I'm kind of new to all this, but it did not take much perusal of E-bay before I came to some of the same conclusions. Once I had sent Malle my $20, and received my samples, and then saw what the same ones were going for on E-bay, a person did not have to be a math whiz to figure out what was going on.
And ditto with the groups of 10 samples you see for sale. You know that someone on the inside has to be subverting the supply chain.
At the same time, I'll confess to buying many of these same samples on E-bay myself, simply because our local stores no longer have take-away samples, or they are of brands that are not carried locally at all.
One good point that this thread makes is that often a person can get samples of the things they want for less by writing directly to the houses than by purchasing them on E-bay. But the way things are these days, I suspect many people feel they might get the runaround if they write the houses, while all they have to do is push a button on E-bay and the samples are on their way.
I've not yet made any sample/decant orders from the folks here on Basenotes, and I know there's come controversy about that practice too. But if I do make an order, at least I have a good idea that the folks here came by their materials in a legitimate way.
All in all it's a sad state of affairs, even though there is something to be said for the pure adventure of attempting to get samples directly. I've only gotten samples from Malle, and I did pay a substantial amount for them, but I did not begrudge the cost and it was a heck of a lot more exciting than getting things from some who-knows-who on E-bay.
Perhaps if all the houses openly offered samples on their websites for, say, $3.50 a shot, it would undermine these E-bay sales ?
A wonderful and insightful post, and I'll be looking forward to seeing others from you. :-)
PS. The Pirate Explorer, yes ?