eBay’s New Software Fees Vex Users

eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) said Tuesdayit will begin offering members the option of paying a monthly fee for aset of software tools designed to make it easier and faster to set upauctions, although many members have already purchased the software outright.

Word of the new fee-based service, to be called eBay Auction Assistant, set off atorrent of complaints, primarily from owners of the software program thateBay plans to convert into a monthly service.

Many eBay users said they paid US$140 to purchase the software, currently called Blackthorne AuctionAssistant, and reasonably believed that upgrades would be provided free of charge.

Under eBay’s new plan, however, users will pay $4.99 a month for a basic program aimed at noviceauction users and $15.99 a month for a professional version of the software.

Changes in Attitude

In recent weeks, eBay has rolled out a steady stream of policy changes, many of whichhave drawn ire from members. eBay said it intended to limit useraccess to e-mail addresses of other auction members and announced a planto boost listingfees.

“How much more can the smaller seller take?” one user asked on theAuctionWatch.com message board. “First fees go up, then restrictive rulesregarding trade are made, and now [the software charges].”

A similar flood of angry messages was posted to the Blackthorne Website, which announced the change in policy at the same time as eBay.

“I amdisappointed in Blackthorne’s decision to rip off previous loyal customers,”read one posting.

Major Upgrade Cited

John Slocum, president of the Sayre, Pennsylvania-based company that makes the Blackthorne software, responded by calling the change a “major upgrade” to the auction assistant.

“It has always been our policy that minor and intermediate upgradeswould not incur a charge, but major upgrades may,” Slocum said. “We havebeen fortunate that we have not had to charge for an upgrade in the past,but that does not imply it is a permanent situation.”

Even so, Blackthorne is trying to soothe existing customers by offering aone-time free upgrade and a year of free service under the new eBay plan,which would be worth nearly $200 for the professional version. The companyalso noted that the software will now be supported by eBay’s customerservice.

The software helps sellers manage auctions, generate bulk listingsand invoices, print shipping labels and schedule future auctions. Since itsinception, Blackthorne software has been designed to work closely with eBay,with upgrades mirroring changes to the site.

Rent-a-Professional

In separate news Wednesday, eBay announced it would begin offeringauctions for professional services on its site through a partnership witheLance.com. The eLance site already provides a place where freelance professionals compete for contracts beingoffered by companies.

The service is aimed at what Forrester Research says will become a $220billion market for Web-based professional services within the next threeyears and seeks to take advantage of increased outsourcing of work bybusinesses.

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