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Selling Cards: eBay vs TCGPlayer vs Buylists


I was thinking about MTG finance today and I realized that 95 percent of what is written on the topic is about buying cards. Common topics include like hot speculation tips, box EVs, collections, and so on. On the other hand, very little is written about selling cards. When you really think about it, this makes sense. Most of the people writing about MTG finance already know how to sell cards because they have been doing it for years, so the challenge is figuring out which cards to buy, not how to sell. Based on some of the comments to my articles, I'm not sure the how and why of selling cards is common knowledge, so this is what we are going to be talking about today. I guess you can consider this article an addendum to my recently completed collection buying series. While I think those articles did a good job of covering my process for selling cards, I didn't really explain the "why" behind the process. Let's start by looking over the options. 

Trading

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Personally I'm not much of a trader so I'm not going to be super in-depth on the topic. Whether you are trading in person or over the internet, the major benefit and drawback are the same. The best part of trading is that you get (presumably) full retail price for your cards. This means SCG prices, or TCG-mid prices, or whatever other metric you and your trade partner decide to use. This doesn't happen very often when you are selling cards for real money. Speaking of real money, the downside to trading is that you are accumulating more cardboard rather than cash. While there are others more qualified than me to discuss concepts like trading up, one thing I do know about trading is you are going to end up paying the piper (a spread of some percent or another) sooner or later if you decide to turn your cards into cash.  

Assuming a straight 30 percent spread, trading ten $10 cards for one $100 cards doesn't really put you ahead when it comes time to sell. Obviously the spread isn't the same on all cards (this is especially true of low-value cards), so the way you come out ahead is trading ten cards that retail for $1 (but sell for $0.50) for one card that retails for $10 (but sell for $7), or by trading three $50 cards that sell for $35 for one $150 card that sells for $120. 

If you are trading online, transaction costs play a much larger role and trading low-value cards into high-value cards is actually much more difficult. If you send ten $1 cards to ten different people, you're paying at least $0.49 each for a stamp, which equals $4.90 total (this is not to mention tape, ink for your printer, sleeves, and so on). If you use your points to purchase one $10 card (which is shipped to you for $0.49), you end up losing $4.41 in transaction costs which is significantly more than the typical spread on a $10 card. 

I'm not suggesting there isn't money to be made in trading (because there is), just that this type of a grind isn't a part of my process, so I'm not the best person to discuss its intricacies. 

Local Sales

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There was some confusion when I used this term in my last collection buying article. I'm not referring to selling your cards to your LGS (this is a form of buylisting with the benefit of no shipping costs and in-person card grading), I'm talking about selling to other local players or collectors. Local sales are — by far — the most profitable way to sell cards. The problem is, unless you own a store or have some other professional outlet, it's hard to move much volume in this manner even by using sites like Craigslist or Facebook. 

Suppose you are looking to sell a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which has a TCG-Mid price of almost $94, an eBay price of around $80 buy-it-now, and a buylist price $65. Now say you have a friend that really wants a copy of Jace, the Mind Sculptor to finish off an EDH deck. Your buddy happens to mention that he/she is going to order one once they get paid on Friday. This is the exact situation you are looking for. You can offer your Jace, the Mind Sculptor for a couple dollars below eBay prices (maybe $78) and avoid the shipping/fees/hassles associated with selling online, which is a win-win because your friend gets their Jace, the Mind Sculptor at a slight discount and doesn't have to wait for it to show up in the mail. 

This is even more important with bulk cards, although instead of friends, you are probably looking for people from Craigslist or Facebook. Shipping 5,000 cards is expensive, too expensive to be worth buylisting; most buylists pay $3-$4 per thousand and shipping in a Medium Flat Rate will cost you $2-$2.50 per thousand, you so basically end up making $8 for thousands of cards. On the other hand, it's not that hard to get between $5 and $10 per thousand bulk cards on Craigslist. It might take a little while in some cases, but it's often worth the wait since you don't have to pay fees or shipping, or lug a bunch of 40 pound boxes to your post office. I once shipped 300,000 cards in Medium Flat Rates though the mail; it was quite the work out.

These are the situations I'm talking about when I say "local sale", but again, unless you have a lot of friends ordering a lot of cards (or own a store), it's hard to make this your only form of sales. You just won't turn cards over quickly enough. This is the goal to aim for since it maximizes your profits, but instead of being my sole strategy, I look at local sales as a nice bonus when they happen to work out. 

The Big Three

Apart from trading and local sales, you have three main options for selling your cards: eBay, TCGPlayer, and buylisting. Personally I lean heavily on buylisting, but there are certainly positives and negatives to each option. In comparing these three options, we will be assuming that all of the cards we are selling are in near mint condition. If you are selling played cards, I think the scale tips slightly in favor of eBay (make sure to take pictures and list clearly), followed by TCG, with buylisting bringing up the rear simply because most buylist make heavy deductions for played cards (ranging from $0.70 to $0.30 cents on the dollar). 

Buylists

The biggest benefits of buylisting is you can sell your cards instantly (you don't have to wait to find a buyer) and assuming you are selling near mint cards, you will get 100 percent of the quoted value and you only have to ship once per vendor. Other than shipping costs, there are no fees associated with buylisting. Most vendors off a 20 to 30 percent store credit bonus if you are looking to buy other cards. You are also dealing with a reputable company rather than a random stranger. 

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The downside of buylisitng is that the prices can be lackluster in some cases. This is especially true of hard tomove cards, oddities and foils, low-end rares, and most commons and uncommons (with the exception of hot tournament staples). For example, the spread (the difference between sell prices and buy prices) on tournament staples is generally between 25 and 35 percent. This mean if you buylist your Thoughtseize which retails for about $2,0 you can expect to get between $13 and $15. For fringe or casual rares, the spread is often in the 50 percent range, so if you're selling your Asceticism which retails for about $7, you can expect to get about $3.50 from a buylist. Where you really take a beating from buylists, though, if when you sell playable but non-staples commons and uncommons. These are cards that generally retail for between $0.25 and $1.00, but are only purchased for $0.05 or $0.10 (many buylist count played commons and uncommons valued at $0.05 or under as bulk)

This last part is important: generally buylists are not a great place to sell cards of lower rarities unless they are high end tournament staples (cards like Path to Exile or Serum Visionsor unless the are literally bulk (selling a $0.20 card that no one wants and has little potential to increase in the future for $0.05 is a great deal, considering bulk rates are $0.005 per). 

Ebay

The great part about eBay is you have a worldwide market at your fingertips; the site has tons of users and there is a large market for MTG cards in specific. While more time-consuming than buylisting, listing isn't really that difficult once you save some templates. Again, this is assuming you are selling near mint cards; taking and uploading individual pictures of each card to display condition adds a considerable amount of time to the process. 

The downsides of eBay are two-fold. First off, you need to deal with fees and shipping costs. Ebay charges a flat 10 percent "final value" fee on each item you sell, so if you sell a $100 card, it is automatically knocked down to $90. Then Paypal (which is basically the only payment system on eBay these days) gets another 2.9 percent plus a flat $0.30 per transaction. This flat fee actually makes the selling of inexpensive cards quite difficult. While $0.30 off a $100 sale is insignificant (0.003 percent), on a $10 card it jumps up to 3 percent, and on a $1 card a whopping 30 percent. This is not to mention an insertion (or listing) fee, which can be another $0.30, depending on your how your account is set up (your first 50 listing per month have no insertion fee). 

This math changes based on a few things like purchasing a storefront, becoming a power seller, and various other criteria, but most of these applies to high-volume sellers. If you are just starting off on eBay or only sell a few things each month, you can expect to pay around 13 percent off the top in fees, and this doesn't include the incidental costs associated with shipping (most buyers these days are savvy enough to include shipping as part of the items cost). Personally I just figure that each eBay sale costs 15 percent of the total value. It could be as low as 13 percent, but all things considered, over the long-haul, 15 percent seems about right. 

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The other issue with eBay is fraud. It's not really feasible to ship a $3 playset of Dark Rituals in a bubble mailer with tracking — the shipping costs will equal the purchase price of the cards. As a result, you are sort of priced into sending with a stamp and hoping for the best. It is widely understood that eBay basically always sides with buyers in disputes, especially if you are shipping without tracking (and even sometimes with tracking). So some percentage of buyers (in my experience somewhere between 3 and 5 percent) will claim they never received the cards you shipped to them.

This number is reduced by tracking, but there are still squabbles about condition and other random things which end up costing you money. The feedback system on eBay also favors the buyer, as seller cannot leave negative feedback to buyers, but buyer can to sellers. Some buyers use their ability to give negative feedback to, in essence, blackmail sellers into giving them what they want. I vividly remember one person who bought a 5,000 card "instant collection" with 50 rares sending me a message saying, "the collection is great, but I'm pretty sure some of these cards are not actually rare (they were, but not all had the gold symbol), I really don't want to leave you negative feedback, but unless you send me some more rares (no offer to return the initial batch) I'll have to." This is a no-win situation for a seller; you either take a feedback ding (which over time can lead to your account being downgraded or even suspended from eBay) or you ship out some more cards and pay another round of shipping. Unfortunately, this situation (or similar) happens far too often on eBay. 

TCGPlayer

As far as selling your Magic Cards, TCGPlayer is the most well known site on the internet today. In many ways it's similar to eBay, although it has some tight restrictions on how many cards you can list when you are first starting out and the listings are more MTG specific and standardized (especially for conditions) so you don't have to worry about taking pictures. The market is very competitive, and especially as a new seller you are going to have to price at or below TCG-Low (rather than mid) to sell much of anything. If you and ChannelFireball are selling for the same price, in most cases the buyer is going to choose the established brand over a random seller. 

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Here again, the main issue is fees. TCGPlayer takes 8.5 percent total value fee off the top (so a $100 sale becomes $91.50) and then charges another 2.5 percent Paypal fee, both of which are actually slightly less than eBay. The problem is they also charge a flat $0.50 "credit card processing fee" per order, which means selling inexpensive cards individually is pretty much off the table. Sure, you can sell your Varolz, the Scar-Stripped for $0.45 plus shipping, but you actually end up losing money and time in this transaction. Of course this is different if you can sell several cards in the same order, but even selling a $2 playset isn't that appealing with $0.50 off the top. As with eBay, this flat fee is less of an issue if you are selling expensive cards, but it really kills anything worth less than a dollar or two. I should note that you can reduce these fees slightly by using TCG-pricing (instead of manually pricing your cards), but I'm not really sure how effective this is for new sellers. If you have have experience with the different pricing options on TCGPlayer, be sure to give your opinion in the comments.

Economic Comparisons

Let's discount buylists for a quick second (we'll add them in our next comparison). Assuming you can sell a card for the same price on either eBay or TCG, which is the better option based on the fees you'll be charged? Let's see. 

As you can see, everything else equal, the fees assessed by eBay and TCG are (almost) exactly the same for a $11 card (exactly the same for a $10.40 sale). Anything under this price, you're better of selling on eBay. Anything over this price, you'll pay less fees with TCGPlayer. 

But what about buylists? For this we have to deal with actual card prices rather than hypotheticals. Just a few notes on the methodology. First, this assumes all cards are near mint. Second, it assumes that shipping and transaction costs are equal. Finally, as for pricing, the buylist prices are the actual best buylist offer from among several reputable vendors (which means no fees), eBay prices are the lowest buy-it-now currently listed on eBay minus fees (12.9 percent + $0.30), TCGPlayer prices are TCG-Low minus fees (11 percent + $0.50).

Sell Price Comparison
Card Buylist Cash Buylist Trade Ebay TCGPlayer
Time Warp M10 $8.19 $10.67 $10.14 $10.16
Elspeth Tirel $9.00 $11.70 $11.01 $8.76
Krenko, Mob Boss $2.90 $3.77 $4.08 $3.22
Avacyn, Angel of Hope $26.00 $33.80 $25.79 $28.99
Blood Artist $1.25 $1.63 $2.44 $1.48
Jace, the Mind Sculptor $65 $84.5 $69.35 $76.99
Temporal Extortion $2.30 $2.99 $3.18 $2.61
Living End $3.20 $4.16 $4.12 $3.93
Sorin, Solemn Visitor $5.71 $7.42 $6.60 $6.82
Bayou Revised $115 $149.5 $104.22 $127.66

* An unscientific sample made by picking random cards off a list with the goal being to include various ages, formats and price points. 

As you can see from this chart, the cash prices for buylists are typically the lowest of the three options, with eBay and TCGPlayer battling it out for the highest. On the other hand, if you are looking for store credit, buylisting is almost always comparable with TCG/eBay, and actually comes out ahead in many instances. 

Of course these numbers are a little more simplistic than I would like. Most importantly, they don't include shipping which is another checkmark in favor of buylists (since you can generally ship many cards, even thousands of cards, in one order to minimize shipping costs). It also doesn't include condition deductions (favors TCGPlayer/eBay), potential for fraud (favors buylists/TCGPlayer), opportunity costs (not sure who this favors. With buylists you can get your money back within a week, with eBay you can get it back instantly assuming you find a buyer for the card). 

Summary

For me, it breaks down like this: All thing equal I sell to a buylist. It is easier for me and you don't have to deal with sometimes illogical/demanding individual buyers or fraud. I tend to sell playsets of low-end (but not bulk) cards on eBay since (generally) buylist don't pay enough and the $0.50 flat fee from TCGPlayer crosses it off the list. For expensive cards TCGPlayer is probably the best bet, assuming that none of the buylists are paying a comparable price. Of course, all of this is assuming you can't find a local buyer, which is better than any other option. 

If you are willing to trade card for card, always, always, always take the store credit. In fact, buylisting with a 30 percent bonus is pretty close to trade value, with the main benefit being that your trade partner has any card you could ever want, and in some cases even sealed product (and 30 percent off a booster box is basically wholesale prices). 

Anyway, that's all for today. If you have any questions about selling cards, or any comments on something I may have missed, please leave them in the comments. As always, you can reach me on Twitter (or MTGO) @SaffronOlive

 
 
 

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