So you've found a great deal on E-Bay, DakkaDakka, or Warseer.com?
Do you pull the trigger and execute on the deal? Not so fast.
I've actually acquired a fair number of second hand miniatures over the last few months (> 200 Space Marine, Tau, Ork, and Tyranid figures and vehicles) and there is quite a bit to consider outside of pure price. Let's consider what you're actually getting. Let me introduce you to a concept called the Total Cost of Ownership.
Total "Cost" of Ownership
Not typically a term you hear thrown around the miniatures world, but it's still applicable. Think about the entire process of taking a miniature from it's raw state to the finished product in terms of cost and time. Note, of the two, time is probably the component that people always undervalue but may be the most expensive. In my world, I think about the cost and effort of miniatures as:
- Base Price. Just about every transaction has a base price, which you pay for the figures. You can find product at Internet stores for about 80-90% of retail and trade/e-bay opportunities for much lower than that.
- Shipping. This is the cost to get the figures from the original owner to you. This may actually be quite negotiable, depending on how fast you want them, how much bundling exists, or whether you have alternative shipping means, such as a corporate UPS account.
- Clean and Prep. The time required to prepare a miniature for priming. Everyone has a different standard for this. Based on my experiences, people don't spend much time cleaning and prepping their figures. In the case of minis mailed to you, this might also include fixing models broken in transit or modding models that don't quite fit your requirements.
- Strip if necessary. If the figures being acquired are in a color scheme that doesn't fit in with you army, then you might need to spend the time to strip and clean the figures. Do not underestimate the effort required for this. You also need to take into account the price of the solvents used for stripping, which can if large amounts of e.g. actone are needed be quite hefty.
- Assemble. If you're buying minis on the sprue, you're going to have to clip, clean, and assemble the figures. Some people desire this.
- Prime. Self explanatory.
- Paint. Most paint schemes that you buy off of E-Bay or other sites are NOT going to fit your army color scheme. You need to decide, probably from a set of photos, whether the paint scheme is going to be a good fit or a bad fit, whether you'll need to strip the figure and indeed, whether that is actually an option, in the case of plastics.
- Base and seal. Self explanatory.
- Conversion/Custom Work. What additional work was done to the figures (e.g., conversions, magnets, custom basing) and what value do you place on it based on your ability to do the same?
- Other intangibles. In some cases, the uniqueness of a figure make is a must buy regardless of the other factors. It could be a limited edition model that you just have to have or it's a hard to find out of print (OOP) figure or it's a set of weapons you need for the tournament happening next week. That's fine, just be clear with yourself what is truly a must have vs. nice to have.
So, when you see a "bargain" on E-bay or in a swap thread, you need to take all of these factors into account. As a benchmark, you have Games Workshop and your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS) at 100% retail, but you know exactly what you'll have to with each model: clean, assemble and paint. If you pick up the same figure from a second hand source, you might have to invest additional time to fix broken pieces, strip paint, etc. While this doesn't change the dollar cost of the figure, it does change the value of the transaction by adding to (or reducing) the overall time and effort invested in the figure, which for some people (e.g., me) is in short supply.
Personally, my best case scenario is finding figures that have been cleaned and assembled (Be VERY carful with buying assembled non metal models, as most people use copious amounts of plastic glue to assemble their miniatures, which results in loss of detail etc.) , but not primed or painted. This saves me the time required to snip out all of the pieces, clean up mold lines, and assemble them, which is huge. You rarely find this however. I tend not to like buying painted minis since the time required to fix broken pieces and strip everything down actually makes it a very expensive proposition time wise for me (Unless those models are all metal in which case you snap of the base and give the whole thing a good rinse with acteone). Worst case is a really poorly painted figure, with missing pieces, obvious mold lines, and assembled in a manner that is very hard to fix. That figure is almost worthless to me, or to anyone not looking for bitz for that matter.
Negotiating swaps is a little easier as you have both the time and the communications channel to ask fairly detailed questions or ask for photos. E-bay is a little trickier as you are competing with other people, under a time constraint, and the amount of information provided by the seller might be pretty slim (however most people will offer you a refund if you are unhappy with your purchase, this is partially due to the new feedback system...).
I'll address this last thought in another article, but you also need to remember that what you value isn't necessarily what the other party values. You may see a squad of painted marines as 10 figures you need to strip and clean. The seller may see this as the end product of hours of painting and preparation ... regardless of how good of a job it actually is. So, keep this in mind when you're trying to find a price that both of you can live with.
And with that, happy hunting.