Every week, Gold Capped brings you tips on how to make money on the auction house. This article from inscription specialist Steve Zamboni has been brought to you by Seed, the Aol guest writer program that brings your words to WoW.com.
With its myriad of materials and finished items, inscription can be one of the more complicated professions for a crafter who's trying to track his expenses and profits (or even to know if he's made a profit at all). Herb prices have changed dramatically over the past several months, dropping to record lows as farming bots proliferate and climbing just as dramatically during the ban wave that followed. After months of being spoiled by a market overflowing with cheap herbs, many players stopped paying attention to what they were paying to make each item. Now that herb prices are climbing, it's left a number of sellers scrambling to reprice their items and to take a closer look at what they're paying for their supplies.
Glyphs and Ink of the Sea
Everything that inscription makes can be traced back to a stack of herbs, so all item prices can be calculated from the price of the herb. Each stack of the "good" Northrend herbs -- Adder's Tongue, Icethorn and Lichbloom -- will produce one bottle of Snowfall Ink and six Ink of the Sea (IotS). Each stack of the lower-quality herbs -- Goldclover, Deadnettle and Tiger Lily -- will produce five Ink of the Sea and half of a Snowfall. While seeming the inferior choice, these lesser herbs will often sell at a substantial discount and may be more efficient if found in large quantities; two stacks of Tiger Lily will produce 10 IotS and a Snowfall, a much higher yield than a single stack of the more expensive varieties. Lichbloom and Goldclover will usually sell for higher prices to flask makers, so they are seldom milled for ink. Given the large number of Adder's Tongue nodes in Sholazar Basin (256), it is the most common herb used for milling.
The price of a stack of herbs will vary widely from server to server based on the number of herb farmers (both human and bot), along with how aggressive scribes and alchemists are when buying them. If there are a lot of bots, herb prices may be below 9g. (I've seen them at 2g, below vendor price.) During ban waves, bot activity will drop and herb production will rely on the small number of remaining human farmers, causing prices to return their regular 18g price and often higher, even doubling again to 35g for a single stack.
For many professions, a rise of this scale would have a drastic effect on the market, eliminating profits and making many items too expensive to craft or sell. Inscription, on the other hand, takes these changes in stride. Even a massive increase in the cost of materials has a minor effect on the final prices. With herbs at 9g a stack and each stack producing six bottles of ink, each Ink of the Sea costs 1g50s. At 18g, the ink will cost 3g. At 30g, it rises to 5g. Even doubling the materials cost only takes away a gold piece or two in profit, a minor amount when the glyphs are selling for 10g or 20g (or higher). Now that the double-ink glyphs have been eliminated, the cost of each glyph is simply the price of the ink and a piece of parchment.
A stack of herbs makes 12 armor vellums, two from each bottle of ink. With 9g herbs, your cost is 1g15s (including parchment). With 18g herbs, the price rises to 1g90s. Again, we see that doubling the price of the raw materials has only a small effect on the price of the finished product.
Weapon vellums use three times the ink as armor vellums, however, causing the materials costs to rise sharply to 4g90s each. It's quite common to find these at a discount on the auction house from undercutters who have forgotten this and priced them the same as their armor vellums.
The Snowfall trap
In addition to the regular Ink of the Sea, milling also produces Snowfall Ink, which is used to make many of the inscription items. Many scribes who focus only on glyphs will sell their Snowfall Ink to make back some of what they paid for their herbs. Instead of paying 18g for herbs (which makes 3g ink), they will sell the Snowfall Ink for 8g and effectively reduce the cost of their herbs to 10g. This drops the price of their ink from 3g to 1g67s for each bottle.
While this looks as if it should lead to an extra 8g profit from each set of six glyphs, many scribes instead use this gold to lower their thresholds and allow for even deeper undercuts. By selling their glyphs for 1g33s less than they did before, they end up giving back the gold they made from selling the ink, losing both that profit and the potential gold they could have made from using the ink to craft other items.
Few scribes pause to think about who they are selling their ink to: other scribes. Alarm bells would be going off in other professions if a competitor suddenly started buying up your products, but many scribes base their entire business plans around it. If your competitor is buying your goods, it's often a sign that he's reselling it for a profit (or at least thinks he can). Many scribes who concentrate on low-priced glyphs will sell off hundreds or thousands of stacks of Snowfall Ink in their careers with little to show for it, and certainly with little idea of the potential fortune they've handed over to their competitors. (We saw the same thing when jewelcrafters started selling Dragon's Eyes, not stopping to consider why other jewelcrafters were willing to pay so much for them.)
Snowfall Ink, the joker in the deck for determining costs, is used for crafting three items: off-hand frills, Runescrolls of Fortitude and Darkmoon cards.
There are two epic off-hand frills made from Snowfall Ink, both for casters: Faces of Doom and the Iron-Bound Tome. Each requires five Snowfall Ink. If you make your own ink, your cost is about 30g for the basic materials for each one. These books routinely sell for over 200g each, making far more profit than selling the ink would have made. A scribe who buys Snowfall Ink will pay 70g to make each book, which is still an excellent source of income.
Each bottle of ink can also make five Runescrolls of Fortitude, which are extremely useful when there's no priest in the party. Made from regular parchments, these cost you 40s each, and you come out ahead if they sell for more than 2g each. It's quite common for these to sell for multiple times that amount.
Using your own Snowfalls, Darkmoon cards cost 69g to make (three eternals and some ink). If you're buying someone else's, the price rises to 117g for each card. While seemingly expensive to make, each card has an average selling price close to 200g when produced in large numbers and assembled into completed decks and trinkets. In this case, each bottle of Snowfall generates more than 20g in profits, far more than its regular price and often more than what the glyphs from the same stack of herbs sell for.
When focusing on making ink for cards, there are a couple of different ways to look at the numbers. For card makers, it requires six stacks of herbs (plus three eternals) to get the Snowfalls for make each card, so producing a standard 32-card set of decks will require 192 stacks of herbs and produce 1,056 "extra" IotS for glyphs. A high-volume glyph maker crafting thousands of glyphs will essentially receive a full set of Darkmoon decks for every 1,056 glyphs he makes, which will make him far more than the 1,536g he would have made from selling off his inks (and probably more than he made from the glyph themselves).
If you really, really, really don't like selling glyphs, it is possible to skip them entirely and trade your unwanted Ink of the Sea to Jessica for more Snowfall Ink. With this method, each card now only requires four stacks of herbs instead of six -- the four stacks mill into four Snowfalls and 24 Ink of the Sea, 20 of which are traded to make the two missing Snowfalls. While this method is a bit more expensive than buying the ink from another scribe, it does have the advantage of not giving your competition a couple of thousand gold pieces every time you make a set of cards.
Read more in this special Gold Capped series on glyphs:
Maximize your profits with more advice from Gold Capped, and watch for more articles to come in this special mini-series on inscription. Regular Gold Capped author Basil "Euripides" Berntsen is now taking questions for a special series, "Ask an auctioneer" at firstname.lastname@example.org.