The Business of Magic

I haven’t logged in awhile. It’s not that we’re not busy, it’s that we’re doing the same kinds of things every day. Scurry home from the day job, eat some dinner and catch my breath, and then dive into Stone Valley. Every day it’s been Magic the Gathering. I anticipate many more days will be MTG.

The Easy Route?

The relatively easy thing to do, as most people do, is hook up with TCGPlayer and use their interface/web service to sell cards. It’s a pretty sweet deal for TCG, as they have the card database and pricing automated but all actual sales and issues having to do with quality and shipping belong to the individual sellers, not them. TCGPlayer takes a good chunk off the top, so while it is possible to make a little money going thru them, any kind of real profit is lost. The reason people go thru them is because developing those kinds of tools on your own is problematic, at best. Additionally, TCG brings “credibility” to sales, but any seller could develop credibility on their own without sponsorship. This is why I’m going to go my own way.

Developing a Pricing Tool

What does that mean for the poor slobs who want to sell cards on their own? First, it means they need to develop a good pricing tool. There are no free pricing tools of any kind and no tool works with WooCommerce, which is what I use to sell. So, Excel to the rescue. I used a combination of Index/Match with an array to develop a workbook to update the prices every day if I wanted to, though I’ll probably update them once a week. As each new set comes out it will take me some time to set up the new cards, but after that it’s a download from my store, grab the prices in a single drop, import into the workbook to update the prices, and then upload them back into my products in WooCommerce. It took awhile to find the right combination, but the whole process is very quick. It will take me a lot longer to build full functionality across all the cards I’m selling, but the test I developed with hundreds of cards worked perfectly.

The Photos…always with the Photos

The other huge issue is photographs. I have thousands of cards to sell. Stock photos from the internet work, but the buyer has no idea of what they are really getting. Yes, cards are listed with a quality standard, but one person’s Lightly Played is another person’s Damaged. So, by showing my own photos I can demonstrate the average quality of the cards. I can also take individual photos of the higher priced ones. I photograph on a black background to highlight any quality issues on the cards. The majority of quality issues can be seen by white specks around the card edge, which stand out with a black background. An example is the upper right portion of the card below – it’s in Lightly Played condition. In any case, the issue with taking my own photos is there are over 200 individual cards per set, and I have dozens of sets to photograph, resize, watermark, and then attach to the product in the Store. After all that work it doesn’t really matter if the photos don’t look good.

First Take

Here’s an example of my original photo.

Original Photo Setup with Watermark

Not that bad. I do not like the bright upper left corner though, it’s very distracting. I do like the the Stone Valley watermark in the lower right corner. As I’m using my phone to take the pictures, the phone shadow is over the card, not allowing the light to hit the card just right. After toying with light and distance I came up with this following basic image. I’ve resized it to make it smaller, but no watermark yet. I’m working on a better automated Photoshop action for that and am not quite ready yet.

Updated Version

Updated Basic Photo Setup

I’m much happier with this version, and will move forward with photos like this going forward. I might change the background to a different black surface, but the lighting is better, just one odd shadow in the bottom right corner. In addition, each card clearly lists the TM information from Wizards of the Coast right on the card, and my watermark is off the card surface to show that I’m the one that took the photo. All good all around.

What to do with the Bulk Cards?

The final task is characterizing all the cards. Cards are organized individually by Set, and each set is part of a larger group called a Block. A Block is generally between two and three Sets, which don’t count special Sets. As I mentioned earlier, there are over 200 individual cards per set. Each individual card needs to be counted, priced, photographed, stored, and then all the card information loaded to the Store. Not all the cards in a set are worth that much, I would say about half of each set is worth less than .20. So, there are a few options with the inexpensive cards. One is to pool them all and make Pauper decks or sell the cards in mass. The problem with that is…the really good Pauper decks (decks that only use Common and Uncommon cards – no Rares or Mythic Rares) is that there are pricey Commons and Uncommon cards which I would want to sell individually. As for selling the cards in mass, everyone is doing that – but everyone knows the cards aren’t worth anything.

I’m going to group the more inexpensive cards into sets of four – which are called a Playset because there is a limit of 4 unique cards (with few exceptions) in any single deck. I will sell these Playsets for a dollar or so as an inexpensive way to fill out a deck, especially a Pauper deck. Also, many people like the same card from different sets.

But Wait…there’s More

So, that’s what’s going on in Stone Valley right now. I would say that it has taken longer than anticipated to get to this point, but now that I have a solid plan on what we’re doing with the MTG cards we can keep moving forward. After all, no matter how many cards I have there is an eventual end to them. If we set everything up correctly in the beginning we will not have to rearrange later. There are other things afoot though, like Kickstarters, which I will write about soon.