to be a place where people made real connections with each other, and where a social contract prevailed." Quite deliberately, and with no goal toward making its founder a gazillionaire, Omidyar's idea created, after plenty of tinkering, eBay: "a perfect marketplace."
Along the way there are evolving business plans, bright and devoted employees, and a consistent and profitable fiscal (though not cultural) conservatism.
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Format: Hardcover
Overall I'm pretty happy with this book. The biggest complaints people have about it are Cohen's apparent lack objectivity and that the book doesn't have a consistent, chronological flow in its subject matter.
Regarding the apparent lack of objectivity. I think most of these critics think if an author is enthusiastic about their subject then their objectivity is proportionally tainted. While I think that's generally true, I'm not convinced this is very true of Cohen. He gives interesting information about where eBay doesn't work and why. For instance, eBay tried venturing into the high-end antiques/collectibles market where companies like Sotheby's cater to high society at traditional auctions people attend in person. EBay, like the elite auction houses, failed to create a revolution in this market with their online approach to auctions as eBay did in the low-end collectibles market. Why? Cohen speculates that it's because personal attendance at these auctions is so much a part of the experience, and so fulfilling, almost all of which is lost in making an online bid for an item. Perhaps the rich also see eBay as a `riff raff' way to auction. Speaking of riff-raff, I don't think Cohen gives short shrift to eBay's most vocal detractor either, a leftist moron eBay seller whose rabble rousing attempted to inspire the laughable Million Auction March, a flight of eBay auctions to competitors The seller felt, with the usual paranoid leftist panache, that eBay had `sold out' by allowing a toaster company to have a banner ad. And what about the chapter on the thrift store junkie who hates eBay and has plenty of valid reasons why?
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