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CNBC's report on eBay is not quite a winning bid


Much like the sprawling online marketplace on which it reports, CNBC's The eBay Effect jumps all over the map. This makes it fascinating, surprising, even enlightening. But it's also inconsistent enough to drive you to distraction.

The 90-minute report from correspondent David Faber plays like a series of stories collected into a larger whole, without clarity of vision or, more frustrating, analysis. The Internet trading site, which links sellers and buyers in what Faber describes as "a very large community of essentially anonymous traders," has frequently been criticized, for instance, for enabling fraud through the "old-fashioned con game" gone high tech.

Faber follows such a case, in which young Denver video producers take a Las Vegas seller to small-claims court for not delivering a camera for which they'd paid him $1,500. The folks at eBay contend that they try to strike a "delicate balance" between getting involved and not getting involved, while a security expert insists this lack of "policing" users means they're "still fundamentally in denial" about trading fraud.

It's a he-said/she-said style of reporting trying so desperately to be even-handed, as opposed to objective, that it ends up telling us not much more than we knew already. While it's possible to be fair yet also draw conclusions, the latter are disappointingly lacking here.

Stats fly by. Its 135 million customers would make eBay the ninth most populous nation in the world. It'll list 1.8 billion items for sale this year. OK, fine. But what about those unhappy users who say they're being "gouged" and "squeezed out" by eBay's rising fees and purported slant toward "power" sellers? They get their say, then they're gone. Are they right? Wronged? Jealous?

Never mind - here are happy eBayers at one-day seminars and a yearly convention. They wax so lyrical about the company experience, they tilt toward sounding like a cult. What's up with this devotion? Why, how, who? Nope, just a drop-in glimpse, then we're off to someplace else.

There is some food for thought in The eBay Effect, even if it's not as filling overall as one might wish.

EBay's global reach is also mind-boggling. CNBC follows chief executive Meg Whitman to Europe and to China, where eBay is adding users at a rate of 20,000 per day. And what the company's "rules, trust and safety team" approves or disapproves for sale is fun all by itself. But what the heck is "eBay radio," mentioned only in passing? Are those fees really "gouging"? How do they rate against sales and/or profit?

Too much information is left anecdotal, unanalyzed or simply arcane to the uninitiated. It can't be only diehards interested in The eBay Effect.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

The eBay Effect

When: Tonight at 8

Where: CNBC

In brief: Not quite delivering what it's selling.

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