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Low-cost XO laptops are fetching good prices on eBay auctions

The Baltimore Sun

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- XO laptops - the low-cost computers geared for children in developing countries - are fetching a pretty penny on eBay.

The computers, which have a signature green-and-white case and a customized version of the Linux operating system, have a nominal value of about $188. One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), the nonprofit that designed and distributes them, is offering them to Americans in a limited program for about $425, including shipping charges and a required $200 donation.

But in recent bidding on online auction site eBay, consumers have agreed to pay as much as $600 for an XO with shipping. And nearly all of the XOs sold on the site have gone for more than $250.

The bidding reflects the novelty value of the laptop and the exclusive nature of the program under which OLPC is selling it, said Rob Enderle, a technology analyst with the Enderle Group in San Jose.

The XO is only available in the United States through OLPC's Give One, Get One program that uses the $200 donation to purchase a laptop for a child in a developing country. The organization was slated to end the program and sales to U.S. residents as of last Monday.

The bidding on eBay "does suggest that here in the developed world people are willing to pay a lot more for these things," Enderle said. Even if they have to pay $500 or more, "that's not a lot of money to have something that's interesting and different."

Representatives of OLPC and eBay did not return inquiries seeking comment.

EBay frequently sees hot bidding for new or in-demand products resulting in consumers paying well above the retail price. In that regard, the XO has nothing on Nintendo's Wii, which has seen heavy bidding and sales on eBay. Only about 100 XOs have been up for auction on eBay thus far, compared with thousands of Wiis.

But consumers can still get an XO directly from OLPC, whereas the Wii has been difficult to find anywhere. And the XO auctions are for a product made by a nonprofit that has pledged to use the proceeds from its direct sales for charity. Although some vendors of XOs on eBay are pledging to donate proceeds to OLPC, most aren't.

And the nature of the laptop might also be contributing to the eBay sales. The XO is intended to be used with others in ad-hoc networks, allowing users to chat with each other or collaborate on art projects, meaning that some consumers may want more than one.

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