Whenever I run into someone who is selling their collection, I always ask them, “why?”
Most of the time, the answer isn’t what you’d think. Most people haven’t gotten tired of the game, or angry at Wizards, or wrapped up in a cult that requires them to divest all worldly possessions.
Most people who sell their collection do so because they did some math and learned that their cards were worth more than the rest of their possessions combined. Once you actually look at the numbers, it gets hard to justify having that much capital tied up in a hobby.
Even that long box sitting next to your desk filled with extra $2 and $3 cards is worth more than you’d think. And before long, almost everyone with a significant collection realizes this and reaches a point where they decide that some of their stock has to go.
In this article, I am going to discuss my favorite way to turn your cards into cash. If you want to learn how to navigate the murky waters of selling on eBay, read on! This article is for you.
If not, well, there are some other rants at the end. You should at least skip to those.
Buylists vs. eBay
I’ve heard other people tell me that selling cards to large retailers via their buylists is profitable.
I mean, I guess this makes some sense if you’re at a large tournament and there’s a ‘run’ on a card. Ditto at the prerelease where you’ve opened a hot card that you believe will take a nosedive. (Time Reversal, for example.)
In these cases, though, I usually end up trading the cards instead. After all, if they’re hot enough to command such a large premium from the floor vendors, I can usually get even more out of them at the trade tables!
There is also a large group of grinders who make bank at large events by studying the buylist prices for the vendors in attendance and exploiting cards that are worth more than they seem. Usually these are the higher-end casual cards that are worthless to tournament players.
If you can get, say, Felidar Sovereign at $1 in trade all day and sell them for $2.50 to a dealer, you’ll eventually make enough money to go home happy.
I never sell to vendors, though. I’m not sure I’ve ever done it. Even though it often makes sense from a profit vs. effort perspective, I usually just opt for the maximum cash return. Since most of the cards I acquire come from collections I buy, the additional money I make by making the eBay push is often the entirety of my profits. $4-$5 a lot doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up quick.
Which route should you take? Let’s examine a card and see how our profits break down.
Case Study: Goblin Guide
What is a playset of Goblin Guide worth?
On Channel Fireball, Goblin Guide sells for $6.99. That puts a playset at $27.96, plus tax and shipping. If I didn’t live in CA, I wouldn’t have to pay the state sales tax, so I’ll ignore that for now and factor in the cheapest shipping cost of $2.97. That puts the full cost of the playset at $30.93.
On eBay, the cheapest Buy it Now price for a set of Goblin Guides is $24.00 plus $2.50 shipping. This puts the total cost of the set at $26.50 – about 15% cheaper than Channel Fireball. Of course, instead of getting Channel Fireball’s guarantee of quality, you’re trusting eBay user ‘arcterus’ and his 160 feedback.
If I wanted to sell my set of Goblin Guides to Channel Fireball, they would pay me $4 each, or a total of $16 cash. Assuming the cheapest possible shipping method (a $0.44 cent stamp, top loader, and envelope) I would end up getting about $15.25 for the set.
I personally sold a set of Goblin Guides on eBay last weekend, for $24.99 plus $1.99 shipping. But how much did I actually get for the item? Let’s find out:
Goblin Guide x4
$24.99 – Sale Price of Auction
$1.99 – Shipping Credit
– $0.50 – Auction Listing Insertion Fee
– $2.99 – eBay Final Value Fee (12.0 % of Final Sale Price)
– 0.78 – PayPal Payment Received Fee (2.9% of Sale Price + Shipping Price)
-1.71 – First Class Parcel Mailing Fee
-0.80 – Delivery Confirmation Fee
~-0.20 – Top Loader + Envelope
Total Value = $20.00
This is about 24% more than Channel Fireball will pay me, which makes it fairly attractive for me to use eBay instead. Of course, since they offer 30% more in trade value, I would absolutely ship the cards to the store if I were going to just turn around and buy more cards at retail. That’s something important to keep in mind.
There’s another reason to opt for eBay over store buylists: condition.
While stores will often decrease the value of a card significantly based on condition – and often won’t take played cards at all – it’s fair game on eBay. Unless you’re dealing with truly expensive bits of cardboard, most buyers will pay the same for your playsets of staples regardless of how dinged up they are. Since most of my stock comes from collections, I’d guess over 50% of my cards would be rejected by buylists. I don’t have to worry about that on eBay.
Before you sell your cards, you’ll want to make sure you have the following supplies:
– A packing tape dispenser
– Rolls of clear packing tape
– Several boxes of small white security envelopes
– A box of large manila envelopes
– A dozen or so small bubble mailers
– A very, very good black ink pen
– Address labels/Address stamp (optional, but helpful)
– Several boxes of top loaders
– Several packets of penny sleeves
– Some clean cardboard long boxes
– USPS Delivery Confirmation, Customs, and Registered Mail forms
– USPS Flat Rate boxes (all sizes)
– Several booklets of US 0.44 “forever” stamps
– A computer equipped with bulk eBay listing software
The packing tape, dispenser, pen, and all the envelopes can be acquired at Staples or any office supply store. Don’t rely on small rolls of scotch tape – you want the industrial strength stuff.
The top loaders, penny sleeves, and long boxes are easy enough to get at your local game store or anywhere else you buy Magic cards.
The USPS forms and boxes are completely free at your post office. They are usually out on display, and if not you can ask for them.
The software is the tricky part, but it will save you a pile of time while making your auctions look great. The only one I’ve ever been fully satisfied with is Garage Sale, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. The only issue? It’s Mac only. If anyone knows a great one for the PC, please post it in the comments.
What the software will do is allow you to make a template and copy it multiple times before listing. That way, you can ‘build’ all 200+ auctions you’re going to list at once, and then put them up together. eBay’s web interface is glacial in comparison, and you’ll be spending much of your time re-doing your work over and over again.
Once you have your supplies, you’re ready to start researching and creating your auctions.
Formatting your Auctions
The way I operate, my first playset of any card I acquire (that isn’t Standard legal) goes in my set binders for keeps. Any after that go in my trade binder.
However, if I end up with a playset of that card, I’ll stick the full set in a penny sleeve and put it in my eBay box. When I reach critical mass, up they go.
While some Commander cards sell better individually, most cards command a premium if you can offer a full playset. It also helps keep your time investment down – shipping 4 cards at once is a lot easier than shipping four cards individually.
If you’re selling as a set, make sure you have both “4x” and “x4” in your auction title. People search for playsets both ways, and you want to make sure they see your cards.
Otherwise, make sure the words “Magic” and “Cards” are in there, as well as “MTG”. Beyond that, it’s less important. Most people won’t search by the name of the card’s set unless they’re after a specific version, like Tempest Reflecting Pools vs. Shadowmoor ones.
If you are using auction style listings, make sure to ‘feature’ your best one, and make a big deal in the write-up about how they can view your other items. This will attract bidders to everything else you’ve got for sale.
If you’re using Buy it Now, there is no need to waste any money on any of the extras.
If you’re selling a $100+ old card, make sure you provide a scan or picture of the front and back of the card. If you’re not, though, don’t waste your time – provide a grade from Poor to Near Mint, and then use a stock photo of the card.
Beyond that, you’re all good. See? This eBay thing is easy!
Auction-Style Listings vs. Buy-It-Now
I used to sell all my cards via auction style listings, obsessing over the best time of the week to close. (My default? Sunday between 5-7 PM PST.)
Then I started to look at the way that I and everyone I know buys Magic cards and changed my tune.
For better or worse, we live in an age of unparalleled instant gratification. While I live with the fact that it takes a long time to get an item I ordered online, I can’t think of the last time I actually *bid* on an eBay auction instead of using the Buy it Now feature. I’m too impatient to hold out for a winning bid that I might not even get.
And I’m about as big a bargain hunter as you get!
In the end, that’s the problem: the only people with the patience to sit there and wait for auctions to close are the people who are dead set on trying to score the best possible deal. While they’ll help keep a set of fetchlands from closing under $20, their top dollar is pretty much spot on with the Channel Fireball buylist price.
This sucks for you.
The people you want to attract are the impulse buyers. They’ll be brewing up a deck and realize they don’t have that playset of Aura Shards they thought they had. If a quick check of eBay reveals that your copies are the cheapest Buy it Now option available, you’ll get their business.
The only upside of auction format listings? Reduced fees. The insertion for an auction starting at $0.99 or less is just $0.10 instead of $0.50. The final value fee is just 9% instead of 12%.
You can also hope for a bidding war, but I wouldn’t count on it. While this may happen with a super rare foil or foreign card, this will never happen with anything mass produced. After all, why would anyone pay more on eBay than from a major online retailer?
What is more likely to happen is your auction closing for an embarrassingly low amount, sometimes even less than a retailer buy price. This is often the case with sneaky-valuable Commander cards. Channel Fireball will give you $8 for you set of No Mercy, but I could see that same set closing out on eBay for under $5.
Shipping & Handling Fees
One of the biggest decisions you need to make when you start out on eBay is how much you’re going to charge for shipping.
The first thing you need to do is to stop thinking of shipping fees as shipping fees. In reality, these fees have nothing to do with actual shipping and often don’t even cover the actual shipping cost of the card.
Most buyers will search for cards by using the parameters, “cost + shipping – lowest first” and will buy whatever has the cheapest combined price. This means that shipping, to them, is nothing more than part of the cost of the card.
So how do you decide what to charge for shipping?
Well, let’s say the card you’re looking to sell goes for a total of $6.00 including shipping. If you list the card for $0.99 plus $5.01 shipping, you’ll only have to pay 12% on that $0.99 because final value fees don’t include shipping…but you’ll tick off the vast majority of buyers, because they won’t really get what you’re trying to do, and they’ll be very frustrated at having to spend that much on shipping.
You’ll also screw yourself if you offer a discount for multiple items shipped. (More on this in a second.)
Conversely, you can list your item at $6 and offer free shipping, but that means you’ll be paying the 12% on the full sale price of the card. It also may appear like your item is more expensive than others to less astute buyers who don’t look at shipping costs before pulling the trigger.
I personally charge $1.99 for shipping on a playset of cards, which I factor in to the price of the item. This allows me to duck the fees a little on the 12% without upsetting too many buyers.
I also give a discount to people who want to buy multiple items. I usually charge $1.99 plus $0.50 for each additional item bought. This allows me to recoup my listing fee while giving the buyers a pretty good deal on multiple buys.
Since I factored the $1.99 into the price of the card, they can often get mine for almost $1.50 less than the next highest listing.
What should you ask for your Cards?
I just make sure that I undercut the market by SOME amount – usually between a penny and 25 cents. As long as my item is the cheapest one, I win.
I generally list my auctions as ‘good ‘til cancelled,’ which means I am charged a 50 cent insertion fee for every 30 day period they are live. Near the end of my 30 days, I will lower the price on everything that hasn’t yet sold to make sure I haven’t gotten massively undercut since listing.
One eBay seller asks insane prices (Usually $17.72) for playsets of obscure crappy cards that are normally worth a buck or less. I believe their goal is to fool someone who went to eBay without first checking a store like Channel Fireball.
If you only see one listing up, and the price is much higher than you think it should be, make sure you do more research off eBay to see what you should list at. If I can buy the card here for a quarter, you’re wasting money by listing for $16.99 even if it undercuts the market.
Seller’s Security – You Have (Almost) None
Several years ago, both buyers and sellers had a reasonable amount of security and risk. Then the eBay/PayPal conglomerate realized something: if a buyer gets scammed on their site, they might never buy online again. However, if a seller gets scammed, where else are they gonna go?
Thus began a decade of sellers’ rights becoming increasingly marginalized to the point where it is laughable how much power lies with the buyer. I’ll tell you this:
As a buyer, I have probably opened ~25 cases against scammy sellers. I have won all of them with no trouble.
As a seller, I’ve probably had ~30 cases opened against me, accusing me of having not sent cards. I lost every single one of them.
If you go on eBay as a seller, you are presumed guilty unless you can prove innocence beyond all reasonable doubt.
Unless you have delivery confirmation on your item, any buyer can claim non-receipt and get their money back without any question. You won’t even get a chance to defend yourself.
There is absolutely nothing you can do about this.
It doesn’t matter if you have a postal receipt showing that you mailed the item.
It doesn’t matter if the buyer admits – in email – that his verified PayPal address you shipped to was actually his old house, and whoops, he forgot to change it.
It doesn’t matter if your feedback is nine hundred million and his is zero.
It probably wouldn’t even matter if he was an axe murderer who had already killed five eBay employees and was still out for blood.
He will win and you will lose. Every single time.
In the old days, you could at least leave him negative feedback so that the rest of the world would know that he scammed you, but a few years ago it became impossible for sellers to leave negative (or even neutral!) feedback for buyers. You can only leave positive feedback for them now, even if they are the crappiest buyer in the world.
You also can no longer require a buyer to pay for insurance if, say, they buy a certain number of items or the price of an auction gets beyond a certain amount. eBay has little robots that detect language like that in auction listings and will delete your posting if you try to protect yourself that way.
So what can you do?
Personally, I always use delivery confirmation on any order over about $18. While this fee comes directly out of my profits, it’s worth it to know that I have some protection in case something goes wrong. It doesn’t guarantee I’ll win a dispute, but it at least puts me in the running. With out it, I’ve got nothing.
For $2-$3 auctions, I will generally take the risk and drop my auctions in the mail unprotected. While I don’t generally trust people to be honest about receiving the cards, I am a firm believer in the power of human laziness. If someone wants to get a playset of Dark Rituals from me for free, they probably can – but I’ll make them fight for every inch. I’ll battle them on eBay and again on PayPal. They’ll have to keep escalating, and it’ll be months before they see any money back. Luckily, most people don’t seem to think it’s worth it to scam you for such a small amount.
The Shipping Parade
Honestly, if I could just slap a delivery confirmation form on a first class envelope and send it out, I’d probably use it for every single auction I sell. Unfortunately, you cannot get delivery confirmation on a first class letter – you have to send it first class PARCEL.
That’s $1.70 PLUS the $0.80 delivery confirmation fee. With shipping supplies, you’re looking at over $2.50.
To make matters worse, you cannot just choose to send your letter first class parcel!
In order to turn your ‘letter’ into a ‘package,’ you need to include an object that is wider than ¼ of an inch thick. A taped up wad of newspaper/phone book or a packing peanut will work nicely, but it’s still an interminable hassle, especially because you’ll need a larger-than-average envelope to fit all that plus the DC form on the front.
Some post offices will allow you to send any letter as a parcel as long as there’s a rigid/non-bendable object inside it (like, say, a top loader.) so your mileage may vary. My local post office does this, but when I try it at other post offices the desk workers often look at me like I’ve committed high treason.
I’ve been firmly warned that if the post office on the other end catches me doing this, they will charge the buyer for Priority Mail shipping if they want to pick up their goods.
Of course, in my years of doing this I’ve never once had that happen to me.
Moral of the story? Just put a packing peanut inside.
If you were to scan my feedback on eBay, you’d notice that one out of every thirty or forty buyers will mention that they didn’t like my cheapest-possible method of shipping: namely, a top loader inside a white envelope.
While I understand the appeal of clean, elegant shipping, the only important thing is to make sure that the cards arrive on time and undamaged. If you put your cards in a hard plastic top loader and tape up the top, they will make it to their destination unharmed. Bubble mailers are nice, but they are an unneeded luxury unless you are dealing with truly high value cards.
International shipping is a hassle and a half, but you’ll be good as long as you know what you’re doing.
The biggest issue with shipping globally is the lack of tracking data. If I send a package to Oklahoma and the buyer claims fraud, I have delivery confirmation to prove that at least *something* made the journey. If I send it to Japan, I’m out of luck.
There are only two methods of international tracking: Express Mail and Registered Mail with a return receipt.
Express Mail is the fastest, and a flat rate envelope is usually around $30, but it varies depending on country. You cannot send packages Express, only letters or small items that can fit in the envelope, so this doesn’t work for everything.
The other option is to register your letter, which costs an additional ~$18 or so. Doing this allows you to buy something called a return receipt, which is a small postcard stuck to the side of your package. When the package reaches its destination, the postmaster will stamp the return receipt and mail it back to you.
Make sure that in your auction write-up you specify that you will only mail internationally using one of these two methods. Otherwise, you are relying on the customs number to track your item, which is unreliable at best.
While I am unsure how PayPal or eBay will respond to a Return Receipt, I can tell you that scammers aren’t going to take the chance. If a buyer is willing to pay $30 for you to ship your cards internationally to them, they’re probably honest.
Selling on eBay isn’t for everyone. It’s going to get you maximum value, but you’ll be putting in maximum effort. If you, like me, enjoy watching copious amounts of bad TV while packing up auctions for hours at night after your real job, then I recommend it. I personally find it both relaxing and enjoyable.
If the thought of that makes you shudder, then I recommend selling your extra stock to a place like Channel Fireball.
Just remember: like anything, there is risk involved when using something like eBay. While most people in the world are reasonably honest, there are more than enough who will take any edge they can get. Cover your bases, but don’t burn all your profits in the interest of security. Calculated risk is the best kind of risk.
A few bonus rants today, since I have more to say:
On Legacy Prices, Take III
One of my twitter followers let me know that Star City has lowered the price of [card]Wasteland[/card]. I don’t follow every twist and turn in their pricing, so I don’t know how expensive it was last week. I do know that as of this writing, you can buy them on that site for $55 in NM/M condition.
If the price was higher last week – and I have no doubt that it was – it was probably due to an *actual* bubble in the market: Troll and Toad buying the card at $60.
After Star City jumped the price from $30 to $50, there were a couple weeks where everyone ran around like Chicken Little trying to figure out what these cards were actually worth.
This move by Troll and Toad was perhaps the most reactionary, but it was also the most telling. Were large retailers able to actually move the price point of a card without any outside influences, this price would have stuck. We’d be looking at $100 Wastelands for the foreseeable future.
But the market didn’t bear that out. Troll and Toad probably bought several hundred Wastelands, and then they pulled it from their buy list. The price then promptly went back down to what SCG had initially raised the price to. (Actually about $5 higher.) My belief is that the card will stay in the $50-$60 range until/unless Legacy continues to grow in popularity.
For those of you looking at this as evidence that the Legacy price increase was unsustainable, look again. The card isn’t even back down to where it went up to in the first place. This is an isolated incident and an example of moderate market correction after an insane price jump.
On the WotC Tournament Changes
Wizards’ addition of so many more GPs is a change that will have financial ramifications for the Magic playing world. The Star City Open series has shown us that having a large event every weekend speeds up the maturation of rotation formats (Standard, Extended) by a frightening degree.
In the old days, decks could rumble around below the radar for weeks at lower events before showing up and taking the world by storm at any given GP or PT. Now, tech evolves week-to-week, and the “best decks” seem very well known very early on.
With a GP nearly every weekend, this trend may become even more pronounced. I worry that we may never have another Standard season again that doesn’t feel stale by the second month in.
Of course, Wizards may count on it going the other way.
With so many GPs supporting Standard, Sealed, and Extended, perhaps they are hoping that this will further marginalize Legacy and solve the card availability issue by pushing the most competitive people away from the format.
In any case, the 2012 tournament landscape will look a lot different than it does now.
To me, though, the biggest part of the announcement is the elimination of the large regional prereleases.
It is the latest salvo in Wizards’ systemic alienation of the player base I like to call “casually competitive,” and it affects players like me in a major way.
I personally don’t really care that they are doubling the number of GPs. I’m sure you’ll see me at the LA GP 2012, but I’ll probably go something like 2-3 drop and then trade for the rest of the day.
I’m never going to win a GP. Not ever. I’m not a good enough player and I have no interest in putting in the time to become one.
You know what I did like, though? Prereleases. I liked going to a big convention hall and meeting players that I’ve never met before. Not only were prereleases the best events to trade at, I wouldn’t have met half the cool people I’ve played Magic with if it hadn’t been for those large tournaments. Heck, I met my current weekend draft group at the Mirrodin Besieged event! At GPs, all I meet are grinders trying to get a psychological edge on me.
Prereleases used to be like a Magic vacation – I’d look forward to them for weeks beforehand. Now? I’ll go to one of the same two stores I always go to. I’ll play against the same people I play against every single week. Then I’ll go home and get lunch.
You know what else I liked? Going to Pro Tour: San Diego. I had a front row view of LSV defeating Nassif during his fabled 19-0 17-1 run.
I will always have that great memory of being there, watching the American master vs. the French hall-of-famer and seeing the man in the yellow hat go down to Luis’s [card]Eldrazi Monument[/card].
I’ve seen bigger plays than that while watching the online event coverage, but I don’t remember them. Who cares? Anyone can watch online.
For years, I’ve gotten this sinking feeling that Wizards only really cares about two kinds of players: those for whom being a Magic pro is their #1 priority, and those that buy intro decks.
You know who went to their local Pro Tour, but didn’t play? Casually competitive people.
You know who loved large prereleases? Casually competitive people.
You know who loved MPR foils? Casually competitive people.
You know who went to events hosted by non-affiliated TOs? Casually competitive people.
I don’t care what happens if you hit level 4 of the pro players’ club, and I don’t care if Wizards releases Duel Decks: Thallids vs. Krakens next month.
I care a hell of a lot that Wizards took away four of my favorite days of the year.
Until next time –
– Chas Andres