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|Before eBay, and unless you lived in a large metropolitan
area, you could buy anything your heart desired, as long as it was not
obscure, weird, or rare. When you could find the obscure, weird, or rare,
you were undoubtedly forced to pay too much to the middleman with the
connections. Rare Beanie Babies, the perfect used car, a kidney, cheap
semi-precious stones and jewelry findings, computer parts, collectible
clothing irons--old junk--you name it. Now, if you can want it, you can
probably find it on eBay.
Okay, so they remove the body-part auctions, but a guy did manage to sell his soul. This an other interesting tidbits pepper The Perfect Store, Cohen's folksy corporate history of eBay. It's like a bad melodrama: love, hate, revolution, amnesia--used underwear with or without bodily fluids. Yes, it's as amusing as it sounds, even with the parts on frictionless markets, server crashes, and IPOs.
Cohen's prose is smooth and his story telling sublime. He documents history in an entertaining way and then intersperses those sections with profiles of eBay's old guard. There's the woman who sells bubble wrap, the cross-dressing farmer (it's a joke) who was one of the first customer service representatives, and the Mayan village struggling into the 21st century. The most poignant of the vignettes, about a woman who had amnesia and lost the whole of her former life, left me sad and wishing for closure. Did she ever rediscover the self she had once been, or did she continue to live a half life on the eBay message boards? We'll never know. Cohen's point, stressed again and again through out The Perfect Store, was the power and cohesion of the eBay community. These were just the quirkiest examples.
Of all the dot-coms, it can be argued that eBay is the biggest winner of them all. With a market cap in the billions and over 20 million users and actual profits, it's not even a tough debate. Like most successful entities, eventually, there'll be an overly-congratulatory corporate history. The Perfect Store is just such a fawning tale. Unbiased? eBay gave Cohen incredible access: an employee ID, an office in the building, and interviews with top brass. It would be hard to say that it was uninfluenced. You decide. Regardless, it's also not hard to say The Perfect Store is a great deal of fun to read.