Sunday, October 26, 2008

Orion, TeraPeak and the Audiogon Blue Book

I recently was overcome with a desire to actually do a bit of research on the vintage hifi market. Not that I was exactly obsessing, but I was really curious about a few items, curious enough to spring for a few bucks. What was available?

I own a very old ('93) copy of the Orion Blue Book for audio. How I managed to buy that is a story best saved for another day, but it has been moderately useful over the years so I don't regret the pain and anguish. Much. Orion is a staple in the pawn business and anyone who buys and sells audio gear (and musical instruments, etc.) is familiar with the product. While Orion is often completely clueless about an item, it is a good place to start a valuation hunt. Over the years Orion has culled its older entries so it's best to have multiple copies that span the years. Orion is often way off in valuations, always on the low side. I imagine Orion's information sources are limited on thinly traded, more esoteric items.

So, was there anything better than Orion? eBay and Audiogon are the primary sources for audio sales, so what did they have to offer?

Audiogon.com describes itself thusly: 'The Audiogon is a membership based community of high end audio enthusiasts.' It provides a very popular auction and classified system for audio sales. Membership is free. It also provides a Blue Book valuation service for a yearly fee of $50 that is easy to use and provides some nice touches, such as a graph and transaction counts. It is fairly comprehensive but is not without some holes. I own a Fisher SA 300 tube power amp and they indicate it is worth $190. I will take a dozen at that price, please.

eBay seems to be troubled entity these days. I am strictly a buyer, so it has not been bad from my perspective, but sellers are not happy. eBay has made policy changes that expose low volume sellers to abusive buyers. Again, this discussion is best left to another time. My biggest gripe with eBay has been the limitation of viewing completed auctions to 2 weeks. Viewing completed auctions is useful to me as a buyer, but I would think it would be crucial to a seller. While wandering my eBay home page I noticed the 'Marketing Tools' link and therein lies a tale.

Long ago eBay provided access to a longer history, but they obviously determined that access to historical information was a sellable product. In the marketing tools section of the site I found a link to Market Research, and a Fast Pass service for 2 days access to 90 days of completed auctions for $2.99. When I tried to purchase this service I was 1) routed to create a seller's account and 2) routed to Paypal and 3) routed to TeraPeak.com. And then it got interesting. It turned out that the Fast Pass service did not actually exist.

I can only conclude that eBay killed their Market Research offering and sold it to TeraPeak.com without doing proper job of connecting someone interested in the service to TeraPeak. First, let me make very clear that TeraPeak is not at fault here. My several frustrated emails to their customer service staff were very promptly and professionally handled. My emails to eBay went into the bit bucket, of course, but that was expected. It turned out that TeraPeak offers (essentially) a two tiered system to access 90 days of eBay history. You can buy 1 month at $24.95 or a year at $197.95. I tried it out for a month.

TeraPeak.com offers a search engine with access to 90 days of eBay auctions. You can pick your eBay source and tweak it with some Addons, but the gist of the service is a nice query generator and aggregator for eBay's recent history.

The TeraPeak.com/eBay combo is a not exactly a Blue Book but it could ultimately be the ideal solution to the valuation issue. Nothing beats actually looking at a transaction since condition, the quality of the presentation, and the transaction form mean so much. TeraPeak does a good job of presenting the information and its searches (which I presume are actually run on eBay's servers) are quick. It's layout takes a bit of getting used to but it is reasonable.

I used the service for a month and was relatively happy with the results. However, I did not renew my subscription. TeraPeak.com is a competently run site whose primary limitation is eBay imposed: they only have a rolling 90 days of history. Much of what I look for are very thinly traded items, so it is sometimes tough to find what I am looking for in that 90 days. I also determined that the all-or-nothing approach to eBay data was not cost effective for me. I would be happiest to pay for my interest and that alone. I do not need access to 90 days of dinnerware or costume jewelry. I passed this request on the the TeraPeak staff, so maybe someday...

One last issue: TeraPeak is a subscription service and will bill your credit card on a recurring basis. I had assumed that I purchased a single month and was surprised when I was billed for a second month. I was not paying attention, I guess. If you do not want to continue the service it appears the default when you cancel is for next month, not immediately. Hence my cancellation did not exactly work as I had hoped. However, an email to customer service appears to have corrected the situation.

Oh, and while researching this write up I discovered that eBay had scrubbed the links to the Market Research service, so maybe my emails actually reached someone.

1 comment:

The Semi-Daily Rant said...

Thanks Nat, useful information.