Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"Out of the Box" Wants to Go Into the Bookstore?

So I’m reading Kenneth Hite’s latest “Out of the Box” and I’m feeling a little confused. May just be me, may mean I’m no industry insider. But,

When wargame publishers tried to catch up, they crashed, and now wargame publishers sell games on the "small press" model instead of the "periodical" model. They hand-sell them to their customers, they market directly to the customer at conventions and through email and so forth, and they set prices high enough to recoup their costs with very small print runs indeed. And now that the wargaming field has settled into that, you're once more seeing successful wargame companies, like GMT and Avalanche. This is the only model that can work, over the long run, for any RPG publisher that isn't publishing Dungeons & Dragons. RPG publishers have to abandon the notion that every game line must and shall be published unto eternity. We have to retrain our audience to think of RPGs the same as books -- many titles stand alone, some are trilogies, and a very few have the legs to spawn a series. More importantly, we have to retrain the publishers to think of RPGs the same as books.

Says to me, “RPG publisher, smaller print runs of high-quality product with a price-markup to make your desired profit margins, and treating your product like the niche luxury it is, is the way to survive! Only then will book sellers treat you seriously, and actually order your product with an eye towards selling it to retail customers.”

And yet, Ken later says:

Now for a little silver lining. One advantage that we have in the RPG market is that our customers -- you wonderful people -- are much more willing to buy electronic books than mainstream book readers are. Something like five to ten percent of the RPG business last year was PDF business, and that number is growing by leaps and bounds. Companies like Eden, Green Ronin, and Hero have made electronic publishing core parts of their business model.

Um, doesn’t this say, “To the Abyss with brick-and-morter stores and those nasty distributor middle-men! Print runs? We don’t need no stinkin’ print runs! Pdf is the way to go. Direct to the customer makes it easier for them to find your product, for you to know what your customers want, and no mucking about with warehouses of unsold or, even worse, returned books.”?

Ok, 10% is, I hope, a tiny drop of the entire market, so Ken is probably suggesting a combination of the two. That would mean more omnibus products like Ptolus with three-digit price tags, supported with the occasional, low-cost pdf. This seems a reasonable thing to me, actually. Frankly, I’d love to see more stuff like Green Ronin’s True20 and Blue Rose, with black and white pdfs I can cut and paste from, or print out fairly cheaply at my local copy shop. I’m ticked pink at the idea of taking chapters from True20 and working them into a setting book I write myself, slapping in some free art and my own home made maps, and handing those out to my players in three-ring binders. I think that sounds incredibly cool. I’ll probably have to buy a copy of the True20 pdf for each of my players to keep it all legal, but at pdf prices that’s hardly prohibitive. Or, I might be able to get all my players need from the quickstart guide. Well, at least, until TrueSorcery shows up…

Darn you, Green Ronin!!! ;)

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