Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Sniper Waits

I’ve seen too many plum deals get sniped out from under me. I’d be the winning bidder for days, and then someone else would outbid me within minutes of the auction’s closing. So tonight, I’ve run home from a friend’s house. This time, I’m the one glued to my computer screen. I’m refreshing the page. I’m watching for the slightest sign of being outbid -- that being a red “X” and a note, “You’ve been outbid.”

There are 6 minutes and 35 seconds remaining until this auction closes. I’ve got this little Sound Devices preamp, built like a tank, right in my crosshairs. It sells new for over $650, and right now someone else has the winning bid at $355.

I would not use it as my main preamp-mixer, but it would help in specialty situations, like maybe if I have to use a stereo mic and record that separately from other mics; or if I have to run mic cables next to power cables for a hundred feet, and I’d like to boost the mic signal to line level at the start of this run to reduce chances of picking up induced interference. It would have helped on this job.

To get in the game here in the final minutes, I enter a bid of $375. Now I’ve got the green checkmark and the note, “You’re the winning bidder.”

ebay is a little different from a live auction. Live, you raise your hand to accept the current price announced, which is raised gradually by the auctioneer. But on ebay, you’re not going to sit there for the entire auction (lasting several days) bidding and re-bidding on items as prices rise. Instead, every bid is understood to be a maximum price that you are willing to pay for an item. This way, you can enter your max price, walk away, and at the auction’s end, if your bid is the highest, you win.

But people are logging in right before the auction’s end and entering their bid then to catch the rest of us off-guard. We don’t have a chance to change our minds and raise our bids. I’ve lost several Sennheiser 416 microphones that way.

This past Sunday, one such auction on a Sennheiser 416 was ending, and I was determined not to let it be sniped away from me, as long as it remained in my price range. That microphone goes for maybe $1100 or so new. I had been winning the bidding at $600, and it was described as being in good condition by a seller with a good reputation. He said he had hardly used it. So, this was a great deal. I was willing to go up to $700 just to be sure I got it, but much higher than that I might as well buy the item new.

I thought the auction was ending at 2pm, and at about 1:55 Svetx said, “You’d better get that microphone.” I checked, and the auction had ended about 5 minutes prior. And the winner had gotten the mic for $615, just over my bid of $600. He had entered his bid a few hours before, so I could have easily sniped him, if his bid was not higher than the $700 I was willing to go.

See, you never know what someone else’s bid actually is. And they don’t know yours. Even sellers don’t know what buyers’ bid are. Everyone only knows what the current price of the item is, and that price behaves as follows:

If you enter a bid that is higher than anyone else’s, then the current price of the item rises until it is a little higher than whatever the previous highest bid was, and you become the winning bidder. If you remain the winning bidder until the auction’s end, then you get the item for that price of just above the next-lowest bid -- not for your bid.

If someone else enters a bid higher than yours, then the price rises to just above your bid and you are no longer the winning bidder.

If you enter a bid that is still lower than the existing highest bid (which, remember, is only known by its bidder), then the price of the item rises until it’s just above your bid, and you are informed that you have been out-bid. When I was new to ebay (a few weeks ago), I thought being outbid in this manner meant that someone was sitting at their computer waiting for a bid to be entered, and then actively outbidding it. But no, it’s just ebay automatically raising the price to just above my bid because someone else has already entered a higher bid.

Only two people have ever bid on this preamp -- myself, and someone else. I had been the first bidder, but for the past few days, I was letting the other person have the lead -- letting her think no one else was interested, that there was no competition. I became the winning bidder again only a few minutes ago with my $375 bid. The current price on the item is $360.

Now there is 1 minute and 40 seconds left. At this point, what are the chances of a new person entering the auction? If the other bidder doesn’t check in, I’ll probably get it.

Maybe the other bidder is an audio recordist for film/video production like me. Maybe she’s out on a job and can’t check in. She’s tramping through the cold with a camera crew while I’m sitting here indoors, in slightly less cold, my scope trained on the preamp that she wants.

But in the time remaining, someone could easily place a bid over mine and get it for $380 or so.

45 seconds are left. I think, really, I’d be willing to pay $400 for this thing which is over $650 new. And remember, if no one else bids on it in this last minute, I’ll still get it for its current price of $360.

But I shouldn’t bid an even $400. I figure, I should bid some odd value above that, in case some other last-second sniper is counting on the highest bid being $400 and enters $405. In that case, he would be told he was outbid, but at the last second he would not have time to enter a new bid.

7 seconds are left. I enter a new bid of $413. I confirm the bid. It tells me I've been outbid.

Shit! A sniper! I quickly enter $425, press “Enter,” see the screen asking for confirmation, click “Confirm" . . . and time has run out.

That other sniper got it for $418. It was a third bidder, someone who had not bid until then on the item.


Svetx said...

Elrond, you are truly a master of suspense. Darn that blasted winning sound wench for not being out traipsing through the cold on a 15 hour shoot! Darn her, by golly. But really, I'm sorry you didn't grab it. You were so deserving.

Wunx~ said...

Well, crap.

Maybe next time you'll get one for $250.