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Getting with the Program on eBay

San Francisco-based Macromedia, whose technology has helped make much of the Web prettier, is set to offer a cheap, user-friendly makeover. The company is expected to unveil a new deal with eBay on Nov. 1 that will see the online auctioneer market modified copies of Macromedia's basic Web publishing program, Contribute, to eBay Stores for $99, about $50 less than the usual price.

Small-business users are already finding that Contribute helps them stand out in the crowd.


"It helps distinguish your store so people can remember you by what they see," he says.

Retailers will be able to configure their sites with colors, photos, and different layouts. Contribute also allows them to design their own home pages outside of, but linked to, their eBay sites. So when small-business users enter inventory on sites they may run independent of eBay, that information also shows up on their eBay sites. And when a customer makes a purchase from either site, it shows up on both, with all payments going through eBay.

The program has limits, but the big plus is that it's as easy to master as Microsoft Word. Up until now, Macromedia has targeted businesses, offering an easy way for, say, human resources managers who need to update their company intranet. "It helps keep people coloring inside the lines," says Erik Larson, director of product management at Macromedia. Contribute has sold 250,000 copies in the last two years, mostly to bigger businesses, universities, and government.


This deal will expose Macromedia to 200,000 or so small and midsize businesses, with eBay handling all the marketing. Contribute is one of three new business lines that Macromedia is counting on for growth, though less well-known than Flash, Dreamweaver, and the other ubiquitous Web tools Macromedia makes. By itself, Contribute is expected to generate up to $25 million in revenue this year, an 80% increase over last year. Widespread adoption could double sales of Contribute in just a few years, says a company spokesman.


The trade-off for Contribute's ease of use is a limit on how flashy the site can be. Much like QuickBooks, the popular financial-management software, some small businesses may soon graduate from Contribute, wanting tools to build a more sophisticated site. But analysts note that those aren't the businesses Macromedia is targeting. "It's the perfect tool for what they're shooting for," says Andrew Warzecha, senior vice-president at Meta Group, a research firm in Stamford, Conn.


Over time, if the marketing and support is there, Contribute could become a standard tool for eBay stores, contributing to both Macromedia and eBay's bottom lines. Now it's up to small-business owners to sign on for a makeover.
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