The typical way to buy stock in a publicly traded firm is to open a brokerage account and place an order. But for those who want to own just one ceremonial share of a company, there's an easier, if sometimes pricier, way: You can buy through websites that specialize in "one share" transactions.
The operators of those sites say they expect Facebook to become one of their most popular stocks once it begins trading publicly. That's currently on track to happen this Friday.
"It interests people who are not ordinarily interested in the stock market," says Rick Roman, the founder of GiveAShare.com. "We've been getting people asking about it for a year."
Sites like GiveAShare.com and OneShare.com are careful not to market themselves as places for serious investors. Stocks are risky, and any gains on a single share are likely to be tiny.
Instead, the sites cater to more casual fans of the companies' brands. They also offer something traditional brokerages rarely do: paper stock certificates, suitable for framing and showing off.
Gallery: Facebook - A Timeline
Companies aren't required to offer paper stock certificates, and a shrinking number of them do. Apple, for example, stopped issuing paper certificates in late 2010.
Roman says he was surprised and delighted when Facebook, which will trade under the ticker (FB), revealed in its IPO paperwork that it will make paper certificates available. (Citing pre-IPO "quiet period" regulations, a Facebook representative declined to comment on the company's decision to issue paper shares.)
Both GiveAShare.com and OneShare.com plan to begin offering Facebook shares for sale as soon as the stock starts trading. Like other retail investors, they'll be buying shares at whatever the market price is, which is likely to be much higher than the offering price.
Roman, who typically updates the stock prices on his site just once a week, says he expects to adjust Facebook's price several times on its first trading day.
Buying through a one-share site is generally more expensive for customers than buying through a broker. Both GiveAShare.com and OneShare.com charge a $39 fee for their services, which include buying the share and procuring the paper stock certificate.
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