The interesting announcement today is that eBay are snapping up Skype for a mere gazillion dollars. What at first seems like an unlikely pairing will undoubtedly be a very positive step in boosting the adoption rate IP telephony in general. If eBay has one thing, it has a mass user base of every day non-geeky folk – just the sort of audience that would probably more comfortably take to a telephony solution than something like IM.
But the acquisition is more interesting than that. If you’ve been following eBay’s moves of late, you’ll have noted how they’ve been buying into classified ads in a big way. Phone calls may not figure as part of eBay’s traditional auction model (certainly not in an as obvious way a PayPal did), but telephony is a big part of the classifieds model.
Where this really starts to unfold, however, is when you consider that for the majority of classifieds companies phone calls are a major revenue stream. Typically, the phone numbers that are displayed alongside a classified ad (both online and offline in any newspaper version) are aliased through a premium rate phone service, and the classifieds company (quite legitimately) creams a few pence off each call. Multiply those few pence by a few thousand calls an hour, and you have a business. Of course with computer-to-computer digital telephony, those calls are free so there goes the revenue.
eBay are one of those companies that is so huge that it really doesn’t need to be generate revenue from everything it does. There’s nothing new about that, of course, as the concept of generating custom and winning users from your competitors in order to later up-sell is well practised. But combined with the sheer dominance of eBay’s classified holdings, the introduction of free and easy telephony is really going to start hitting classified ad companies in the pocket. If, of course, that is their plan.
On thing is for sure though, eBay are really shaking up the classified ads space.