I walk a strange line. There are two distinct extremes in the readers of this column: those who feel I shouldn't be telling people their "secrets" about how to make gold, and those who believe that anyone who uses the auction house to make gold is somehow bad (in skill or character -- I get both). While the majority of readers are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between these extremes, let's look at the arguments.
The people who I upset when I publicize the exact methodology that goes into making money on the auction house tend to say that I'm giving away secret gold-making methods, which is similar to a magician's explaining how to do a magic trick. These people don't seem to mind trading information with each other in gold-making forums, but the argument goes that these methods shouldn't be widely publicized outside these forums, sometimes even outside the members-only parts of the forums.
To this, I say that if it were a real secret, I wouldn't know it. More to the point, unlike well-performed magic, anyone with the time and interest can figure out everything I've written without having read anything but the WoWInterface and Curse addon pages. Auctioneering isn't doing rocket science; it's economics with a dash of UI customization thrown in.
The metaphor breaks down at the magician line, though. Magicians earn their keep by mystifying people for money, and if they were to tell their clients how they do "magic," they would quickly find themselves without clients. My buyers probably don't even look at the name on the auction they're buying; they just buy the cheapest one, and the information I'm sharing is more relevant to my competition than my clients. If I can't handle any informed competition in whatever market I'm in, that simply means they're better than I am -- and if this were real PvP, I'd have just lost some arena points.
More to the point, the more auctioneers there are, the more fun we all have. How much fun would a gladiator title be if you only got it because there wasn't anyone to fight against? Well, at least you'd have an achievement and a mount. Auctioneers get absolutely no in-game recognition, other than the ability buy silly mounts and raiding knicknacks they wouldn't be able to earn without cash. The real fun comes from talking to other players about this particular facet of the endgame -- comparing notes and strategies, telling stories and having rivalries. Don't be hurt when your favorite niche market hits the front page of WoW Insider, but enjoy the challenge of staying on top of an ever-increasing auctioneer player base.
Only sleazy players and gold farmers play the AH
This is the accusation that bothers me the most. The gist of most of these arguments is that the people who just want to log in once a week and sell their honor-bought gems and Primordial Saronite get undercut immediately, and when a regular player needs raw mats to craft, they're expensive. Also, auctioneers are jerks for charging for things that take them no effort to make.
It costs thousands of gold to level a profession, and even more to get all the popular recipes once you're at max skill. Charging a margin on crafted goods is completely fair. The real question is whether you're going to circumvent the open market by bartering or gifting friends with goods, or whether you'll pick up your sword and join the free market in all its cut-throat, capitalist glory. If you're one of those folks who makes stuff for free for friends and for a tip for strangers, that's fine. You've decided to avoid the open market and focus on other parts of the game. The economy is mostly optional participation, however just like PvP, there will be times when someone who is better than you at it pwns you when you weren't looking for a fight.
As for undercutting and the prices of raw materials, it's not auctioneers that are hurting you; it's demand and supply not agreeing on a price you find satisfactory. Auctioneers won't generally buy mats that are overpriced, and they can only undercut as long as they have supply. We are subject to the same pressure of supply and demand that you are. If raw mats are expensive, it's because there's low supply or high demand. If you get undercut selling your Primordial Saronite, it's because there's high supply or low demand. We all have exactly the same cost of doing business and exactly the same opportunity to make money.
Purely self-interested actions (participating in the economy by buying or selling goods, as well as undercutting) can't, by definition, be "jerky". To be honest, though, this kind of metagame does tend to attract jerks. It's completely a solo part of the game where teamwork and playing cooperatively have much less of a benefit to a player than a solid understanding of the prisoner's dilemma and opportunity cost. Honestly, jerks tend to do better. More auctioneers are not jerks than are, though. Sure, some of us build a Shield of Jerk that we wear when we speak to others about this part of the game, but that's a natural reaction to the derision that we can face. Make your way through that, and you'll find that we're actually mostly the same as you. We just care about a different sort of imaginary currency than you do.
Maximize your profits with more advice from Gold Capped, plus the author's Call to Auction podcast. Do you have questions about selling, reselling and building your financial empire on the auction house? Basil is now taking questions for a special series, "Ask an auctioneer," at firstname.lastname@example.org.