A How-To : Sell/Auction Photo Gear
This is written from a potential buyer and bidder's point of view - by someone who'll be looking for a new tool to acquire as an end consumer. This could also apply to other product categories of similar item types and many of the online sales or auction site's listings, but I'll lay all of this out with eBay in mind for either a buy it now or an auction listing.
I'd be your ideal target and the guy you want looking at and then bidding on or buying what you'd have up for sale. I'll be really happy with a great deal if I can get it, but I'd have no problem in paying you a fair price. We don't expect some discounted or wholesale price as a reseller would, and if you can interest us in what you have - and it's something we're actually looking for - we'll consider buying or bidding. I've acquired a fair amount of gear via eBay, and not all of it good - so - I think I can pass on some reasonably good ideas from my experiences.
However, there is something important to consider as you read this. You shouldn't be expecting any bidder/buyer to be a cash cow and pay out a premium price just because you have some item listed that, for whatever reason, you think will bring in the big bucks. A listing posted with nothing more than 2 fuzzy photos and a 1 sentence non-descriptive blurb of description text is certainly not going to get me to pony-up my cash for anyone. You need to actually do something in the way of added value to earn a fair price by offering something more than the hopeful value you think your items are worth. By 'doing something' I'm not talking about showing or describing how nice something looks, or whether there are no dents or dings or tears. Condition means a lot, but it is far from what gives photo gear it's real value. For someone who's strictly a 'put-it-on-a-shelf' collector or a museum curator that might be partially true, but not for me and the
majority of your real buyers. Here's my take on what works and what doesn't.
I. Bad photos or cut/n/paste stock shots just piss us off.
Sorry to state it so bluntly, but it's a fact you shouldn't ignore. We are after all a photographically-savvy group that are already predisposed to good visuals. There's also a lot of interest-killing information forced into every out-of-focus, fuzzy, or way-too dark photo you post with your listing. That includes the ones that show everything capped or covered up, or a shot that doesn't show the obvious details that are available to show, in order for us to evaluate your items. You don't need to take pro-level photos, but at least they should be clear, reasonably well lit, and certainly close to being in focus.
- Don't dump your estate purchase out on a table just the way you bought it, and shoot some quickie photos.
Take all the lens caps off and show the lens glass straight on. Whatever the major items might be, show it/them from several different sides. Anytime an item has them, show the distinguishing marks on them, as they're usually important in supporting the text description. That last bit carries even more weight when there's little or no details in the regular text about what you have on offer. At least by posting multiple clear images it allows me to help myself whenever a seller is too lazy to fully describe their items by typing out the text. There should be plenty of markings on most gear that can be shown, and by 'markings', I mean any strings of text and numbers and symbols you'll see (shoot from multiple angles, if needed).
- Use enough light when you shoot photos in order to see everything clearly.
Don't rely on a dinky flip-up flash to provide enough light when it causes the outer parts of your photo to turn totally dark, and there's a white-hot spot in the middle of the image. Shoot your photos during daylight hours where you can make use of the sun by putting your items next to a window - or shooting outside in the shade works even better. Too little light on your subject can also affect the lens speed and contributes to fuzzy images.
- Camera shake is not helpful and can kill an otherwise good shot.
If you don't have or can't afford to buy a tripod, use something to help prop the camera into a stable and steady position. This is one thing that makes photos really fuzzy when they wouldn't otherwise be, and are easily fixed when the camera could be made to be steady and still. Lean the camera against something (or someone), or use books/pillows/boxes to set the camera on - especially if it needs to be raised up above the subject. Use a stack of something to raise the camera and provide a stable platform to shoot from - and - act like a tripod.
- Don't get too close and try to fill up the frame with whatever you're selling when your shooting gear isn't designed to do close-up photos.
Shooting this way doesn't allow you to get a focused picture - EVER! This is the one of the biggest reason that listing photos are fuzzy. Stand back and zoom the lens in if your camera/lens allows you to - otherwise stay at least far enough away to get an in-focus shot. I'd rather zoom in with my browser to see the clearer details in your bigger image, than never being able to see the details at all. If you're handy with software, crop your photos down enough to zero-in on your items before you post the images. You may already have some simple editing software that came loaded into your computer when you bought it. It's easy to do and takes very little time to do it.
Here's a tutorial on cropping in Microsoft Windows' preinstalled Paint program: http://www.wikihow.com/Crop-an-Image-with-Microsoft-Paint
- Posting a single image that you've scraped off the web to represent your used item will make me bypass your listing altogether.
Borrow a camera if you need to, 'cause I'll probably see you as a scammer or a cheat if you don't take your own photos. You may have a cheap point-n-shoot packed away that would work, or you could use the camera on your phone if it has one, but actual photos of what you're selling is the only way you'll get better buyers and better final prices.
- More really is better when it comes to photos
eBay gives you 12 image slots to fill. Use as many of them as you can, but don't just shoot the same item (or groups) by pointing your camera in the same basic direction for 12 not-so-different photos. I can't tell if something is a 'type 1' or 'type 5' XYZ if sellers don't show some shots from different angles. These are all details that matter for us as bidders/buyers and can greatly affect our interest and the price we'll pay. Help us to be the experts on what you're selling and everybody wins.
II. Put something worthwhile in your description.
As a buyer I have to be able to find you and understand what you're selling. Using a phrase like "Old camera, lens and case" is absolutely useless for a buyer. Anyone interested in your listing has to find it within 50,000+ other auction items, and another 200,000+ of the 'buy it now' listings available under the various Camera and Photo categories. How many of us will page through all those listings to find your stuff, and become a real buyer? I search for items using specific search words, and none of them will EVER be "Old camera, lens and case".
- Be descriptive and take some time to list exactly what you have.
Take advantage of what's imprinted on the gear and copy it into your listing's text - to both the title and description. As a 'for instance'... There are several dozen lens mounts in use over the thousands of different model variations available from hundreds of different gear makers. If I can't correctly identify what you have, I'm wasting energy and time trying to figure it out. You may need to learn over time what ends up being useless information, but more info in a listing is definitely better than too little.
Type in the imprinted manufacturer's names, the model numbers, and any detailed specifics printed on each item when filling out your titles and the item description text, like "AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED" as an auto-focus lens example - or - "Zeiss Ikon, Contina II with a fixed 45mm f/2.8 Red T lens" for a vintage rangefinder camera's title line. The internet has millions of pages with detailed info and pictures for almost every camera and lens ever made, plus millions more for all of the photo/video accessories that work with them. Use those resources to confirm what you'll have in your listing.
- Spelling and punctuation AND correctly described symbols are important.
As an example... There is a huge money and optical performance value difference between "1:2" and "1:1.2" when it comes to describing an aperture ratio for the speed of a lens. Notice the difference in those number/symbol sets with the use of the colon and period/decimal marks. These details are usually on the front ring or rim of any lens, whether it is a removable type or a fixed one. These are crucial elements for determining true value.
If I were to become a bidder on your as-described "1.2" high-end lens (as in, One-decimal-two) and I have to go solely on your text description (because you had fuzzy photos, as noted above), you may have cost me a wad of cash. I would have potentially overpaid you by $300-600 (or more) for a mediocre $20 lens. I guarantee you that I'll be very unhappy and filing a claim against the seller within seconds of opening the newly delivered package. Scream about a posted 'no returns policy' all you want, but eBay will force a refund from the seller's bank account, and they'll likely end up with bad feedback on top of that. And yes, every seller agreed to allow them to do that as part of their seller's policy.
- a.) I don't need a lengthy history lesson. 3. b.) Don't re-quote a Ken Rockwell article.
Unless the text you include in your Item Description has information that's important in determining a value or functionality... there's no need to include it. If history data or reviews or XYZ's user opinions are needed reading by any buyer - the research is easily available online and we can find plenty of it to read. If it's a vintage item where some manufacturing or model/version detail is pertinent (i.e., it's made in the city of Dresden and not in Jena, Germany), then yes - do include it when you know that info, or care to research it yourself so that you can include it. This would be a case where clear photos can mean more cash in your pocket because of value differences that we can clearly see in those visual details ourselves.
Unhelpful info only fills up all of the description text that we then have to hunt through. And I can appreciate you wanting to state your own specific seller policies, but please put those at the end of the description. It might also be worth going through eBay's own selling policies, since any of yours that conflict with any of theirs makes yours unenforceable.
[ And by the way, copy/pasting all or part of someone's published article into your description text is, in fact, copyright theft - so Ken Rockwell, or others, won't be an admirer of yours. ]
III. Function, function, and function.
For a realtor and their home buyers, it's the "location" mantra that drives a sale. For me/us it's "function". My interest goes up only when I can determine what works, what's missing, and what I'll need to repair - and then - what the repair will cost if I want to own it. I need to assess value by judging something's ability to be of real use, not how pretty it is. I can tell a lot from photos, but those images alone won't be enough to fill in the blanks. You'll have to provide some of those unknowns as the seller. I really can't tell if an item works by looking at the photos alone.
If a seller won't care enough about helping with the item's sale and can't be bothered enough to do some simple research and basic testing - they may doom themselves to getting nothing more than a minimum finders fee of profit for their trouble - or even none at all. There's also the possibility of having to deal with an unhappy buyer when some obvious flaws are left out that any seller should have seen. This can happen regardless of their level of expertise with what they sell. If you're counting on selling stuff to provide income for yourself, you may find your reputation taking a long-term hit too.
I realize that we can ask questions - and I often do - but I won't do that for a listing that provides nothing on its own. You'll eventually get really tired of answering all the repetitive incoming questions too - or - learn that not answering them won't get any quality buyers looking seriously at your listing.
- Tell me what you know is working, and if you can, how accurately it works.
You aren't expected to be an expert (but if you are, then shame on you for being uninformative and absurdly lazy when you post next to nothing). Remember that we're dealing with precision machines here, and not ordinary and simple tools like hammers and crowbars. Be honest about what you know, because I and many others are just as likely to be looking for parts, just as we're searching for working gear to actually use. You've had the item in your hands, so only you can confirm what moves - or turns - or is missing. Does the shutter click? Is there oil oozing onto the iris blades? Is there a distinct grinding or other noise when something moves, or when it's activated... or maybe when the item is flipped over? Does it smell like Granny's musty basement? Make that info part of your description.
- If your items use batteries to operate properly - get enough of them (or some reasonable alternatives for the obsolete ones) to test what works and how well - then post those results in the listing as well.
If you're expecting to get top dollar for an all-electronic camera and it turns out that the electronics in it are truly fried, you WILL get a 'not as described' type claim to deal with from a grumpy buyer on some item you've listed as "Used". Some photo gear will instantly turn into a near-worthless brick if the circuitry is toast, and will only have value for any of the mechanical parts it has left over. Film winders, internal camera metering systems or electronic shutters, or accessories like hand-held meters that respond when used... these will boost any buyers interest (and willingness to spend) when we know that something is still alive and by how much.
Not every battery type used by photo gear is still being produced, but many are and they are not terribly expensive. For those types that are no longer made, you can normally use alternates that are close enough to their size and voltage to test with. Using them you'll be able to get some yes/no answers to what functions are actively powering up and are, at least, responding in some way. Remember that you can always sell the batteries with or without the camera/meter/etc., whether they work to power stuff up or not.
Here's an excellent resource from Photo Ethnography on finding a substitution battery for most photo gear: http://www.photoethnography.com/ClassicCameras/batteries.html
- Don't try to hide an item's flaws or obvious damage.
By hide, I also mean not mentioning what you've come to know about an item's condition - and not just covering up something in a photo, or omitting an image or a view angle that could clearly show what the damage or issue is in the pictures you do post. Own up to what's wrong with the items, what's missing, or what's broken. I may already have a fix for the problem - or - have the repair parts on hand. I can deal with something's true functional condition when I know it up front.
- Categorize your item correctly as either new, new / other, used, or parts and repair.
Those categories say a lot about what you're offering and simplify a search when filtering by those terms. This, in part, goes along with #1 above since you've had the item in front of you for personal inspection and you presumably know what works and what doesn't. If it's clear to you that something is really broken or not fully functional, mark it as a parts/repair item and state what's not working in your description. Your item still has value as-is and someone may be desperate for the parts or knows how to effect a repair.
Please do NOT list something as new unless you know for certain that it actually is a genuinely new item with some warranty of X length of time, and who will be responsible for that warranty. If it's vintage New Old Stock (NOS), then mark it as New/Other. If it's really a new boxed item that has sat on a shelf for 20 plus years, it's unlikely it will still work like a brand new item would. If it only looks new enough to you that you'd guess it really was new - mark it as 'used' when you aren't absolutely positive. Call it "mint" or "near mint" in the description and be done with it.
IV. Realistic listing prices on items, as starting bids or buy it now
Listing any item with a huge price as if it's THE most perfect and rare specimen known to man is idiotic. So is putting a retail price on a slightly used but non-vintage item that hasn't gained in real value over time. You may want to get back your original investment, but you're setting yourself up for disappointment if that's your main goal. That's not to say that there's not some other idiot that will actually pay your asking price (sadly, there are a few), but it's a rare day when the stars align and the demand for something rockets skyward - with a crowd of buyers lining up just to grab a copy of your 'WhatzIt' for mondo-huge-money. And... listing it too low may not help your sales either.
- Be reasonable with your starting bid or asking price, and don't shoot down a successful auction or sale because it's priced too high.
Whether it's because you're greedy or you simply don't know what a fair price is, you're better off researching the intended price you'll ask for before you submit your listing. Realistic and current pricing can easily be found on eBay by doing a simple search for the exact same item you'll be listing. Once you're presented with a matching list, just filter the results to only show "Sold listings". Even if you plan on listing items elsewhere, the shear volume of transactions completed on eBay will give you an actual price that's previously been paid out. These prices represent matching items sold in the past 90 days to the actual buyers of those completed sales or auctions. If what you find doesn't closely match your item's condition and functionality, adjust the resulting prices by a reasonable amount to make up for the differences.
NOTE: Keep in mind that bidders/buyers use this search technique too, so we all know what the current price averages are and can also inspect the description for its sold condition to judge how accurate they are.
- Only list an auction at $0.99 if you really can accept that as the final selling price.
My fellow bidders might be pissed at me for suggesting this, but trust me, I've won enough auctions for superb items where I'm the only $0.99 bidder. It happens, and happens often enough to consider what it means for your final sales expectations. I know it's a strategy to build excitement and attract bidders, but it can and does occasionally backfire when you don't sell or auction a lot of items on a regular basis and your cashflow takes a hit. If you really, really expect a more reasonable ending price, then start your opening bid prices a bit higher so that you won't be disappointed with only being paid at your minimum bid price.
And if you insist of starting out with a pennies-only pricing scheme... don't take out your crappy post-auction attitude towards the winner by shipping their winning bid item in a taped-up paper bag with no protective padding because you're totally ticked off at the final sale price. I'll be the grumpy old man with a now broken-by-USPS 'Mega-WhatZit 9000', that has just filed a claim against an irresponsible and pissed-off seller.
- Get over your sentimental attachment or your need to get back what you paid for it.
Your items have value, yes... but I've already determined what the absolute top dollar I'll spend for something/anything will be, and that happened long before I've even seen your listing. What you paid for it originally, or because it was a treasured gift from your dear Aunt Ida isn't a thought that will ever zap across my brain matter at any time. You might as well be Walmart as far as pricing goes, and I'm shopping for what fits my needs and my budget, not for a seller's sentiments.
If you overpaid for the something you're now selling - for any reason, it doesn't really matter - don't expect me to rescue you from your own bad judgment or error. Sorry to be that pointed about it, but it truly has nothing to do with the actual value of what you're selling and that's my only financial concern as I look for gear to bid on or buy.
- A price that's overly low can sometimes leave the wrong impression without some explanation.
Aside from the $0.99 starting price gambits on auctions, a low buy-it-now price can make a buyer nervous and hesitate buying. Again, fellow buyers may hate me saying this, but I do second-guess the wisdom of buying something that's gravely under-priced. Is it priced that way because of a seller's guilt since it's actually a piece-o-crap item that they want to unload, or is it a non-functioning item that's being sold as a regular 'used' item and not as parts/repair simply because the seller is unsure or unaware? As I've said, I'm all for a great deal, but I won't rush into a bad one because it's priced cheaply. If you know it's a low price and you just want it to go to someone who''ll make some use of it, or there's a reason it's priced so low - just say what your reasoning is, so that buyers will know it's not a lemon that you only want to foist onto someone/anyone else.
Here's the bottom line.
We as buyers and bidders have no special powers and can't divine information when it isn't provided or when we can't easily see it. Help us to pay you for what you're selling. Being open and honest will put more money in your pocket, and thinking you can get something over on a buyer will take it away - and - could cost you more than its worth to try doing it. If your items really do have good value, you'll get a reasonable bid price - or - sell it quickly at a fair fixed price.
Here's a fact that's often overlooked... I can promise you that 99.99 percent of the time, your item isn't the only 'XYZ 4000mm Whatz-it-Doodle' that I'll see this week. Some may think their item is rare or special, but I've already seen another 35 of them this month - probably more. Normally, most photo gear has been produced in millions of duplicate units. Rarer items are still into the tens of thousands, and truly rare items may well be several thousand or more in number. Unless you have a truly special one-off prototype that someone really wants - and might make for a huge payday... we'll wait for the next opportunity, not overpay, and not drive up the bids.
[ From NikonUSA.com: Total number of Nikon interchangeable lenses produced from 1959-2014 passes 90 Million ]
And one last tidbit. Every buyer's time has value, and I certainly won't waste it when a seller is too lazy and expects that we'll stampede to buy their non-descriptive goodies. That will NOT be me flipping out my cash - now or ever. If you don't care about investing anything into what you're selling - why should I?
Part 2 is still to come, with a sample listing to visually and descriptively show all of the above.