Q: What is the best way to add pictures to my auction listings?
A: There are many ways to get pictures of your products onto the computer screen and into your auctions. Which one is best? That depends on the items you're selling, your budget, and the quality of images that you need.
A flatbed scanner is one option. Scanner prices have dropped like rocks in recent months. You can find several decent scanners for around $100. In fact, frugal shoppers can find scanners that, after a rebate, cost $20 or even $0, nothing at all. (I don't know how much abuse these ultra-cheap scanners will take, but they'll certainly pay for themselves after just a few auctions.)
Any scanner can produce images good enough to include in your auction listings. (On the other hand, if you're a desktop publishing guru who requires pristine scans with perfect color, the dirt-cheap scanners will probably disappoint you.) The downside of scanners is that they can only capture images of flat things smaller than a sheet of letter or legal paper. This is great if you're selling books, stamps, or postcards; bad if you're trying to unload a used car or an extra kidney. (You can get around the problem by taking a photo of the item, then scanning the print.)
A more elegant (and more expensive) solution is a digital camera. A digital camera can capture images of just about anything, including that car and kidney. Good digital cameras cost around $400 and up. You can find cameras that cost less -- heck, I've seen $80 "Barbie" digital cameras for sale in toy stores -- but you probably won't be impressed with their image quality. Still, the results may be good enough for making pictures to sell bowling ball collection.
A relatively new option is to use a photofinisher that can send pictures to you online. Take pictures of your auction items with any film camera, then drop the roll off at a participating photofinisher. In addition to making traditional prints, the photo place will scan your pictures and make them available for download from a secure Web site. The image quality is generally more than adequate for auction listings.
This is an excellent option for occasional sellers who don't want to invest in any new hardware. It's inexpensive, adding a few dollars to the cost of getting your pictures developed, but frequent sellers may be able to save money over the long haul by investing in a scanner or digital camera. Several companies are getting into the online pictures biz -- you may have to call around to find a photofinisher in your area. Two choices are Ritz Camera's "Big Print Net" service (http://www.ritzcamera.com) and America Online's "You've Got Pictures." (AOL members can go to keyword: YGP for info.)
A similar technology, Photo CD, has been around for years, but never quite caught on. With it, your film yields traditional prints as well as a CD-ROM of images. The picture quality is excellent, but PhotoCD is more expensive than getting your images online. You'll have a permanent disc archive of your photos, whether you need one or not.