October 3, 2007

Internet Mooncake Mania

We received 12 mooncakes just before the start of China’s Mid Autumn Festival this year. Our mooncakes are beautiful, all round, plump, and imprinted with a pretty design on the soft outer crust. We were touched to receive them. But mooncakes are a lot like fruitcakes; their filling is dense with red bean paste or lotus seed paste and maybe sugar and nuts. So 12 of them can go quite a long way.

People give mooncakes to friends or relatives or work colleagues, and some of those mooncakes get passed along quite a few times before they find a final home.

So, what does this have to do with the internet, other than that I’m nibbling on a mooncake while sitting at my laptop and writing this little blog?

Well, it didn’t take long for the entrepreneurial Chinese to focus the power of the internet on mooncakes. Some people with too many mooncakes – or actually too many coupons, which they received as gifts to trade in for mooncakes – will turn to the internet to sell the coupons at a discounted price to those still in need of mooncakes. There is a good-hearted spirit behind that exchange, as many people can’t afford the $25 or $50 or even heftier pricetag for a package of mooncakes. It becomes a win-win for all parties.

Enter the scalpers, who conduct a less charming, large-scale version of online mooncake coupon bartering. Scalpers will post a message on a local website, asking to buy coupons at, say, 50% of face value. And then they’ll quickly post a message to sell coupons at, say 70% of face value. That doesn’t seem quite fitting with the mooncake spirit.