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Tue Apr 28 2009 11:00:25

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

By: David Steiner

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AuctionBytes has been covering the ecommerce industry - primarily eBay - for the past 10 years, and we've had the opportunity to work with many public relations persons from the company during that time. Two in particular - Kevin Pursglove and Hani Durzy - were both tough, knowledgeable gatekeepers for the company. Although they frequently took the brunt of community opinion - and sometimes from us - both continued to be professional and responsive to inquiries from AuctionBytes throughout their tenure with eBay.

There was a palpable shift when John Donahoe transitioned into the role of CEO and Jose Mallabo took over as Director of Corporate Communications early last year. In one of his first responses to an inquiry from Ina, Mallabo responded via email, "I will use this as an opportunity to set some expectations moving forward. While we appreciate that these glitches are of great importance to your readers - and we certainly appreciate you drawing our attention to them, we just can't guarantee you a response on absolutely everything. If they are of a size that impacts a critical mass of the community, then we'll put it on the systems board. If not, we will do our very best to track down the answers for you in a reasonable time frame but often times these glitches are so obscure and impossible to replicate that getting answers can take a considerable amount of our team's time."

It was an interesting response, to say the least, since our readers are a fair segment of the eBay selling community who pay for eBay's services, and are frequently the first to report major glitches, outages or security holes on the site. Anyone who has looked to the eBay Announcement boards as a source of timely information concerning these matters has likely been sorely disappointed. We thanked Mr. Mallabo for clarifying, and explained that in order to remain responsive to our readers, we would post the glitches directly to the AuctionBytes Blog, and that he should feel free to post any responses in our comments section.
 
Interestingly, Mallabo posted a comment from a non-eBay IP address in March of 2008. Shortly thereafter, another post appeared from the same DSL IP address as Mallabo's, but using the name John Rathert (the name of someone listed as a cofounder of his previous business), criticizing another commenter and stating, "You and David are about as big a joke as there is.  Go write about the fuzz in your navels."

It seemed rather bizarre at the time, but we concluded that there was nothing particularly noteworthy to report about our navels, and continued to try to have a dialogue with eBay.

The dialogue since then has been decidedly one-sided. Over the course of the past year, Ina has been chided for the "tone" of her articles by members of the eBay PR team. In an incident at last year's eBay Live, Ina was pulled aside by Usher Lieberman, a member of eBay's PR team, and was told not to ask about specific user's issues or else she would no longer be granted access to eBay executives. Two months later, Lieberman offered for eBay to pay Ina's way to San Jose for a briefing on the August 2008 changes and meetings with top executives. When Ina declined this inappropriate offer in favor of phone interviews, the briefing was granted, but access to top executives was withdrawn.

After running an article about 3rd Party checkout last week, rather than picking up the phone and calling Ina to clarify some points in the article, Lieberman sent an email to Ina stating in part. "We will be posting on the AB board shortly and we are going to make it very clear that you got the story wrong." He then included a statement about 3rd party checkout did nothing to clarify changes to functionality. Yet again, Usher was unresponsive to Ina's repeated requests for clarification, finally providing a comment that eBay had nothing more to say, resulting in this article.

Ina told Lieberman that if he had a problem working with her, she would happily work with someone else in the PR Department. His response was, "No one else here will work with you, Ina."

In contrast, the PR team from the PayPal side of the company has always been - and continues to be - responsive and professional. That has not changed since Day One. We've also had many eBay managers reach out to us to give us demos of upcoming features and clarify policies. They want users to be aware of new developments, and take the time to walk Ina through the changes, and answer questions in order to get the message out correctly. We've made it clear we welcome this type of communication.

However, the message often doesn't make it past Public Relations, and the issue at hand is larger than eBay's relationship with AuctionBytes. At a time when eBay's business and image are suffering, shutting down communication with their sellers hardly seems to be a constructive move for the company. eBay's current PR team appear to have chosen stonewalling instead of taking advantage of a valuable conduit to their community.

In a December 2008 interview with AuctionBytes, eBay's own Jim Griffith, Senior Manager of Seller Advocacy for the eBay Seller Experience Team, said he felt that in the past year, eBay's communication with sellers had worsened. Griffith gave the corporation an overall grade of "5" on a scale of 1-10, and a grade of "2" (the low end of the scale) for "communicating the "why's of changes and again, providing more transparency and access to the data that eBay sellers desperately need in order to manage their businesses day to day and plan for the future."

Will this change our coverage of eBay? No. What you've been reading here for the past 10 years will continue. Our priority is to give sellers notice about forthcoming changes that could impact their businesses, such as Operation Catalog, which launched 2 months after we wrote about it as eBay's Large Merchant Services API. All of the eBay articles published on our site are taken either from public announcements available to any media outlet, or sent to us by our own sources. AuctionBytes has always given eBay opportunities to include their point of view on issues we write about.

If eBay is unwilling to give us more information or share their perspective on an issue, we'll take it as "business as usual." We'll break a story, eBay will scramble to put their spin on it, tell us that they take issue with our "tone" and the beat will go on. Our main consideration is getting timely information to the sellers who are most impacted by the news.

Some people consider us "pro-eBay," others consider us "anti-eBay." Frankly, we're neither. We've consistently written from the seller's perspective, and asked the questions that we felt they wanted to voice. We'll continue to do so.


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Comments (248) | Permalink

Readers Comments

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: ebay=penny stock

Tue Apr 28 11:11:56 2009

Sounds like a war is brewing.

Good luck Ina I think you might need it.

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: 112125

Tue Apr 28 11:25:48 2009

I do understand eBay's desire to control their message. Auctionbytes must really be a thorn in their side, with Auctionbytes reporting on all the things going on from policy changes to glitches.

But I prefer to read articles from non biased writers, spin-free. Auctionbytes has been able to provide that I hope that Auctionbytes will continue to report in a professional manner and not take it personally.

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: Karma

Tue Apr 28 11:27:33 2009

Ina, I am soooooo glad that you have this blog!!

I don't even bother reading ebays "announcements" since most of the time they don't announce.

I check your blog every day to find out what ebay has in store for me and the other million ebay sellers that pay the CEO's crazy salary.

More power to you, Ina!!!!

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: Hide & Seek

Tue Apr 28 11:28:43 2009

eBay upper management are so full of themselves...it's a pity they are so blind to problems and have no regard to customer care (SELLERS) or genuine PR.

This is a glaring example of what's truly wrong with eBay ...oh how the mighty fall

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: Harriet

Tue Apr 28 11:36:28 2009

When companies or even individuals become defensive, then it is evident that there is something to be defensive about, i.e. something to hide.

Sweeping things under the rug just doesn't work and never did.

When you take people's money to give them back a service, then you had better be accountable to them.

You can never forget who your customers are.

eBay wants to have that to apply to the sellers, well, then it also applies to eBay, since they are a seller of service to the sellers who pay money to them.

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: Scriptorical

Tue Apr 28 11:43:01 2009

I have always found both David and Ina to be both professional and forthright in their commentaries and communications. Even when commenting to us here when a debate gets heated they have always been professional. I rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest....9....As for eBay well two sayings come into mind ''you get one chance to make a first impression'' ....and.... ''If you cannot say something good about someone then say nothing at all'' I'll decline comment on eBay

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: i'd rather not say

Tue Apr 28 11:45:30 2009

hmmm...i just had an idea - ina why not start an ebay dsr type graphic that we all can grade ebay.

communication - 1 star.

any other category suggestions?

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: Lysa21

Tue Apr 28 11:46:06 2009

Ina, thanks for all that you do. I thank God that you continue to report on Ebay. You do a significantly better job of informing sellers about Ebay than Ebay does itself. I suspect therein lies the ''problem''.

Also, your blogs are the best outlet for sellers to share info with other sellers, and yes, sometimes let off some steam. If we tried to use Ebay's community message boards, our content would be edited or blocked, or worse, our account put in jeopardy.

I have learned, if you stick your neck out, even for the betterment of a group of people, you risk having it figuratively chopped off. You're a target, because Ebay knows they are screwing sellers and they would prefer to sweep that under the rug.

Now about that fuzz in your navels...

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: Larry Phillips

Tue Apr 28 11:47:13 2009

Thanks for writing this Ina.  I was actually active in a thread on the Powerseller Board about your article on the new Dispute Resolution process.  I actually commented on your apparent negative tone toward eBay, and questioned your ability to report on their activities impartially and objectively.  I now understand why you have reported in the manner you have.

Many of us count on you for accurate, objective coverage of what's going on in San Jose.  That's primarily because eBay chooses to minimize their communications with sellers, and when they do share information, it almost always lacks specifics.

Please continue to be the resource that allows us to better understand what is happening now, and what will be happening in the world of eBay.

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: MsFish213

Tue Apr 28 11:47:29 2009

David and Ina-keep up the great reporting.  Someone has to hold Ebay accountable for the horrible mismanagement of the last 2 years.  

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: Jeff Stannard

Tue Apr 28 11:47:47 2009

Attempting to control the message is futile.  Especially when the official message is filtered out, and AB is filtered in.  

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: Tim

Tue Apr 28 11:51:05 2009

Nothing points out the professionalism of a PR flack as much as responses to media ''thorns''.  Mallabo is a hack.  A well-paid hack that takes his anti-seller, anti-openess cue from the top, but a hack nonetheless.

I am sure you guys are a thorn in eBay's PR side... that is your job.  And handling that professionally is the PR team's job.  Like much of eBay, they get a failing grade at anything that doesn't involve catering to Wall Street.

This comes from a former 'flack'.  I worked PR for a major organization for more than a decade. This kind of behavior, from Mallabo and others in the eBay PR group, is just unprofessional.

Keep at it Dave and Ina!

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: David

Tue Apr 28 11:53:03 2009

I just don't get it. eBay was once the 'pot of gold at the end of the rainbow' and it could be that again one day. My eBay business has been severely impacted in recent years and frankly there just is no good reason. Ina has personally helped me in the past and while I have subscribed and unsubscribed to many blogs and forums, auction bytes continues to be my number 1 resource for timely information. Why would eBay management take such a stance against Ina and David? It helps no one and only helps distance already discouraged sellers as well as buyers. I sure would love to see the old eBay back again. Business was fun and profitable. This negative bent has got to stop, unless there is something brewing that we just don't know about yet. Fingers crossed but I won't hold my breath.

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: Jim Fisher

Tue Apr 28 11:56:58 2009

Seems like ebay is getting ''too big for its breeches'' - a truism that would apply to most of corporate america these days.

Ina, keep up the good work!!!!!!!!!!

Jim Fisher - long time reader of AuctionBytes.

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: Scriptorical

Tue Apr 28 11:58:10 2009

@ David & Ina

This article would make for interesting reading in the "news" section of google finance eBay as well as the discussion boards there.

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: Jim Fisher

Tue Apr 28 11:58:48 2009

I wonder why ebay does not include AuctionBytes on announcement board of their site.

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: Ooops I'm Naru'd Again

Tue Apr 28 11:59:28 2009

I read this blog religiously every day as I'm sure many others do to.  

To me it's one of the most up to date information sites on eBay and  related selling online.  

As more unclear or confusing policies are released from eBay, this site attracts even more people looking for correct (unbiased) information, and the following grows even larger.  

I believe eBay thinks by not answering questions (either here or through their own site with pinks) people will simple ignore the problems...but of course we dont'.  And this site will get more readers...looking for more answers...more followers..more readers etc etc.

I believe that is what they are trying to put a stop to.  A site that has enough traction that can clearly state (not only sellers, but buyers & 3rd parties too) the annoyances of eBay (from all their veiws).    

Maybe we all finally found something that eBay actually responds to-
Negative Press!

Keep up the great work!

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: Peter Leeflang / LEEFLANG ARCHIVES CORP.

Tue Apr 28 12:00:25 2009

Looks like you're at war now with Ebay's management, Ina.

I guess that you were the last one they still needed to try to control and antagonize.

Welcome to that large club.

Keep at it, Ina.

We need active 'e-commerce marketplace journalism' now more than ever with so many non-sellers (so providers, marketplaces and government) becoming more of a liability than an asset.

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: Kirk

Tue Apr 28 12:01:49 2009

You just Keep on Keepin' on Ina.   I like your style.  You own the truth stick !  E-bay and Amazon id cosmic-king - Kirk

Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message   Spin City: eBay Struggles to Control the Message

by: Harriet

Tue Apr 28 12:07:30 2009

I have to liken eBay's response to your reporting to the response of politicians to the reporters who follow them (I had several family members who were politicians). They hate the reporters, however, if they do not keep the lines of communications open, then things get reported in a manner which might be quite unflattering, not because the reporters are doing this out of spite, but because they do not get the full story from the ''other'' side.

eBay, you should absolutely keep the lines of communication open.

And all of this actually helps an open corporation become a much better one, because they can find out where their problem areas are and can do the necessary corrections and make their business work better.

But--eBay---I don't know--

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