Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Being an author is all about having readership.”

There's been a lot of talk over the years about how RPG businesses are based around selling books, which is a decidedly different business than selling either gaming content or gaming experiences. In addition to the potential disconnect between what the companies are selling and what the players want to buy, there is also the current chaos that is the book publishing industry, madly in flux right now. Laura and Tracy Hickman (yes, those Hickmans) think they've figured out what works now, and what works is basically turning the old publishing model literally upside-down:
“It’s no longer about being published … it’s about being read,” Tracy told us. “It’s all about the audience today; acquiring direct contact with the reader, maintaining and growing that relationship. Anyone can get ‘published’ today. Being an author is all about having readership.”
The new model, disturbingly enough, appears to be based around loss-leaders, rather like what you see in the insurance business. Or, a perhaps better metaphor for gaming and fiction, the illicit narcotics business: "The first hit is free." This is great for readers and fans; we get a bit of fun free stuff, and then can decide which content is good enough to support with actual purchases after we've seen some of the content.

Interestingly, this is clearly the model WotC is following. With their huge, open playtest, they're not just getting feedback on the rules, but are also getting broad dissemination of the game. Lots of folks will see it, read it, and play it, and create buzz so that when the books finally appear on shelves, people will buy them instead of simply playing the free copies of the playtest docs that will almost certainly still be floating about the intrawebs. Also interestingly, I think this can work very well for the Kickstarter model as well. You give away the basic content, then based on reaction to that you can launch a Kickstarter to cash in on the interest and get the ball rolling for fancier, dead-tree books, boxed sets, whatever, with more bells and whistles like intro adventures and the like.

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