Op-Ed: Facebook Hardly A Monopoly – Either As Social Media Platform Or Online Marketplace

With the exponential growth of internet-based companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google, bureaucrats – as they often do – want to implement stronger controls in the form of heavy-handed government regulations. They claim that in some cases these companies hold monopolies, but that view is misguided, as small businesses and individuals that use these platforms have myriad choices due to plenty of competition in the market.

I operate one of those small businesses. Here is how I ended up making thousands of dollars in revenue monthly on Facebook Marketplace during the pandemic.

It started, interestingly enough, on Facebook Marketplace, where I saw a listing for nearly 1 million sports cards stored in an old shed in a nearby town. Like many during the sports card boom in the 1990s, I collected the likes of Donruss, Fleer, Topps and Upper Deck, eagerly awaiting the release of the next sets. And like so many others, I saw the market crash due to overproduction. During the heart of the boom, it seemed as if there was a sports card store on every street corner, and, in fact, my hometown of Cullman, Alabama, and its 15,000 population once had three stores operating concurrently in the 1990s. But as the market dried up, those stores closed. The Athletic estimates that 10,000 sports card shops operated in the U.S. during the 90s peak, but only about 1,000 still operate today.

But a funny thing happened as the COVID-19 pandemic grew longer. People stuck at home and lacking live sports to watch turned to cards to fuel their passion for sports. “The Last Dance” documentary about the rise of the Chicago Bulls made already-hot Michael Jordan cards scorchingly popular. YouTube videos of collectors opening sealed boxes of cards hunting rare and valuable insert cards made even passive observers eager to join the gold rush.

So, I knew there was potential in those old, dusty boxes in that shed pictured in that Marketplace listing that popped up on my Facebook app in late summer. It turns out this stock – singles, sets, boxes of sealed packs and the like – was from one of those thousands of stores that closed as the market contracted in the mid-90s. I negotiated a price, rented a U-Haul and transported those cards from the shed to my garage, not planning to park my own car in there for months.

As I sorted through the cards I found some unexpected surprises – the holy grail of collecting in the 90s is Derek Jeter’s 1993 Upper Deck SP rookie card, as well as a number of Shaquille O’Neal and Brett Favre rookies and a box with some 500 Jordan cards. And those were just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. With an estimated 1 million cards, there were many gems to discover.

Initially planning to sell the cards on eBay, where I’ve operated a store for years, I thought instead to try a different avenue. Like many others, I’ve sold plenty of cast-off items on Facebook Marketplace over the years in a virtual yard sale, but I had recently discovered the ability to sell and ship goods nationwide on Marketplace, much as I could do on eBay. Investigating further, I saw that Facebook was waiving the usual 5 percent selling fee (itself a marked discounted of the approximate 13 percent sellers pay to eBay for commissions and payment processing) through the end of 2020 due to the pandemic.

But it got even better. With a bigger user base – an estimated 220 million Americans use Facebook (shipping is only permitted domestically) compared to 182 million globally for eBay – and fewer sellers for competition, goods sell for more. Even as I sold through the stock I had just bought, I discovered I could buy Jordan cards on eBay and sell them for two or three times as much on Facebook Marketplace.

The renewed interest in the sports card market combined with the growing popularity of Facebook Marketplace, plus its lack of fees, allowed me to make my money back on the initial investment in less than two months. And I’ve still got a garage full of cards and plenty of profits to be made on this platform.

Obviously, Marketplace is just a small portion of the services that Facebook provides. In addition to people simply using the platform for keeping up with friends and family, groups use Facebook to organize their memberships and businesses use it to market themselves. Recently, my church turned to Facebook to announce it was suspending in-person services through the end of 2020 due to a big spike in local cases of COVID-19.

But that massive user base has drawn the wary eye of regulators, as has Facebook’s purchase of Instagram and WhatsApp. The Federal Trade Commission and 48 states filed an antitrust lawsuit Wednesday that alleges Facebook is unfairly stifling competition by buying rivals and how it makes use of customer data to market its own services.

That’s a misguided effort by the government and misuse of antitrust measures. Just as Facebook Marketplace is hardly a monopoly in a world of eBay, Amazon, Mercari, OfferUp and its ilk, so is the social media aspect of the platform also not the only way for people to communicate with each other online. Twitter also remains popular for millions of Americans, for example.

After conservative voices felt their thoughts were stifled on Facebook in the run-up to the 2020 election, many moved to Parler as their social media platform of choice. That they even had the choice defines Facebook as not monopolistic.

Johnny Kampis is investigative reporter and a senior fellow for Taxpayers Protection Alliance. He is also quite possibly the biggest sports card dealer on Facebook Marketplace at the moment.

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