Get ready for a bit of drama during eBay's ( EBAY) earnings report Wednesday. After the market closes, the online retail giant is slated to report earnings that, according to a consensus from analysts polled by Thomson Financial, will see net profit rise 42%, to 34 cents a share in the fourth quarter. eBay, which delivered results ahead of estimates for seven of the last eight quarters, is likely to beat the number again. But while anyone long the stock will be jumping up and down in glee, there will be a loud chorus of outrage among a group of people important to eBay's sustained growth: its customers. eBay, after all, would be announcing record profits less than a week after it substantially raised fees for selling goods on its Web site. The fee hikes range from a 60% jump in the subscription rate for sellers who run eBay stores (from $9.95 to $15.95 a month) to a doubling of the cost of listing items for 10 days (to 40 cents an item from 20 cents). Why is the company doing this? Simple, because it can. Its customers are paying for eBay's uncanny ability to draw in loyal buyers -- a feat that business-to-consumer companies have struggled with but one that's absolutely crucial in providing a community for a consumer-to-consumer site. eBay isn't just selling a platform for online auctions, it's selling access to a liquid marketplace that it created. Sellers may grow blue-faced in their verbal protests, but there's one reason why they'll think hard about staying with eBay -- the buyers aren't leaving. Analysts note that previous fee changes didn't dent eBay's growth. Steve Weinstein, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities, estimated that the higher fees will bring in $48 million in additional revenue this year, or 1.5% of its estimated 2004 revenue. But more telling, he says, is how eBay is trying to drive higher volume. "eBay generally implements fee changes to drive selling behavior that leads to better overall velocity of trade," Weinstein wrote in a recent research note. Last year, eBay lowered fees on its stores to draw customers in. Now eBay seems to be cashing in on those new accounts.