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Insider: Bulk

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Welcome back, guys. When I was coming up with a title, I finally landed on "Bulk", reasoning that it was kind of fun since a pithy title of one word is the opposite of bulky, and that ironic juxtaposition was going to see me lauded as a genius.

In reality, I should have spent less time trying to come up with a good title if that is what I was ultimately going to go with. Still, while not as clever as I'd like, it does serve an important purpose and tell you in a very concise manner that we need to talk about bulk.

What's the Opposite of Bulk?

Skull!

Get it? From Power Rangers? .....Tough crowd.

bul

I think wanting to define the opposite of "bulk" requires me to rephrase the dichotomy as "goods" and "bads".

This series has dealt a lot with goods so far. How to monetize your goods is pretty obvious. People want your goods and they make it convenient for you to convey those goods to them.

They create online buylists so that you know exactly how much they pay for each individual card. They travel to events like Grands Prix and pay a lot of money up front to have a booth so that they can buy cards from you in person. Let's be clear for a second--dealers are not at Grands Prix to sell cards to you. They will sell cards to you, and they bring a lot of cards to make sure they have what you want if you're in the market, but, primarily, they want to buy your goods.

If that weren't true, dealers wouldn't want to go to Limited Grands Prix because they sell fewer cards at those because people aren't trying to build decks for the event. Sales are gravy, a way to break even on the booth rent and have some more money to buy with. What do they want to buy? I told you; goods. Goods sell themselves.

How do we monetize our bads? Bads are cards that are not on a buylist or are on a buylist for literally one cent. It isn't worth picking, sorting, listing and shipping a card for a penny. The worst part about bads? They are the vast majority of the cards we come across.

If you buy a booster box of Journey Into Nyx you're going to have maybe one Deicide for every 50 copies of Font of Vigor. This week, let's not dwell on how to deal with that Deicide. Even if you're not doing it 100% perfectly, you'd have to be pretty terrible to botch it badly enough that you don't make a profit.

Let's talk about those Fonts, and what to do when you put them in a pile with your Chub Toads and Sandstone Deadfalls.

Dealing With Bads

First of all, I want to point something out that I am sure a lot of you know, but which bears repeating.

If you live in the United States, the minimum you can expect out of your bads is $5 per thousand cards. Some people locally will want to pay less than that, but there are so many people and stores who will pay that much, there is no reason to sell to people who want to pay less.

Do you live in the middle of nowhere? Make arrangements to ship at the next GP you drive to and it can be someone else's problem. Don't have enough to make it worth anyone's while? Sit on the cards until you do--they aren't going anywhere. Well, like, our collection's fate is bound by the eventual Heat Death of the Universe, but in the next year or two you can sit on some cards until we can find a way to deal them. Provided you do a little due diligence, almost all of you can easily get $5 per thousand for bulk at minimum.

And let's be clear--that number is pretty acceptable to me. Getting more than that is gravy, but I won't pretend getting only $5 per k is some sort of personal failure. Recently, Ryan Bushard and I pooled all of our bads and we had enough that a dealer (I won't say who because they don't need a bunch of people contacting them and saying "well, you did it for Ryan, now do it for me") drove to us and took our bulk.

The convenience of clearing out my basement in one fell swoop and investing no more time than it took to count how many cards I had (by "count" I mean "measure and extrapolate") made it worth it to ship at that rate rather than try to optimize.

This is great news, really, because it tells us that when we deal with bads, our worst case scenario is the same as my "screw it, just ship" scenario. Any work we put into optimizing is going to pay even more.

More Good News

Want some even more good news? As much as there are people lined up to pay $5 per thousand for bulk, there are other people lined up to sell bulk for that rate, or less. While the financial community is savvier than the general populace at dealing with our bads, having a big pile of Joven's Ferrets is not a problem unique to financiers. Some people have unrealistic expectations, and their Craigslist posts are always hilarious.

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Sometimes these people will fight tooth and nail, insisting their collection is worth no less than the $400 they're asking for three deckbuilders' toolkits full of basic lands and a Worldwake box full of dirty, torn Aura Gnarlids.

Sometimes you pay $10 for the box, pull out a couple Artisan of Kozilek and ship the rest. Sometimes you hit it really big and find a bunch of Tectonic Edges and Inquisition of Kozilek out of the "bulk" after the savvy seller carefully pulled out every copy of Selective Memory and sold those separately.

My point is, if you can move these for $5 per thousand, you should always buy for $4 a thousand and go digging for treasure. I have never not at least doubled up and I have occasionally pulled some ridiculous gems out of bulk. Since bads are pretty difficult for a lot of people to deal with, they are as easy to get in as they are to get rid of for a savvy financier. This turnover is the lifeblood of my business and picking a collection, even one guaranteed to be bulk, is a fun experience.

Keep It Separated

So I've established that it is acceptable to get $5 per thousand on pure, unsorted bulk. This is ideally stuff you have combed through already and removed two categories of cards from.

  1. Obvious Goods
  2. Cards that are not picks now but should be later

The first category doesn't warrant discussion. Don't ship a box in bulk if you haven't taken the Merrow Reejereys out of the box.

The second category is something I have touched on briefly in previous installments. Basically, what I do is check the buylist prices on picks from the sets I am sorting through to refresh my memory. Still, since I pick quickly and tend to overpick, I am going to yank out some cards that aren't on the buylist. If that card is something like Child of Night that I pulled because I was going quickly and didn't take the second it takes to stop and say "wait, this was never a pick, ever" then I can chuck it in the bulk box with the other bads.

However, if it is a card like Illness in the Ranks that I think should be on a buylist soon, I am not going to bulk it out. Instead, I will set it aside in a separate box. I make certain to keep the "shouldn't be bulk" cards separate from the bulk because once a card is in a box I am calling "bulk" it's in there to stay because I really don't cull through my bulk looking for stuff that went up. It's rarely worth the time, and you can avoid feeling compelled to enagage in such a fruitless exercise by having a policy in place to not put "questionable" cards in your bulk.

However, picking through bulk later and sorting it slightly are different enterprises, and I think there is a case to be made for sorting bulk a little bit if you're inclined. The reason? Not all bulk is created equal.

In Defense of a Rough Sort

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Shown here is the buylist for bulk Magic cards on Cool Stuff Inc's website. Cool Stuff tends to charge a lot of money to first-time buyers, but after you have bought a lot of money's worth of merchandise, stuff gets cheaper. Buying cases of booster boxes from CoolStuff before I could get them cheaper helped my friends and I rack up a healthy discount. Writing for Gathering Magic doesn't hurt me, either. If you're not inclined to buy from Cool Stuff due to the prices being pretty high, there is good news.

They pay really well, and on the weirdest stuff. For example, they will pay a standard $5/1000 on commons and uncommons. This is that "worst case scenario" I was talking about earlier. However, if you look, they will pay $15/1000 on just uncommons older than Rise and $10/1000 on uncommons from more recent sets.

Since your "mix" of commons and uncommons can be "0 uncommons and 1,000 commons" at other vendors, you can take 1,000 commons and 1,000 uncommons and get $20 instead of $10 if the cards are old enough. Does doubling up sound good to you? It may not seem like it's worth doing that picking, but doubling up is a nice way to spend your time as long as you can pull out the uncommons fast enough that you're not making below minimum wage sorting.

$6/1,000 on basic land is another good deal. You have to pull basics out of the commons and uncommons anyway, so why not jam them in boxes and get them ready to ship? Since most people have a hard time believing a site would pay more for basic land than for commons and uncommons, you can get basic lands for $2/1,000 (or less!) very easily. Just make sure you're shipping these cards in person--mailing a big box of basic lands, even at $6/k is going to be a wash very quickly, even if you ship flat rate.

I handle this by making arrangements to ship them my bulk uncommons at a convention. Cool Stuff Inc is from Florida, so most of the events in the Midwest are a no-go because they likely flew to the event and aren't inclined to pay the freight charges on a bunch of bulk. The best way to avoid that is to ship them in person, at an event where you know they'll have lots of room, lots of money and where they'll be there with the intent to buy. My suggestion?

Gen Con.

Gen Con is a perfect show for shipping bulk to a dealer like Cool Stuff, provided you contact them beforehand and double-check. If you get verification that they'll pay the internet buylist numbers in person, will be driving a van or truck home and therefore will have room to take the cards, and you arrange with them ahead of time how many cards to bring, this could be a good way to double up on bulk.

If you pay $4/k on 5,000 cards, pull the money uncommons, strip the basic lands and get $6/k, get $15/k or even $10/k on the uncommons and get $5/k on the commons, you could very nearly quintuple up when all is said and done. Not bad for a $25 investment and the risk of having your nipples added to some dude's nipple collection because you agreed to meet someone from Craigslist at his house.

The Final Count

I went a little long this week, which is my tendency. I think this is a nice place to break off the discussion because so far I have talked about selling to other dealers. Getting $5/k or more by shipping pure bulk to another dealer is perfectly acceptable, quick, easy and is reliable. You know what you're getting, what you have to do to get it and how often you can do it. Next week I will talk about getting a bit more creative, rolling the dice and trying to sell to the consumer rather than other dealers. It should be a hoot.

One last note, I mentioned "measuring and extrapolating" rather than counting cards in boxes. I tend to use any kind of box that is free, sturdy and on hand. This means there is no uniformity to how many cards will fit box to box. I "count" how many cards are in a box by packing the box as tight as I can. This means each row in the box will be a uniform length. I then use a card to measure how big the rows are.

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A Magic card's width is equal to the height of 200 cards stacked, or the width of a row of 200 cards. If you have 201 cards, you can try this right now. I quickly use a card as a ruler to estimate how many cards are in a row, multiply that by the number of rows and I have a count +/- 50 cards of the box.

You are so close that dealers won't expect you to count every single card, and won't do it themselves. Don't rip people off; underestimate so you err in their favor and not your own and they will be happy to buy bulk from you any time.

That's all for now! Until next week.

9 thoughts on “Insider: Bulk

  1. What do you use to ship the bulk? UPS flat rate or something else? Also what container do you ship it in? I’ve learned a great deal through this columns and thought I ask. I learned first hand that sorting by edition is MUCH better than sorting by color…

      1. Yes please.

        To add some value: In my experience you can ship bulk for about $2/1000 by using USPS LFRBs (Large Flat Rate Boxes). They hold about 7k and ship for around 15.50. That’s probably a no-go for most people selling bulk, a $2/k haircut, but if you’re selling non-bulk in huge quantities to a merchant, flat-rate is the way to go.

  2. Great article. As someone who buys/trades for bulk in the tens of thousands regularly, I find that most people are willing to accept $4/1000 for the reason that shipping costs are tough for lots like this. Also, if one were to take a bunch of bulk to an event such as a GP without prior communication, most vendors will only offer $3/1000, so it’s definitely important to make arrangements in the event that one would want to sell.

  3. I always use a tape measure to count cards. There are 80 cards per inch. It is much faster to simply measure each row, add up all the rows, and multiply by 80.

    1. That works well, too. Not everyone has a tape measure, but everyone has a card. It\’s a handy tool to have a tape measure handy, though.

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