The Long Tail


Let's be honest. Keeping up a highly productive and successful gold-making business in World of Warcraft can be exhausting. I love to play the Auction House game, but sometimes I can't summon the energy to make my business ridiculously profitable. I have a limited amount of time to play, and the time I do play, I don't want to do repetitive tasks like milling, prospecting or disenchanting. Could I make a lot more gold doing those things consistently? Sure.

But why? I have enough liquid gold, plus a stockpile of materials waiting to be processed and sold, that I can afford to purchase pretty much whatever I want in the game. I recently purchased a valor point bracers for my Death Knight tank. They were "only" 5k, so I grabbed them. For a character I rarely play because I have a better geared Paladin tank.

Playing the Auction House on My Terms
There's a saying in business: It takes money to make money. It's true in real-life business and it's certainly true in Warcraft. The more gold you have, the easier it is to make gold. Now that I have enough to do what I want, when I want, I've scaled back my Auction House commitment.

I restock scrolls and gems when I feel like it (usually once/week). I post on a ridiculously predictable schedule because that's when it's convenient for me. Except when I don't post at all because I don't get around to it. I'm not really doing much in the way of exploring new markets. In short, my business is essentially on auto-pilot.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race
But here's the thing: the gold keeps rolling in. I have Trade Skill Master configured to buy the materials I need for my core business whenever they dip below a certain price. A few minutes clicking through and I've purchased some materials. A single click at the mailbox sends those materials to the right characters. I occasionally spend 20 minutes crafting goods to restock my banker, who then clicks a few buttons and TSM does it's thing, posting gems, scrolls and a few other select items.

In total, I spend about 3-5 hours/week on my gold business. 10 minutes most mornings, another 10 in the afternoon, and the rare extended crafting time. With minimal play time, I'm still bringing in 10-15k in liquid gold profits each week, after all my expenses for restocking, buying epics for toons I rarely play and speculating on 4.3 stockpiling.

The Long Tail
All this is made possible by a phenomenon known as the Long Tail. In business, it refers to the initially high sale prices for a short period of time, which is followed by a long tail of smaller sale prices on a consistent basis. The real money is made on the long tail. In Warcraft, the "Long Tail" is essentially time and research. I spent a lot time initially figuring out my core markets and setting up addons, not to mention leveling characters. It was a huge investment, and I wasn't making much more than I do now.

But thanks to the long tail, I'm now able to spend a minimal amount of time to bring in a healthy amount of gold. Is it tops on my server? Definitely not. Is it enough to fund all my in-game activities? Definitely.

So where are you in establishing a long tail? Have you optimized to the point of being able to spend minimal time to make healthy amounts of gold? Or are you still struggling to find a good system that works for you? Spend more time optimizing your core gold-making business to the point of almost mindless auto-piloting, then use the added time in your play schedule to do new things. Explore those new markets. Join a raid. Roll a new toon just for fun.

I consider myself a somewhat casual auctioneer. I can be found via Twitter @Aleithia3. I also like getting email at Aleithia AT jasonthedce DOT com. Send me your questions and I'll try to write about them on the site.

8 comments: on "The Long Tail"

  1. Ummm that isn't what a long tale is

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Tail

    The long tale would be all the bizarre glyphs and random items that sell like once a month

  2. In business, the first part of the graph is the high-volume sales that happen quickly and generate a large amount of profit quickly. As time goes on, you start to enter the long tail, where you sell smaller quantities over an extended period of time. With time, the Long Tail becomes more profitable if you have the product that will keep selling over time.

    In the article, my point is that rather than looking at the end product in terms of the graph, we can use it to measure our time invested. Because we aren't dealing in real, tangible products, the real commodity that we are "selling" on the auction house is our time. It's time milling/prospecting. It's time scanning the Auction House and Trade Chat for deals. It's time clicking to process finished goods like gems, scrolls and more.

    There is a larger up-front time investment, which resulted in a flurry of activity and profit. I spent a lot of time, I sold a lot of product, and made a lot of money in that first 20% window.

    But eventually, I started "selling" less of my time. It resulted in less product, with less sales and less actual profit each day. But now I sell small amounts of my time consistently over a longer period of time. Now I'm hanging out in the long tail.

    So while the Long Tail idea doesn't immediately seem to apply, when you consider that you are selling your time, it makes sense.

  3. The concept of long tail doesn't really apply to this discussion but the concept in the article was interesting to think about.

    I don't really agree with it though. There is still considerable effort that goes into milling and shuffling. If you are selling the resulting products at lower margins then the time you invested to make these products is worth less. The time to make gold is still in the short windows around patches where hundreds of thousands of gold can be made with a few hours worth of effort actually selling. I'm pretty much on autopilot now too. It takes too much effort for the profit to make it worth spending lots of time. If I just wanted to make as much gold with as little effort possible I would show up for a few weeks around patch times and not bother with the rest of the time.

  4. @Anonymous: I literally spend maybe 20 minutes/week doing milling/prospecting/disenchanting. I just don't have the stomach to mindlessly click buttons, even if I'm watching a movie or listening to a podcast. At first though, I thought that was the only way to make the gold. But, as you point out, it devalues my time.

    Now, my "auto-pilot" mode is pretty much buying up finished products or raw materials below a certain threshold, then selling them when the price swings back up.

    My non-auto-pilot time is spent getting ready for the next patch because you're exactly right: that's where the real money is to be had.

  5. Interesting Article and I know what you mean. I sure wish prospecting, milling, etc took me 20 min a week b/c that would save me a lot of time to do other things. However, when I actually work the AH I tend to buy so much herbs/ore that it takes me hours and hours per day to shuffle. I am glad I took a break from the gold game awhile, lol. Remember to stock up on goods for patch 4.3!

  6. That's not what the long tail means. Not even close. In WoW or in Business.

  7. @Anonymous2: Would you care to enlighten then? Or just throw out absolute statements?

    Because it seems like the concept applies, especially with the explanation above that our time is the real commodity, not individual products. If you don't think the long tail is accurate here, how would you explain it in terms of making gold in Warcraft? Because if you have a helpful idea, maybe we can all benefit.

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