Last night Wendy and I were talking about my trading of Magic cards back in the day. I spent a lot of time swapping cards with other people to try to improve my collection and I am sure I ended up profiting at least $1000 off of doing so, possibly as high as $2000. I got quite good at trading back then and Wendy was wondering why I don't try to leverage that sort of skill in real life for real money. It got me to thinking about what sort of endeavour Magic card trading is and wondering if there is any equivalent that could be worth serious money.
The basic things that trading Magic cards has that makes it unique:
1. Differentiation of product. There are huge numbers of different cards and they usually cannot replace one another. This means that anyone wanting to be involved in trading needs a huge number of different products to satisfy all possible trade partners and needs to have a very good knowledge of the relative value of all those products.
2. Time and person sensitive value. Cards change in value dramatically from person to person and time to time. If a player needs a Morphling for their deck for the tournament they *need* it right now and they won't need it at all 24 hours from now. Also cards shoot up and down in value based on what other cards come out, tournament structure and what other players are playing so a canny trader must anticipate changes in value over time and be able to understand and capitalize on people's temporary desperation for a particular product.
3. There is always another vendor, and that vendor sucks. Card stores have huge stocks and players can always get what they want but their prices are high. A trader will often have no competition at all at a balanced price point but there is a definite ceiling established by the card stores. Thus the trader has to make sure that they make a profit on each transaction but also make sure they don't try for too much or they lose it entirely.
When trading the thing you need to maximize is the number of people you can trade with. It is critical that you be able to service as many needs as possible so that you can constantly make trades that improve your position. The best way to start (once you have the knowledge required to value cards effectively) is to establish a large collection of relatively cheap cards that are in reasonable demand. This is the most cost effective way to generate many trade opportunities. Once the low cost cards are covered you need to work your way up to more expensive and rare cards so that you can cover people that happen to want those and are willing to pay a lot for them. The eventual goal is to establish a collection containing every card so that no matter what someone wants you can give it to them at a price that works for you.
So, is there any sort of career that works along these lines? Initially we came up with art and antique dealers as somewhat comparable since they must know the costs of many different items that can have rapidly fluctuating prices over different times, areas and customers. Both of those need to have access to large collections of items because their customers' demands are often very hard to predict and being able to satisfy every bizarre desire means dramatically more business. I suppose you could do this sort of thing with any sort of collectible market if the market size is large enough - hunting through estate sales, yard sales, EBay, Craigslist and other sources of odd items could yield really great finds to someone connected with customers. The trick I think is coming up with a large enough customer base to support a full time vendor. There are plenty of strange collectible items out there and plenty of collectors but you need a huge number of collectors with a lot of money for there to be enough profit to support dedicated traders.