(This is my submission to Best of the month Blog Carnival, hosted by Not So Secret Society)
Being a highly successful auctioneer is a lot of work. It is all about risky venture capitalism, identifying nascent markets, tapping into hitherto untapped fonts of wealth, cultivating your own army of farmers, constant awareness of breaking-news patch notes, daily (or hourly) scanning of the AH, commercial espionage of your competition, and occasionally downright sabotaging of said competition.
Being a mildly successful auctioneer, by contrast, is pretty easy.
So you don't have hours and hours to do dedicated research on potential markets and programming profit spreadsheets. What do you do? You do what the majority of the rational world does: you let other people do the heavy-lifting. Part of that is doing what you are doing right now, specifically reading gold blogs. There is a huge wealth of information out there that other people have obtained through grueling experience that you can simply read about and absorb vicariously. The break-point of Obsidium Ore, the various things you can do with it, pitfalls to avoid, and so on.
Of course, every server is different so it is not always profitable to just cut and paste. What does happen to be mostly profitable is to just cut and paste what your local competition is doing.
Remember when I was talking about owning the Defender's Demonseye market? I had "discovered" that market after doing a lot of research on the Elitist Jerks website and basically had a monopoly for several weeks. Nowadays, I have at least four other JCs competing with me such that I would be lucky hitting a 10g profit margin per gem. While it is possible that these goons independently came to the same conclusion I did based on EJ research, I find it infinitely more likely they simply saw that I had 250g gems up on the AH and was making money hand over fist.
So, if you are strapped for time, be that goon.
My goon-making addon of choice is Auctionator. If you head over to the Buy tab, you can Shift-click an item in your inventory to search for the current prices of that item. If that item is a raw material whose name appears in the finished product, you can get some rather nice information. For example, when I went to my AH just now and Shift-clicked on Demonseye, the following appeared:
Err... yeah. So apparently there were a lot of Demonseyes up for 39g whereas the Defender's cut was at 120g. I had basically moved on from that market, but in the course of writing this article, it appears to have been (temporarily) profitable again. Aaaaaaaand that really proves my point about surfing coattails. If they are making money, then I should be able to make money undercutting them. So I bought a bunch of uncut Demonseyes and tossed some Defender's up on the AH.
Notice towards the bottom of that list there are Sovereign cuts going for 195g with 1 available and Timeless cuts at 350g with 3 available. With some leftover JC tokens, I went ahead and bought those patterns and tossed some more cut gems at 185g and 250g respectively. Did I have the time or inclination to research whether those cuts are valued and desirable? Nope. I'm simply assuming that whoever that guy is who listed them knows what he/she is doing. They shouldn't get too mad since I won't be moving into their market long-term, and even if they do get mad, what are they going to do? It is not as though they can sabotage a basically random coattail riding strategy.
If you also noticed, I did not buy the Guardian or Shifting Demonseye patterns despite them being listed at the top there with zero auctions up. I absolutely would have done that instead if I had the time to research the matter a bit more. I actually do have the literal time, but I'm writing in-character to prove a point. Namely that one should expect mild success from this strategy, not fantastic, mind-blowing, gold-capping success. It could entirely be the case that the Sovereign and Timeless cuts are garbage that only one dude is supplying because he is a highly successful auctioneer engaged in some AH R&D in squeezing blood from rocks... and failing. In which case I just blew six JC tokens and six Demonseyes on nothing.
On balance though, surfing coattails generally leads you to second-hand success more often than not. Or at least the general zip code of success.
I used the example of JC, but this really applies to every profession out there. In the purest form, what you are doing is what any Herbalist does when they go to the AH: look at what is currently the most expensive herb and then going out and farming that. You end up always chasing the market instead of leading it, but the price of the latter is blood, sweat, and tears. Many, many tears.