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Digital Downloadable Goods...your questions answered

Posted by Laura on March 27, 2008 at 03:47 PM in Trust & Safety Corner | Permalink


Brian Burke, eBay's Director in Trust & Safety who manages the Feedback system, recently announced that Digital Downloadable Goods must be listed using the Classified Ad listing format effective March 31st.  This policy affects items like eBooks, MP3 files, content in PDF format, recipes, etc. -- anything that is "shipped" to a customer via email or download link. These items cannot be listed any longer as auction-style or fixed price listings.

The Classified Ad format is a lead-generation tool which gives sellers an "ad" that shows up in default Search results for 30 days. Currently, the only accepted category is Everything Else > Informational Products. (To learn more, read Help: Advertising with Classified Ads.)

The reason for this change is the concern about Feedback manipulation (or artificially padding a member's feedback score). Since Classified Ad format listings are not transactional, no feedback is exchanged between buyers and sellers and no feedback manipulation can occur.

Members on the forums, as well as callers into Griff's eBay Radio show this week, have been asking some good questions about this change. The Chatter team made some time with Brian Burke to get additional clarification and insights. Our Q&A with Brian follows:

Ab_brian_2Question: Why is eBay requiring sellers of digitally downloaded goods to list their items in the Classified Ads format?

Answer: Most items that require digital delivery, once created, can be very easily replicated. This ease of replication creates the opportunity for sellers to list thousands of the same item in an attempt to manipulate the Feedback system. It also creates a perception that even legitimate sellers of Digital Goods are manipulating the Feedback system. This dynamic -- real and perceived -- undermines trust across the entire marketplace.

We understand that digital goods, by themselves, are not the cause of Feedback Manipulation, but clarity of policy and ease of enforcement require all digitally downloaded items to be offered via the Classified Ads format.

Question:  Is Feedback Manipulation considered a greater risk than in the past?

Answer: The integrity of the Feedback system has always been a critical part of trust on eBay. As the company focuses on improving the buying experience, we're working on a number of initiatives to improve the integrity of Feedback and ensure buyer Trust. 

Today less scrupulous sellers have more to gain from manipulating their Feedback and Detailed Seller Ratings, which are also an important factor in a seller's performance in Best Match and their eligibility for benefits (like PowerSeller eligibility and discounts). This makes feedback manipulation an even greater concern for the marketplace. Not only is safety and integrity of the Feedback system an issue, so is the fair administration of seller standards and rewards.

Question: Couldn't eBay have established a minimum dollar amount for these listings that would eliminate potential feedback manipulation?

Answer: We considered that option, as well as a number of other alternatives -- for instance, we considered allowing only approved sellers to list these items. After investigating these and other alternatives, however, we determined that the Classified Ads format provides a more flexible and scalable solution for our sellers. The policy is clear to understand and follow, while improving marketplace safety and Feedback integrity.

Question: There is some confusion about what items this new policy covers. Can people still create auction-style and fixed price listings for digital media providing they send a physical CD ROM or printed piece to the buyer? 

Answer: Yes, media that holds digital content, such as a DVD or CD, is permitted for sale on eBay. However sellers may not offer the buyer the option of receiving the content via physical media or via digital delivery or electronic transfer. Any product that is offered to the buyer via digital delivery or electronic transfer must be listed using the Classified Ads format.

Question: What about custom services, such as website design services or resume writing services, which may include a digital deliverable, such as the custom web site pages or the draft or final resume?

Answer: Custom services, where the buyer and seller work collaboratively to develop a custom designed website, will be treated as a service, like they are today. A single template page, even if customizable (e.g. pick your color, “place your name here”) are not considered custom services and will be required to be listed using the Classified Ads format.

Question: I've seen some product listings where the seller advertises "free shipping" where it means "email delivery". Will this be allowed?

Answer: No. As of March 31st, any product listing for downloadable digital items that implies or suggests that the item can be received electronically will be a violation.

Question: Do Classified Ad format listings show up in default Search results?

Answer: Yes, Classified Ad format listings show up in Search results and are denoted as a “classified ad.”

Question: Should sellers end these listings themselves if they have listings that will run past March 31st? What about Stores sellers who have Good 'Til Cancelled listings for these items?

Answer: We will end these listings and credit their fees to these sellers.

Question: For those people who have never used the Classified Ads format, can you offer tips? What is the cost?

Answer: Select the Everything Else; informational Products category, then select the Classified Ads tab in the “Choose how you would like to sell your item” section of the Sell Your Item page. The cost of a Classified Ad is $9.95 per month.

Sellers can take advantage of the special benefits of using this format. For instance, you can combine multiple similar items in the same Classified Ad. If you sell standard listing templates, for example, you can include all your listing templates in the same ad. If you also sell eBooks on how to list, you must use a separate ad (you would likely do this anyway in order to target your buyers).

***** Thanks, Brian!  The Chatter team appreciates your time and help.

Special Workshop on Friday April 11 at 2pm Pacific time -- Join Brian Burke and host of eBay Radio, Griff for a special workshop on how to use the Classified Ad format to maximize your digital goods business.  Please stay tuned for more details on our General Announcements board.

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