Saturday, January 12, 2013

Ethics, Assets, and Transparency. Also - FUN WITH SOUND EFFECTS!

Before this latest rant gets started, let me begin by promising that my next post on here will have nothing to do with Proxibid. I don't want this blog to become nothing more than a one note song, and it's starting to lean that way. Also, I'm considering moving this blog from Blogger over to a new Tumblr account, mostly due to ease of use/convenience for myself. So that might happen.

Ethics, Assets, and Transparency.
Once again, for those of you who aren't following along in the Auctioneers group/forum on Facebook, a brief recap. There are two branches to today's rant, I'll list the two off, and then talk about them further down. Let's dig in.

1. Proxibid has launched a new sub-business, First Asset Partners. In a move that is shocking to absolutely no one who has been paying attention, First Asset Partners is going to have a focus on fulfilling the promises of Slide 4 - a topic I've already covered extensively on this blog. Here is a direct quote from their shiny new website's "About Us" page.

About First Asset Partners
First Asset Partners brings world-class technology and marketing solutions to asset owners seeking access to a proven, trusted global marketplace with deep penetration across multiple verticals.
First Asset Partners was created to address a growing need from asset owners wanting direct access to the Proxibid Marketplace. In instances where working with an auction company is not a viable option, First Asset Partners enables sellers to leverage the value-added services provided by Proxibid to secure maximum return when disposing of assets.
Powered by Proxibid, First Asset Partners is headquartered in Omaha, NE.

2. Jerrod Westfahl, CEO of Purple Wave Inc posted the following message on the Auctioneers group on Facebook, Wednesday, Jan 9th at 5:03 pm. Proxibid, in full on expansion mode, has decided to begin headhunting.

In the last few days, Proxibid sent the following unsolicited email to many of Purple Wave's territory managers and followed it up with phone calls from their recruiter:
From: Corrie Klostermeyer com>
Date: Mon, Jan 7, 2013 at 12:27 PM
Subject: Awesome Opportunity!
My name is Corrie Klostermeyer, I am the HR Manager for Proxibid, Inc. I wanted to share an exciting opportunity we currently have available here in our Sales Department. Proxibid is currently searching for top talent to fill full time positions as a Sales Executive, Direct Sales. These positions do not necessarily have to reside in Omaha.
Are you a highly driven, relentless, and enthused individual? Do you have a passion for sales and are able to harness that in order to achieve results? Can you support and promote a brand new, ground-breaking implementation of change to fresh audiences? If so, we are looking for someone like you! Our innovative company is opening its horizons in order to expand our marketplace and can use your help.
As the Direct Sales Executive, you would be managing and growing a portfolio of existing accounts, as well as prospecting and securing new business. Searching for high-value and specialized assets through relationship building and personal contact is one of your core duties. You would deliver world-class account management and sales operations support to clients across all direct sales programs while assisting the Senior Vice President of Sales with sales strategy formation to identify and address new market opportunities.
Proxibid is one of Omaha’s fastest growing companies. We’re hip, smart and talented, with a corporate culture to match. If you think you’re a fit, we want to hear from you.
These positions will fill fast so don't wait! If you are interested in this position, please email your resume to me at and we will be in contact. Thank you.
Who we are:
What we do:
Corrie Klostermeyer
Human Resources Manager
p: 877-505-7770
d: 402-715-4083
This seemed like relevant information for this audience, so I'm passing it along. I hope to see many of you at NAA's upcoming IOAC in Nashville.
Jerrod Westfahl
Purple Wave Auction

Okay. Engage rant.

First of all. First Asset Partners. Really? You guys named a company FAP? That is a softball. I could make a whole bunch of really obvious jokes, but think about it for a minute. What is the real purpose (in Proxibid's interests) in the creation of FAP? Stroking their own pocketbook? Beating off the competition? In all seriousness, this is a business created primarily to step between Auctioneers and assets that would have or could have been brought to market by selling it in an online auction without an actual Auctioneer. Completely self serving to Proxibid. Corporate masturbation. I take it back, FAP is the most apt business name I've ever heard. Also, look really close at the First Asset Partners logo. Use a little imagination. Seriously, I couldn't have made this up if I tried, folks - there is no way in hell this was an accident. Whoever came up with the name and the logo over there, bravo. You are the best troll I've ever seen.


The creation of FAP goes completely against the messages previously put out by those in charge at Proxibid. Specifically in this rant, I'm going to talk about some things that Tim Kryszak, Proxibid's Executive VP of Operations has stated publicly.

"It's our responsibility to bring those assets to our partners" Tim Kryszak, May 27th, 2012, 9:02 AM (Facebook post). When the original mess related to Slide 4 went down, Proxibid's short term response, was to create a badging system, in the vein of eBay's seller rating system - the eventual goal being that if you made the grade as a "preferred partner", when Proxibid sourced pools of assets that were not currently in the hands of Auctioneers (read: when they competed directly with the people who previously had sold items using their service for those very same items to sell them directly and cut their former clients out of the loop), those "preferred partners" would be graced with items to sell using Proxibid's platform.

*FAP* - Oops! Looks like you weren't "preferred" enough to get that tractor we just sold on for Farmer Joe down the road. Better luck next time.

*FAP* *FAP* - Whoops! Looks like that Dodge Ram we were gonna have you sell just got listed by us instead! But don't worry, here - have another badge!

*FAP* *FAP* FAP* - Phew! That was an expensive collection of Antiques we just sold on Proxibid! "We" in this case are Proxibid employees. Oh, but don't frown - we promise the very next time we get some assets in, you'll get first crack at them, "partner"!

Currently, First Asset Partners looks to only be seeking vehicles and equipment (rolling iron). If you are somehow under the impression that this will end with those two pools of unsold assets, and not grow from here to include all other types of items currently listed and sold on by real Auctioneers, you need your head examined.

Now that we've covered the Assets portion of today's rant...on to the Ethics section!

The NAA's code of Ethics has VERY clear terminology relating to the practice of corporate headhunting. Under the "Standards of Practice" on the National Auctioneer's Association's Code of Ethics page, it reads:

Members shall not directly or indirectly solicit the affiliation of an employee or independent contractor in the organization of other Members without the prior notice to said Member.  

That right there is open and shut. Having your Human Resources manager send out emails and place phone calls to multiple employees at a competitor's auction firm (and if you want to debate me about whether or not Proxibid and FAP are competitors for Purple Wave and other auction firms who are comprised of NAA members, BRING IT) is about as clear a violation of the standards of practice detailing solicitation as I can think of. 

Finally, a note on Transparency.
To begin with, if you didn't watch the video clip at the beginning, go watch it. I'll wait.

Funny, right? Ahhh, the 90's. Also, germane to the topic!

Okay. Back on track. Quick, another incoming quote from Kryszak!

We've been transparent about our mission to bring unexpected assets to our partners. We field a multitude of calls every day from individuals with comic books to coins...every thing in between- wishing us to point them to a professional qualified auctioneer. And, we do. For those in our network, they're well aware of this. - Tim Kryszak, January 9th, 2013, 11:48pm (Facebook post)

Real quick, just so we are all on the same page, here is the what the actual meaning of the word "Transparency" is.
a (1) : having the property of transmitting light without appreciable scattering so that bodies lying beyond are seen clearly : pellucid (2) : allowing the passage of a specified form of radiation (as X-rays or ultraviolet light)
b : fine or sheer enough to be seen through : diaphanous
a : free from pretense or deceit : frank
b : easily detected or seen through : obvious
c : readily understood
d : characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices
I don't think that any of these definitions allow for behavior such as dodging questions related to Slide 4, shifting business focus away from working together with client Auctioneers to sell assets in order to undercut them and sell those very same assets yourself, all the while giving lip service to passing these newly acquired pools of assets to "preferred partners" who have "badges" while setting up another company whose SOLE FOCUS is the ACQUISITION of new assets and the SALE at PUBLIC INTERNET AUCTION of those assets WITHOUT the inclusion of even YOUR OWN PREFERRED PARTNERS, let alone the original client Auctioneers, whose customer base you will now be directly marketing to in order to sell.

This isn't transparency, its unethical, in direct opposition to the best interests of the NAA and its members, and to pretend at being honest and open when we can look back at things you and other employees at Proxibid have publicly stated, and compare them to reality and see that they don't match up, is either brazenly cocksure, or pure idiocy. Maybe both.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Market Grab

Jason Nielsen, Proxibid's VP of Risk Management (seated center, with head hanging down) 
giving a remarkable public demonstration of the importance of body language.

Proxibid is at it again - this time, with a ploy aimed at sewing up as large a chunk of the market as they can before sour notes heard in public at the National Auctioneers Association Conference & Show in Spokane matriculate throughout the industry to all their potential Auctioneer clients.

Lets have a run over the basics quickly, and then I'll see if I can tease out some meaning, and insight as to the possible reasons for the decisions they are making. Finally, I'm going to see if I can make a couple of targeted predictions as to their next course corrections and possible avenues of action.

As I'm typing this, there is a fairly lively discussion regarding the announcement on Facebook, once again in the Auctioneers forum/group there - it hasn't reached the dizzying heights of the last big blowup - no one has as of my last F5 been termed a face eater or user of bath salts, but the night is still young.

So, why am I bothering to type up another diatribe? What's got me bothered this time? Lets set the not-so-wayback machine for 3 weeks ago. A sizable contingent of the entirety of the NAA had gathered in Spokane for the C&S. While in attendance, many of us sat in for a panel discussion regarding online bidding platforms - specifically relating to "Best Practices". During this panel, my father asked a question (at 7:08 in the video linked, specifically). He asked the following question.  

"Given that some online platforms have decided to allow non-auctioneers to access their marketplace, can you tell us if you own your data, and if you do own your data, does that mean that we, as auctioneers do not own the data, and furthermore, do you plan on allowing non-auctioneers to use your platform, to use that data, to sell goods?"

There were 8 people on the panel, representing CUS, Wavebid,, Proxibid, AuctionFlex, Bidspotter, LuJohn's, and RealtimeBid. 7 of those 8, in some form or fashion, answered that question with a "No". One answered "Yes". And in a sane, and rational universe, that would well and truly be the end of the discussion, the Death Star would fall out of the sky, and there would be happy little Ewoks dancing all over the place as the Empire was defeated. Unfortunately, much like Lucas releasing a never-ending wave of special editions and director's cuts, in our industry we have our own "Lucas" to contend with, and once again they have brought forth a new "special edition" deal-of-a-lifetime that is almost certainly too good to be true.

Fast forward to yesterday, August 8th. A post from Dana Kaufman on the Auctioneers group on Facebook brought to many NAA members attention, a new "Preferred Partner" program being rolled out by Proxibid. What does being a Preferred Partner do, you ask? Well, most importantly (to Proxibid) it locks you into an exclusive contract with Proxibid, during which you will not be allowed to utilize any other online bidding platforms. But it does soooooooo much more! I'm going to list the things they said it does, followed by my interpretation of what we as auctioneers can infer and expect from those bullet points. Here we go! (Their words = italics, my words = Red Text)

1. Special Rates For The Term Of Your Contract: Proxibid event fees and Internet Buyer's Premiums will be "frozen" for the length of your contract. With new products and services being launched regularly, this is a terrific opportunity to lock in pricing for up to three years!
There are a couple of things to notice here, first of all, "freezing" rates and fee structures for a period of "up to three years" implies VERY heavily that the average contract length will be a 3 year period of time, and that Proxibid FULLY intends to raise their pricing/fee structure within that period of time. This first point just, really reminds me of SOOO MANY POLITICIANS. This might as well be a giant neon sign flashing "WE WANT TO CHARGE YOU MORE!" According to Tim Kryszak, the actual contracts will run from 1-5 years. In fact, on a recent Facebook post in relation to the Preferred Partner program, he stated that the program does not require a 3-5 year commitment, simply an exclusive contract with a period of 1 to 5 years. Which is, in almost every measurable sense, the same thing. The only concession there is the length of time, and I will bet dollars to doughnuts, that the average Auctioneer signing up with this deal, will end up locked into a 3 year exclusive contract.

2. Access To Capital: Preferred Partners will gain immediate access to our capital fund to be used to help you secure consignments that were previously beyond reach. This is a unique opportunity that no other provider can offer. Each opportunity will be reviewed and negotiated separately with no guarantees. We will provide marketing materials to help you effectively communicate to your consignors the ways an asset can move through the Proxibid marketplace.
WARNING. WARNING. DANGER WILL ROBINSON! If the previous paragraph did not ring klaxons and alarms throughout your psyche as an auctioneer, or for that matter, as a business owner, you need to look at it more closely. Let's delve into this one, folks. So, they want to give all their preferred partners access to their capital fund, in order to procure consignments they could not otherwise procure. How, exactly, does that work? Is Proxibid under the impression that every auctioneer is selling items they have directly gone out into the world and purchased themselves? Or is this magical mystery fund intended to be used as a means of impressing potential clients? Am I confused, or is Proxibid offering to "Pimp my ride" so to speak? As far as I'm able to tell, what they are basically offering here is to fund an auctioneer's marketing campaign for a specific sale, or even to go so far as to loan funds to an individual auctioneer or auction company in order for them to outright purchase property (real or personal) which will then be brought to market via Proxibid.
I'm going to be perfectly blunt on this point. Back in 2009, when we had our big comic book auction, we did not have the initial capital to pull the sale off. That being said, we located private investors who helped fund the expenses which were necessary to make that auction happen (if you are curious, we ended up spending roughly $70,000 to fully market and run an auction of comic books which sold for a total of $1,072,000). Had we been "Preferred Partners" we would have been limited to running the auction solely through Proxibid. As it was, we held that sale on both Proxibid and iCollector - and of those two platforms, iCollector had more sales that Proxibid did.
Other factors which warrant much more in depth answers from Proxibid's management as it relates to this new "feature" include - what if the items purchased using Proxibid's capital sell through Proxibid for less than they were purchased for initially? Who would be on the hook for the difference? What kind of repayment is expected for these loans? What kind of APR is going to be given? Are these being treated as traditional loans? When Proxibid is determining what kind of investment it is willing to negotiate as far as loaning capital to an auctioneer for a specific target asset purchase or marketing plan, what kind of assessment of the potential market value of the item or items in question is being done? What kind of credential(s) does the property appraiser on Proxibid's staff hold? Will all the appraisal work being done by Proxibid torwards these potential loans be USPAP certified? SO MANY QUESTIONS.

3. Inclusion in Proxibid's new publication, Proxibid Iron: Proxibid will soon introduce a premier publication aimed specifically at equipment buyers. No other publisher in the industry has the ability to reach the level of buyer we are able to reach with Proxibid Iron. Because we pay close attention to online buying habits, we have been able to target our audience to ensure only the most sophisticated buyers receive Proxibid Iron. Our audience is comprised of C-level individuals and key decision-makers who regularly purchase heavy equipment and machinery and spend millions of dollars each year in the Proxibid Marketplace. Proxibid Iron will cover important industry news and will report on key industry trends and important market data that will keep C-level executives coming back monthly. Preferred Partners will have the opportunity to secure advertising spaces in this publication at reduced costs. Additionally, Proxibid Iron will be prominently featured on, providing you with unprecedented exposure to the Proxibid marketplace with each advertisement placed. You simply cannot find this level of exposure to the most important buyers through any other advertising source today.
Okay, I've heard of "believing your own press" but this is getting silly. Everywhere you turn, there is a resounding cry - it is the death knell of the printed medium. Proxibid's brilliant new strategy to market (specifically to market high end rolling iron and machinery)? A magazine. Right.
Understand this - I'm not denying that they probably have a very healthy contact list of movers and shakers in the buying side of this segment of the industry - we as auctioneers HELPED THEM BUILD THAT LIST. However, to believe prior to the first issue of this publication coming into existence, that it will be impossible as a Proxibid client to "find this level of exposure to the most important buyers through any other advertising source today" is ludicrous and idiotic at best. Hey, Proxibid - there is this fantastic thing called the internet, where instead of using dead trees, we can beam information into people's eye sockets using photons (yes really - that is nerd jargon-ese for what is happening AS YOU READ THIS SENTENCE!). I'm being overly sarcastic here, but really, this magazine pitch seems almost like a joke to me. And don't misunderstand me, I do believe that there is still a place for print media in the advertising of auctions - just not to the point where launching a magazine is the kind of thing requiring the singing of praises.
The key thing to take away from this bullet point from their announcement, is that they once again are making business decisions based on a single vector of their marketplace - machinery and heavy equipment. I guess I'm still underestimating how much the management team at Proxibid is afraid/worried about the marketing and auction sales figures over at Machinery Trader. Word is out that the current management team at Proxibid has an eye on their competition at Machinery Trader (their neighbors over in Lincoln, Nebraska), who have begun allowing individuals who are not auctioneers to list items for public sale/auction on their site. Fearing a drop in their market share, this precipitated nearly all the changes coming down the pipe from Proxibid as of late. This emphasis on heavy equipment and machinery sales is directly evident from this bullet point.

4. Referral Revenue: Preferred Partners will receive a share of revenue for assets or referrals brought to the marketplace. If you bring an opportunity but cannot facilitate the sale, you will still be rewarded for your commitment to the success of the marketplace.
Hey Kids! Do you want to be a Big Successful Auction Firm, but are still too tiny to compete for the really big jobs? Then come on down to Proxibid, where we will take opportunities and assets from auctioneers and auction companies who we deem inadequate to the task, and give them out to those companies or individual auctioneer's who are in favor with us according to whatever criteria we decide as a company to use to determine fitness as an auctioneer or company to perform the sale or sales. But don't worry about losing those opportunities to distinguish yourself or your company - branding is for the Big Boys - and at Proxibid, we like you just the way you are*! (*stuck in our pocket, unable to choose an alternative, locked into an exclusive contract where we can option your sales for our larger clients who benefit us more than you do, you peasant)

5. Access to Assets: Access to inventory and consignments obtained through Proxibid
...if you meet our requirements. Anyone who has been following the discussion relating to Proxibid recently, knows that one of their recent developments was the "Badge" system, 

which I still maintain is directly aimed at imitating eBay's "Power Seller" features, in an attempt to woo venture capital from outside the industry in order to secure financing for Proxibid going forward as they rather unintentionally alienate and wean themselves off their base clientele of auctioneers and auction firms. If you think for a second that those badges won't be brought up again when deciding which company or individual receives assets procured from Proxibid's clients to sell - in other words which company or individual Proxibid decides to play favorites with, you are in for a rude awakening. Remember, some sample requirements of these badges include shipping all items weighing less than 200 pounds in 2-3 business days of the end of a sale, charging a buyer's premium that is among the lowest 5% within their primary category. Both of these badges, as well as the Top Seller badge, are heavily weighted towards large auction companies with more employees and established business systems for shipping, etc. I fully expect the doling out of assets to be sold to function as a very sturdy leash in Proxibid's hands.

6. Access to Proxibid's Strategic Creative Services: Preferred Partners will have access to strategic services provided by our in house advertising and marketing agency. Staffed with industry experts,
this team is positioned to develop strategic brand management campaigns, custom advertising and more to protect the integrity of your company. Because of the size and scope of the Proxibid marketplace, our team is able to secure advertising at reduced rates you won’t be able to access
anywhere else. Strategic services provided by our agency include: 

a. Brand assessment: We will review your brand image, make recommendations and provide logos, Web site design and sales collateral to help you attract more consignments. This service is provided for an up-front fee, which partners will have the opportunity to earn back throughout the length of the contract through discounted advertising and marketing opportunities. 
b. Event marketing: We will work with your team to develop an advertising campaign specifically for an upcoming sale. The campaign will be tailored to meet your needs and will encompass advertising opportunities in national and international print publications, Web advertising and more to increase the number of buyers and your bottom line. 
c. Custom advertising campaigns: We will work with your team to create a custom advertising campaign to generate awareness for your business. We will develop a strategic media plan along with media buying and registration on your behalf. 
d. Advertising available:
• Rich Media Banner
• Google AdWords Management
• OpenX Banner Advertising
• Print
• Internet
• Television
• Radio
• Social Media
• SEO and Link Building
• Direct Mail and Custom List Generation
e. Inclusion in Proxibid advertising: Inclusion in advertising for the Proxibid marketplace (based on availability).

I have no doubt that Proxibid will work with their Preferred Partners to develop advertising specifically aimed at selling the goods they loaned those partners the money to buy...likewise, I have no doubt that the regulations and intentions of the teams developing these marketing campaigns will have a heavy focus on raising the branding and marketing direction of any and all campaigns undertaken on behalf of their "Partners" to spread word of Proxibid first and foremost. Don't kid yourself. Their primary goal is not going to be to talk about "Joe's Auction Service" who is now working with Proxibid as a Preferred Partner. While I don't see this being as large a problem when dealing with individual campaigns for specific assets (although, you should really talk to Robert Mayo about that) section A under this bullet point is the one giving me cold chills. Brand assessment. So, this company who I will once again point out is trying everything they can possibly do to minimize the role of the Auctioneer on their platform and maximize their own growth towards a more eBay style marketplace, open to all and inclusive to none (when it comes to sellers) - is going to "help you" develop your brand? I'm sure they have my companies best interest in heart, and will in no way shape or form use this to further their own goals first followed by my own when its convenient for them! Oh, and read it carefully - this service is provided for an up front fee which you CAN EARN THE OPPORTUNITY TO GET PAID BACK VIA DISCOUNTED ADVERTISING AND MARKETING THROUGH PROXIBID. Wow...what a deal - you pay them an up front fee to change your branding for your to better mesh with their platform, and in turn you can get a refund on some branded advertising you have to purchase through them at an unspecified amount and unspecified date in the future during your exclusive contract, which you cannot sell with anyone else for its duration. *SARCASM MODE ENGAGED* This sounds like the wave of the future to me, where do I sign up.
7. Special deals on Proxibid’s Premier Services, including catalog and clerking tools, inspection services and Web site development. 
Nebulous special deals on unspecified goods and or services to be negotiated at a later date. Oh, also, this is more stuff you guys who don't buy in and who don't sign up for an exclusive contract will have to pay extra for, I'm sure.
8. Increased Functionality: Enhanced reporting tools to access year-end sale data by category, showcasing sale price for all items sold in the Proxibid marketplace, at a reduced fee.

 9. Increased Security through MarketGuard: Preferred Partners will never pay for MarketGuard under the current contract.
Okay, pet peeve time. I'm going to use a hypothetical situation to better illustrate why this pisses me off.
Lets say that there was a fictitious company, Hill Town Auctions, who had a big baseball card auction, which they chose to hold as a live simulcast sale through an online provider, who we will call SchmoxieBid. And suppose that online platform did not bother doing even rudimentary checks to ensure that the bidders who registered through their platform were in fact, not totally bogus and fake, using fake names, fake addresses, and/or stolen credit cards. Lets say that one of these fake bidders then won a baseball card at this auction for $40,000. When Hill Town Auctions finally got into contact with this fictitious bidder, he simply emailed them and told them that he had been ambushed by a group of people, had his money stolen, and wouldn't be paying for the item. Hill Town contacted SchmoxieBid, to see if there was a way to track this jerk down & either get restitution, criminally prosecute (it was a rather large fake bid) sue for damages, etc. Unfortunately, at the time this bidder registered and this auction took place, SchmoxieBid had no systems in place for detecting felonious credit card activity. This unfortunate situation was remedied by actions taken by SchmoxieBid to pay for the difference in amount after holding a secondary auction for the item with the phony bidder.
My point here is that charging more money (to non-preferred partners) for as basic a service as MAKING SURE THE BIDDERS AREN'T SOME 12 YEAR OLD KID WITH A STOLEN CREDIT CARD is BULLSHIT. This should be an expected industry standard service provided by all online bidding platforms. Credit Card registration validation should be a granted at this stage in the game, not some kind of privilege for special members only, which is an extra fee to non-partners.
10. Free Event Consulting Opportunities: Proxibid will provide free consulting for your event – including logistics, IT needs and sales management – to ensure your opportunity is maximized. Our team of professionals has years of experience with bringing even the most challenging events online to ensure success so you can rest easy on sale day.
You will get sales calls from people at Proxibid attempting to up-sell you on extra special bonus marketing plans, in order to ensure their bottom line is maximized.
11. Dedicated Consultants: Beginning September 1, only partners will have direct access to a Client Services Manager available during regular business hours. Non-partner accounts will have access to our Client Services Professionals during regular business hours, for an additional fee.
Anybody else noticing a trend here? Either sign up for an exclusive contract, or you will have to pay a fee for ANY AND ALL INTERACTIONS WITH PROXIBID AT ALL. Imagine any other business attempting to operate in this fashion. Imagine you walked into your local grocery store, and if you weren't an exclusive club member (who could only shop at this chain, and your membership card would expire if you shopped at a competitor's store) you would have to pay to come inside, pay to rent a cart, pay extra for the cashier, and pay for the bags they put your groceries in. I'm guessing you wouldn't shop there, right?

They end this wonderful announcement by stating that there is currently no fee to becoming a Preferred Partner, but that you should hurry, because later they might change that and make it have a fee. I would believe it, they've basically added fees for everything else, why should joining up be any different.
I really can't stress enough how disturbing these changes from a company I used to admire are.

Going forward, there are a few moves and changes I expect to see. The most obvious one, is an upcoming announcement about an increase in rates and fees - they've telegraphed the hell out of that move just in this announcement alone - let alone the fact that I fully expect to see their subscription numbers drop as portions of their clientele wise up to the changes and abandon ship. With a drop in the total number of auctioneers using their services, moves like the "Preferred Partners" program are explicitly being designed to counteract any such drops in revenue. A two pronged response - focused on locking existing clients into contracts and seeking new investors is what I fully expect to see - a total and complete drive to sign up as many auctioneers and auction companies as they can to exclusive contracts, as well as a push to make their company as investor friendly as possible, with the end goal being to secure funding to last until they make a full transition into the slide 4 version of their new Proxibid marketplace. The end result being a complete opening of the marketplace to the general public - allowing any non-auctioneer to list and sell items in the marketplace in the same vein as an eBay style listing, without the direct involvement of any auctioneer. Of course, these items will be marketed to the buying public already populating Proxibid's marketplace - a conglomeration of bidders comprised of the former and current customers of all the assorted auctioneers and auction companies who have ever listed sales with Proxibid.

They have provided us with all the information we need to fully gauge and anticipate their upcoming movements. Now is the time for us to make decisions regarding where we want our industry to go in the future.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

And now for something completely different...

There has been some recent controversy on the Auctioneers and Auction Technology groups on Facebook. Much of this has been related to the Slide 4 debacle involving Proxibid's shifting market philosophy/business approach.

Recently, David Fuller, the developer of a Facebook social networking game called Auction Plums, has been making posts in defense of Proxibid on those two forums. In these posts, Fuller claimed to have held more than 10,000 auctions in 2011. This is an absurd claim. By stating he has held this number of auctions in one fiscal year, Fuller is claiming that his social networking game Auction Plums - a game featuring a virtual auction environment in which players bid on virtual representations of real world items with an in-game fictional currency - count as auctions he's held in 2011. This claim is both facetious and disingenuous.

The common understanding by a layperson, is that an auction is an event held at a specific time and place, where physical items, real estate, or intellectual property are sold, with the sale price being negotiated by an auctioneer, who is acting as an agent for the seller in order to effect the transfer of property to the buyer, or bidder. Whether this sale takes place on the internet as a timed auction, in person, or a combination of the two does not matter - the relevant items being that there is a transfer of real legal tender in exchange for some commodity - typically this commodity is a physical item. The "sale" of graphical representations of items in a virtual environment, purchased using a virtual currency, is quite simply not the same as a traditional auction taking place in the real world OR over the internet using an online bidding platform. Auction Plums is in Alpha testing. This is incomplete software, being tested on the general public via Facebook. It is not an online bidding platform - no real physical items or real commodities are exchanged via purchases made through Auction Plums - aside from the potential for participants to reload their energy and BidderBux (BBX) through the exchange of YET ANOTHER VIRTUAL CURRENCY, Facebook Credits (to be fair, when I clicked on the in-game purchase button to see if I could purchase BBX, a pop up window opened where it was possible to purchase them directly with a credit card as opposed to purchasing Facebook Credits and THEN exchanging them for BBX).

As a direct response to these claims, I decided to perform a full review of Auction Plums.
To begin with, I'm going to state my credentials, and why you should listen to what I have to say as it relates to both video games, as well as auctions.
I'm a professional Auctioneer, licensed in the state of Missouri. I'm a member of the National Auctioneers Association (NAA), and I hold the following NAA designations - Certified Auctioneer Institute (CAI), Certified Estate Specialist (CES). Additionally, I graduated from the World Wide College of Auctioneering in 2011. I'm the Comic Manager and Marketing Manager for Mound City Auctions, and have been involved in the business and industry starting part time 12 years ago, and full time beginning in 2005. I have performed hundreds of auctions - both in person and online - during that time. I've sold millions of dollars of real merchandise, actual commodities that people can own, not 1's and 0's on a server.
I bought my first video game console in 1989, when I was 6 years old, using my own allowance, and my second system in 1993, with money I raised myself by walking around my neighborhood and offering to paint people's home addresses on their curbs for $5 apiece. I am a gamer. I currently own more than 10 video game consoles including an NES, SNES, N64, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, Playstation,
Playstation 2, GameCube, XBox, Xbox 360 (all of which I use regularly). I custom built my own gaming PC - it has more than 1 TB of hard disk space, 12 gigabytes of RAM, an intel core i7 quad core processor, an nvidia GeForce GTX 550 Ti graphics card with 1 GB of dedicated video RAM, dual 20" HD monitors, a snazzy clear sided case, and a Corsair Liquid Cooling system.

My shit is hardcore.

I've been playing video games since I was able to pick up a controller. I own hundreds of them. As far as other "geek" cred goes, I'm a comic book collector and a bit of a comic book expert - having set more than 600 world records on the high sale prices of vintage comic books. I placed 50th in the world during the 2007 Magic: The Gathering Legacy World Championship Tournament. I have spent more than $2,000 on building a couple of Warhammer 40,000 army (click the link, its basically like grown men playing with sci-fi themed army men that you have to build and paint yourself - yes, it IS that sad. But fun). I have a 4 year long running discussion/argument going with one of my best friends about the nature of timeline theory as it applies to the Terminator movie franchise - this same friend and I starting writing a plot treatment for a 5th Terminator movie about a year ago. I spend my vacations attending various comic book and gaming conventions across the Midwest. I've memorized entire seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I have a level 36 Cyborg Bounty Hunter on Star Wars: The Old Republic. I had (I've since quit playing) a level 80 Gnome Rogue on World of Warcraft. I have played, still play, and am intimately familiar with more video games, board games, and role playing games than you are probably aware even exist. I am a geek's geek, a nerd's nerd.

In summation: I'm qualified to fully review this game on both its merits as a video game, as well as its relationship to the Auction industry.

Auction Plums is a social networking game, in the same vein as Zynga's Farmville, or many of the other games whose main form of marketing themselves is in the continuous stream of "achievement" posts they pump out onto the Facebook timelines of those who play them, drowning your Facebook home page in constant reminders that Suzy wants you to come see the sheep at her Farm in Farmville. These are the types of games that have only recently come to prominence in the realm of video games, being simplistic in their graphical requirements, and offering little in the way of depth or immersion. These games are basically the late 2000's and 2010's version of Solitaire or Minesweeper - contradictory by nature as they exist primarily as a means to kill time while you are already killing time by browsing Facebook.

That being said, I feel I should reiterate that Auction Plums is still in Alpha - there are features that are not yet usable in the game, which could improve it once implemented. I'll cover this in a bit.
The main attraction to games of this nature, is that they exist in nearly every iteration as a form of a neverending, but simplistic and easy grind - you end up repeating the same actions ad infinitum, generating a small cumulative return (making your farm look nicer, accumulating points, etc.). The better variants of this genre tend to exhibit a puzzle nature, or other form of simple yet addictive gameplay elements - for example, Angry Birds is a VERY simple game, combining the concept of gravity based combat originally appearing in games as far back as 1962's Spacewar! with a semi destructible environment, and a very simple narrative of the "rescue the kidnapped X" genre. Simple games, simply put, are not bad things in and of themselves - they have the added benefit of a shallow learning curve, granting them a certain ease of access to the public. However, in order for a game of this type to work best, it needs to have an addictive quality to it's gameplay - something which Auction Plums is sorely lacking. Stated succinctly, the entirety of the "game" portion of Auction Plums revolves around visiting the virtual Auction House, selecting an item from the catalog, and participating in a virtual auction for that item, where instead of having a pre-recording auction chant, the current bid is simply displayed on the screen in the form of a modified speech bubble emanating from the games auctioneer, Betty Botter. During the bidding process, resources appear on the screen in the form of clickable rewards - BidderBux, Energy, and Plums - the BidderBux are your currency for paying for the items, the energy is expended every time you enter a bid, and the plums are basically a graphical representation of experience points you collect in order to progress to the next level...a concept that this game wholly refuses to flush out in any kind of sensible manner (more on that in a minute). So far, this all seems fine...until you play one or two of the lots through, and realize that by bidding on the lot, you end up recouping a large amount of BBX. This is a serious departure from how ANY real life auction happens - typically when you purchase an item at an auction as a bidder, you spend money, you don't experience a net gain in your wallet (I feel like we'd probably have a few more regular bidders at our auctions if by bidding on an item, $20 bills just kind of appeared out of thin air, waiting to be scooped up from the floor). If this is meant to be an example of you purchasing these items & then re-selling them via an alternate venue at a profit, then that's fine...but it clearly isn't the case as the game itself shows, all the items you purchase are stored at your estate, where they are showcased in various buildings (house, barn, shed, etc.). As your in game character accumulates more and more value in the items they purchase through the Plum Junction auction house, your estate gets nicer and nicer looking - your trailer home becomes a doublewide for example. If you are keeping all the items you purchase, what exactly is the BBX that springs into existence at the end of the sale of EVERY item supposed to represent? I would strongly recommend that the Beta version of this game needs to include a couple of venues for reselling items your character has purchased in the auction house, in order to better showcase what an auction in the real world is actually like.
More importantly, after playing through a few lots in the auction house, it will become readily apparent that the truly important resource is Energy - required to place every bid, and the only way to replenish it is to either spend real money in the real world on more of it, wait for it to recharge slowly over time, or to recruit new players from your friends list on Facebook. This kind of tactic, recruiting the player to spread the game in exchange for an in-game reward, is a staple of modern browser based games, and in a large part is responsible for the barrage of spamming non-players receive when they log into their Facebook accounts. Not that this has been a major problem for Auction Plums as of yet, I'm speaking here in general terms about this genre of game.
A little note about the plums and leveling. For those of you reading this after looking at the post I put up on the Auctioneer forum on Facebook (most of you reading this, I expect) I'm assuming you don't have a good amount of familiarity with modern gaming. The concept of levels and leveling I'm referring to here is NOT the traditional "Mario beat level 1, on to level 2" type of thing. This doesn't involve a change of scenery in the game, or a new location being unlocked, or anything of that nature. In this instance, the "levels" appear to be intended to be used in much the same way as levels are used in a role playing game - increasing your level makes your character stronger in some fashion (typically through increased health, increased damage, increased resources, or new abilities). This is poorly implemented in Auction Plums. What this game needs is a clearer sense of growth potential for these levels, in order to grant motivation to its players to keep playing the game (aside from getting out of that doublewide and into a ranch). Benchmarks, or unlockable abilities (for example, quicker regeneration time on energy, or maybe a once per day usable ability to "sneak" a bid in so the other computer generated auction participants don't know who bid, causing them to be confused and delaying their response time to bid themselves by a few seconds). Little improvements in this area would go a long way toward making this into an actual game, as opposed to the current snoozefest it is.

The main screen of the game shows the Plum Junction town circle? Whatever. In it there are 4 buildings - the Auction House, the Proxibid Auction Showcase (coming soon!), the Town Hall (coming soon!), and Price Finders (coming soon!). As you've probably already figured out, only the Auction Hall works. Since there isn't any written information provided about these other three game locations in the games help file, I'm going to have to make educated guesses as to what they will eventually become once this game moves from Alpha to Beta to Actually a Damn Game that People will Play.

The Proxibid Auction Showcase sounds to me as if it will likely be a portal showing current and recent listings of items sold in real auctions on Proxibid.

Town Hall seems likely to be a place to meet with and interact with the avatars of other people playing Auction Plums.

Price Finders seems like it will function as a search engine for real world auction results for real world auctions...which would be somewhat impressive if the people at Real Plums can bring it to fruition (something I don't see as being very likely - the real world resources necessary to make this a fully fleshed out real time database of prices realized means that it will have to by its very nature either have an extremely limited scope on what it holds pricing information on, or it will become an ENORMOUS time sink for the poor sap tasked with maintaining accurate records for anything and everything sold at auction anywhere all the time).

Last, and least, I want to touch on the graphical qualities of this game. As a Facebook browser based game, the graphics are pretty much exactly what you would and should expect - cartoony, cutesy, super-deformed characters with giant heads. Nothing much to look at, but nothing much to complain about either. I guess my biggest issue is that I think Betty Botters' gavel-rimmed eyeglasses are kind of stupid, but whatever, that's just my opinion. Not a huge problem. The only other thing I can think of that needs to be included, is the ability to customize your own avatars appearance in the game. 'Nuff said.

The thing, as an Auctioneer, that I think we need to focus on in relation to this game, is that it will by its very nature, act as many people's first interaction with the Auction Industry - much in the same way as Auction based reality tv shows. It is not necessarily up to the task. I feel that with some refinement, and addition of some of the things I mentioned in the review, it would do a much better job of both simulating a true virtual auction environment, as well as stimulating players into actually wanting to continue playing for more than 5 minutes. Auction Plums is far from the worst game ever but it could use some upgrading.