EDIT 2012-8-20: This post has been replaced by this post series.
The second part of my two-part series about passive income.
EDIT 2010-9-22: Updated spreadsheet snapshot, added titans.
EDIT 2011-2-9: Updated spreadsheet snapshot
EDIT 2011-4-10: General update, new spreadsheet snapshot, new information about titans and supercarriers.
To start out, let's introduce the concept of blueprint copying: If you have an original blueprint (BPO) you can make blueprint copies (BPC) with a certain number of runs. BPC can be sold on contracts,and are bought by people who want to manufacture a ship without buying the BPO. Once they have a BPC they can manufacture a number of ships equal to the number of runs on the BPC.
What type of blueprints do we want to use? I'm looking for passive income, and capital blueprints are best for this: They have a long copy time and a maximum of 1 run per copy. This is much simpler than battleships, which have a maximum of 10 runs per copy and presumably can be copied multiple times per month, which would mean more time doing math, more time setting up contracts and more pain in the ass.
There are a total of 22 capital blueprints that can be copied: Four each of carriers, dreadnaughts, supercarriers, titans and freighters, plus 2 industrial ships. We need a way to decide which of these is the best to invest in, and I propose a metric as follows: The value of the BPC in millions, divided by the number of months it takes to copy, divided by the price of the BPO in billions. The resulting number is the monthly return, in millions, for each billion invested. This number will be referred to as MMPB (monthly millions per billion).
Before I pull out the spreadsheets though, we need to talk about capital industrial and supercarrier blueprints because they're a little more complicated than the rest.
Capital industrial blueprints are not sold by NPCs in highsec; I suspect they come from players working for the ORE corporation. Consequently, the BPO cost can be highly variable. Although 3.3 billion seems typical for a rorqual BPO, putting its MMPB at around 32, I once saw one on contracts for 1.75 billion (though I didn't have the presence of mind to buy it).
Supercarrier blueprints had a dramatic price spike after dominion, but so many people invested them that once demand fell off their prices fell to pre-dominion levels. Today (4/2011) a nyx BPC is worth 600 mil, compared to 3.3 billion in early 2010. This has lead to people getting out of the market, and you can sometimes find researched supercarrier BPO on contracts in jita for NPC price.
Without further ado:
What does this tell us? Mostly, that dreadnaughts are a terrible investment. So are supercarriers, except for the wyvern (I suspect everybody invested in nyx and aeon because they're the ones that don't suck, while many people are caldari specced). Among carriers the thanatos and archon seem to be the way to go, and watching them over the last year they have been consistently more valuable than the chimera and nidhoggur.
Titan blueprints are actually a pretty good investment right now. They are in very high demand, with the leviathan BPC above 3 billion for the first time since dominion and most of the rest selling at 10 bil as soon as somebody puts a contract up. I would tend to recommend the erebus, as they are highly desirable for their armor bonuses and tend to die a lot for the same reason. Do note, however, that it's possible overinvestment may eventually lead to titan BPC going the way of supercarriers.
One's tendency would be to buy a bunch of whatever has the highest MMPB, but there are a few factors which you may wish to take into account:
Utility. If you think you might have need of capital BPC or BPO at some point then maybe it would be better to get a variety of blueprints.
Market fluctuations. Investing everything in one type of blueprint will leave you vulnerable to price changes. If you get 10 archon blueprints and their price drops significantly, you'll lose out. Spreading your investment over multiple types of BPO will give you lower profits but more stability.
Copying slots. You get a maximum of 11 per character, and although it's easy to train another research alt this will make things more complicated. If you have enough isk to fill your research slots it might be better to buy fewer but more expensive blueprints, perhaps going with freighters or rorquals instead of carriers.
Now, before we can start copying we need to research material and/or production efficiency. Looking at contracts we can see that the typical freighter blueprint copy has 3 levels of material efficiency (ME) and 0 of production efficiency, while carriers have 2 of material efficiency and 1 of production efficiency. If you like to play with spreadsheets you will find that higher ME levels than these do not significantly change the component requirements to build these ships. Manufacturers know this, so there's no point researching them higher. As an example, an archon costs 516 million to build at ME0, 510 at ME1, 471 at ME2, and 464 at ME999.
For carriers and freighters each level of research takes 2 months, so once you have the blueprints you're looking at half a year before they start to produce. What's more, it actually takes longer than this because all NPC stations have ME and copy jobs in all their slots at all times; you will probably never see a research slot for those which doesn't have a wait time, except maybe in NPC or player sov 0.0. If you're okay with moving your BPO to lowsec (use a T3 or stealth recon, NOT a frigate hull) the wait times there are much lower, or you can avoid wait times by using a personal research pos or renting slots from an organization such as New Eden Research, though both of these will introduce overhead and increase the amount of work you have to do. Do not under any circumstances keep BPO in a conquorable station unless you have a plan to get them out if the station changes hands abruptly. I suggest a jump clone, nullified T3 and instawarp bookmark.
There are also some implants you can use to speed the process a little, reducing research times by a maximum of 5%. At 120 million isk the 5% implants don't look like a great investment except for the copy time one; for me, a bonus of 5% would be worth 18 million per month, taking 7 months to pay off -- not bad for a long term project like this, provided you never lose the research clone.
The implants are as follows:
zainou 'beancounter' I40, I50, I60 - production time research speed bonus
zainou 'beancounter' J40, J50, J60 - material efficiency research speed bonus
zainou 'beancounter' K40, K50, K60 - copying speed bonus
When I started looking into capital blueprints I was looking to spend about 10 billion isk and elected to go with an unfocused blueprint set, buying one of each type of carrier and freighter for a total of 11 billion, which will make me 360 million isk per month (31 months to pay off the investment, though BPO should be considered equity). If I were looking to maximize MMPB, at that point 8 chimera blueprints would have cost 6 billion and generate 296 million per month (20 months to pay off),and somebody wanting to maximize monthly profits on 8 BPO could have gone all fenrir (since you will not find 8 rorqual BPO) and made 472 million per month on a 13.3 billion investment (28 months to break even). A nyx is an 18 billion isk investment and would have taken 23 months to pay off. Today, this is closer to 104 months.