At the end of each semester, Bentley College sophomore Shahzad Zia usually offers his used textbooks to the highest bidder on the most popular internet auction sites. This spring, he plans to list them for a more exclusive community–and save money in the process.
Zia plans to post his books on College Junktion, an online auction designed by college students, for college students, that opened for business Feb. 18. Registration to the www.collegejunktion.com web site requires a valid “.edu” eMail address. Such addresses are reserved for people connected with higher-education institutions.
President, CEO, and University of Miami sophomore Jason Baptiste developed College Junktion with two friends living on the same dormitory hall.
The idea grew from a bulletin board Baptiste passed while going for a cup of coffee on campus. “There was this board with hundreds of flyers of stuff for sale–a car here, a textbook there, this TV. The only way to get exposure was this board,” he said. “I thought, ‘What could I do to make this easier? Why not create a service to buy, sell, and trade them on the internet?'”
It’s no longer a unique idea, with online giants Amazon’s and eBay’s massive auctions and the regional classifieds on craigslist. But Baptiste, 19, from Norwood, N.J., plans to combine auctions with networking features found on Friendster or thefacebook.com, which link users by common interests or acquaintances. (See “New tool connects chums and alums.”)
Within the next few months, Baptiste said, photo sharing, calendars, blogs, and user groups will be added to the site. Eventually, the friends-of-friends listed in a seller’s network could become a potential pool of buyers he or she can contact directly.
On College Junktion Feb. 18, Joel Glynn, Miami junior and company vice president, listed a textbook from one of his prelaw classes, Thomas L. Tedford’s “Freedom of Speech in the United States.”
If a potential buyer wants to know whether Glynn actually found the book useful before placing a bid, a link under Glynn’s profile sends a message directly to his eMail address, allowing him to respond without being logged onto the auction.
The key to this transaction is dot-edu; it works only for students, faculty, and university staff.
Coupled with an eMail verification for registration, it’s meant to work as an automatic security check. “If somebody signs up with a fake eMail address, it bounces back to us, so we can see who that is” and keep them off the site, Baptiste said.
That restriction defines College Junktion in a crowded internet marketplace, said Ina Steiner, editor of the online trade magazine AuctionBytes.com.
“In the time since eBay started–that’s been 10 years–scammers have really figured out how to play the system, how to commit fraud,” she said. Steiner said that online buyers are now asking, how safe is their personal information?
College Junktion testers at schools around the country praised the limited access, saying they’re more comfortable trading with fellow students with similar needs.
“The fact that it’s being run by college students is reassuring,” said Lisa DePascale, a freshman at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. “You know you can relate to the person that started it, and that they’re looking out for the best interests of someone my age.”
College Junktion initially included auction categories for class notes and term papers. Baptiste said he decided to withhold these features for now over questions of security and plagiarism.
Steiner cautions that a “.edu” eMail address alone won’t ensure safer online auctions.
“Users still shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Whether a college student is more responsible than anyone else is up for grabs.”
Compared with eBay, which according to a spokesman had 1.4 billion listings in 2004, College Junktion is starting small. About a thousand listings, mostly for textbooks and electronics, and a few hundred users were registered for the Feb. 18 launch, Baptiste said.
Investments from family and friends got College Junktion off the ground. Advertising, premium listing charges, and entry fees for promotions such as video game tournaments will sustain it, said Ben Horwitz, a Miami freshman and the site’s chief financial officer. Revenue from the students’ other eCommerce company, Miami Merchants Inc., will supplement the auction site.
College Junktion won’t charge for basic listings or take commissions from sales. Baptiste hopes to attract eBay sellers such as Boston-area student Zia, who said he’s switching to the new auction to avoid eBay’s increased fees on some listing options.
“It costs me an extra three to five bucks [in eBay fees], and I think that’s going to double, so that’s just money wasted,” Zia said.