Friday, February 22, 2013

The Cost of PDF Publishing



Another thread at rpg.net had me answering a question about the cost of PDFs (in this case a PDF from White Wolf that cost $18). I know that the cost of electronic media comes up a lot, and there is a perception that above a certain point (usually around $15) that most games are too pricey...although we tend to grant exception to the ones we're really dedicated to. Anyway, I put so much effort into my answer there I thought it was worth presenting here, in expanded form, as well:

Scenario: a book, published by a major publisher (White Wolf, in this case) that costs $18 for the PDF.


The distributor (One Book Shelf) typically takes a 35% cut. It might be less if you do an exclusive distribution deal with them. So an $18 PDF gets dinged $6.30 by the distributor right off the bat, leaving $11.70 that goes to the publisher.

Now, assuming that a book of this size is averaging 64,000 words, even assuming some of the lowest rates in the industry for a per-word deal on a flat rate (i.e. no royalty) basis of around 3 cents per word then the publisher needs to pay the author(s) at minimum $1920.00. If that seems like a good deal, then I suggest sitting down and writing a 64,000 word manuscript that is mechanically coherent and relevant to the game in question, as well as readable. (EDIT: And I should note that all commissioned products I've done in the past paid more than this figure I am quoting, and I'm basically a no-name author, so if I could command a higher price without any name recognition, you can bet my example here is a lot less than White Wolf pays one of its authors).

So at this point, the publisher needs to sell 164 copies to pay the underpaid and overworked author (assume two or three times more for a real author working for real pay with a big publisher).

Then we have the art. Art can get expensive, unless you're a small press publisher with no budget, in which case art is precisely as expensive as you're willing to pay for. I can demonstrate from my own projects an average art budget of about $300, which is enough for a commissioned cover from a small-time (usually decent) artist, and a few royalty-free generic art packages. Odds are that a product like the one you bought is getting professionally commissioned art, however. The artists are probably collectively actually costing more than the author. We'll conservatively say $3000 in commissions for the art pieces.

So they need to sell 256 PDF copies to pay the artist, more if he's good.

All of this assumes no one is getting royalties. For a big publisher like White Wolf I would expect a royalty situation is in place, usually.

Then we have an editor. He's probably staff, and gets paid by the hour. Maybe he spends most of his work month editing the product (and others). So he has a salary to cover. If he has any self respect I would imagine he's making around $2 grand a month or better, and if its a real business they may be paying $1,000 or more a month in benefits, health matching 401K and all that....but this varies heavily; a lot of game publishers are "part time" affairs these days, with very few full time staff, and people doing this more for love of gaming than money. Odds are strong that the editor, if he exists, only appears in Grade A publications anyway....editing is usually the first spot that smaller press publications skip over to save money.

There maybe advertising (which could get expensive). There might be more than one author (which can dramatically increase costs) or the author may be a relatively well known person so commands a lot more than the measly 3 cent/word minimum I estimate above. There may be artists involved who are much, much more expensive (but worth it).

There are other incremental costs...and of course the costs ramp up with the print publication which will always have a lower margin of profit due to distribution and retail costs.

I do tend to agree that PDFs often look pricier than they should be if you factor out printing/shipping/retail add-ons to the price, but there are other factors that overwhelm these considerations in the electronic format. The number of copies sold for PDFs will be lower; piracy will automatically eat into your sales, sometimes dramatically, and there is virtually nothing you can do about it except console yourself with the idea that maybe the pirates would never have bought it in the first place. People see electronic media as ephemeral and "free" because it lacks a place in meat space, so its automatically devalued in the eyes of many, and the sort of "culture of free information" online means that inevitably your product will be regarded with the same purpose and place as a Wikipedia article, given enough time. Consequently, the ability to make money on PDFs depends heavily on the willingness of the fan base to actually place value on the product and to support it with the recognition that, should the product become devalued completely that it will cease to exist as a viable enterprise in time. That leads us to situations sort of like the OSR movement, where lots of content floats around, bought by the same dedicated handful of people, but almost no one makes money on it unless they get insanely lucky.

Among small press publishers selling 500 print copies is awesome. Selling 1,000 or more is big business. Among big-name publishers these days selling 5,000 print editions is awesome and selling 10,000 or more is fantastic. PDFs do not typically sell like that, although there are exceptions, and if you're particularly savvy about how you market your game, you can potentially give away your product and still turn a profit; this is very rare (Eclipse Phase and possibly Stars Without Number) but possible. It's not something you can normally do with supplements. It is also possible to make a tiny profit on something by treating it like cheap advertising (Legend core) and potentially reap some profits from the follow-up books, but I have no way of ascertaining if this model has worked. 

I would bet for sure that 99% of the smaller publishers in PDF form are making precisely enough to fund their next project, or none at all, and that for this it is a labor of love. For the rest, maybe on occasion they get lucky and take off.....but those are noteworthy exceptions. Big publishers are probably counting on fan interest to drive some sales, but I doubt that White Wolf, WotC or others are expecting their PDF sales to bring in meaningful profits. Instead, I think that the electronic media is considered a form of adertising for print product, or a way to keep the brand alive so that when they do aim for something new and big (DDN, or the far-future WoD MMO) then the fans haven't completely forgotten about them. Just my speculation, though.

Accidentally Modelling the F2P Whale Paradigm: 

I believe that the world of F2P computer games online demonstrates a similar principle to the way PDF sales of RPGs work. They offer the product for free to all, but count on occasional so-called “whales” to actually do the buying....as it turns out 95% of people don’t pay anything, but 5% pay far, far more than is normal. In a sense, the crowd that decides "I will support this" ends up paying for the freeloader's experiences. In RPG PDFs I think a similar phenomenon happens, in which the pirate crowd all gets a free copy, but the much smaller portion of dedicated and honest fans actually end up paying a cost that is disproportionate to the perceived worth, precisely because there is almost no price point that can beat "free." 
Thus that $18 price tag is set in the hope that 500 real fans with money will buy the game over time, even though 4,000 others have downloaded it at Demonoid or something. The 4,000 pirates will never buy a game, plain and simple (or at best a very tiny percentage of them may cave in to guilt). And meanwhile, ventures like the $1 Legend rulebook will generate a ton of cheap sales, but the revenue is pathetic; it’s actually turned into an advertisement for the game's other more reasonably priced line of $12 PDF supplements, in the hope that some of those $1 sales will hook people onto more books bought legitimately. Not a bad strategy....but also quite a gamble.

FUN FACTS ABOUT PDF SALES FIGURES

Interested in seeing how many downloads a fairly well-known product's PDFs get over time? Places like Rpgnow don't usually offer up actual figures to anyone except their participating publishers, but two other sites do. Chaosium offers a download figure for its PDFs right here (to show off the BRP listings). Note that it's Big Gold Book PDF of BRP has had 904 total downloads to date, and another 514 from a separate listing for another release of the PDF (one which I think was revised with bookmarks?)

Then take a look at Outpost 19, a module for BRP. It's had 198 downloads. Curiously it's free PDF of handout (stuff to use with the module) has had over 2100 downloads. Maybe because its free, or people wanted to get a sense of what the module is like based on its supplemental offerings (Chaosium doesn't offer free previews like rpgnow and e23). Hopefully not because 1900 people pirated it and needed the handouts....but based on some figures I've seen, I'd believe it.

Magic World now has 199 downloads as of this time. That's very heartening to know that that many people are interested even before a print edition is out.

Steve Jackson Games offers a similar tracker on their site. You can check it out here. This one lets you play with the parameters a bit, but its interesting that over an eight year span the best selling PDF is GURPS Starships with 1,802 copies. Don't let the fact that the 20th most popular book in that same period is GURPS Supers with 978 downloads. This means that every other product on e23 has sold less than GURPS Supers.  

Yes....just under 2,000 copies for the top selling PDF for a game that I think could arguably be considered one of the iconic Big Five of the RPG hobby (D&D, Hero, GURPS, World of Darkness and Pathfinder....my list, definitely open to interpretation), and the #20 spot holds at 978 copies sold, which means that the 150+ other books on the site, plus all the affiliate publishers with products on e23, are under that 978 number. 

If you're interested in doing the footwork sometime, go dig through some torrent sites that host downloads with RPG PDFs, and which track number of downloads. It will be very sobering. 

There are a lot of gamers out there. But most of them are cheapskates and pirates (at least, in netspace). *

Anyway, if you think big publishers are still selling five digit sales regularly....or that PDFs regularly even break four digit sales numbers, looking at some stats like this can be sobering.  Given that the majority of GURPS PDFs are priced at $10 or less (and only the core 4th edition manuals are more expensive) it's hard to suggest their figures are low entirely due to price point.

I do wonder if Steve Jackson Games would have better sales numbers on One Book Shelf, though. Worth thinking about. 








*This may be a bit harsh. There's another blog's worth of discussion on the nature of our hobby and why piracy is so common. Maybe next week...

18 comments:

  1. Fantastic post. Thanks for the info.

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  2. Thanks for the perspective and background!

    As an independent game designer with a day job, I use a free .pdf so people can see the game and decide if they want it. At 315 pages, I figure it is too unwieldy to use electronically if you are actually going to play it, so the books are available at Lulu.

    It has been downloaded over 300 times, but maybe 20 purchases (and a fair number of those are my own game group.)

    http://fictivefantasies.wordpress.com/

    It is hard to get over that price point for a .pdf when it's so hard to use a book electronically for actual game play, and printing will have to happen (for my game style, anyway.)

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    1. That's definitely a factor: PDFs are just not that user-friendly at the game table for most, and among those I know who use them they tend to be the guys who bring laptops and tablets to the table. I personally love having access to PDFs for prep work, but always bring the physical copy to the game.

      I think the #1 spot for the use of PDFs is in online gaming, using Google+ and other locations to play with others in chat environments, or with some of the virtual tabletops. Having the PDF right there is useful in those cases. Unfortunately my experience with the majority of situations in which I've experienced that style of play is that no one, usually, is using a legally purchased copy of the book for play.

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  3. Two things I wished you'd discussed:

    1. When the PDF is also currently available as a print (and not a POD) product. I've passed PDF sales when the book wasn't interesting enough at $26.99 and then I found the PDF was $20.00. Here the argument about amortizing over just PDFs for fixed costs fall a bit flat because they're amortizing over the print and PDF run. Using your distributor numbers and what I know of the three tier bricks and mortar path they're bringing in $17/PDF and about $13.50 per hardback. Thus, they're expecting the PDF to subsidize the hardback. That seems like poor planning because which is more likely to get an impulse buy after I read a good review. I do have a specific game in mind here.

    2. PDF pricing for a previously in print but not discontinued item. Again I have a specific example in mind. In this case the books were nearly a decade old when I got a hankering to run the game and looked to grab the PDFs. Not only were they (at the time) over 75% of the print cost but they were nearly double what it would cost to buy print on eBay in many cases. Again, impulse buys were lost. In this case I even wrote the publisher and got a polite but basically empty replay. There was a lot about the cost to pay artists and writers as you discussed. However, here we were discussing items over 10 years old and through their print runs. If that hadn't amortized the costs then PDF long tails weren't going to do so either. Checking as I write this, the cost has come down on these items.

    I think companies need to consider. PDFs are great impulse buys, more than books ever were because a forum thread, blog post, or review can send me to buy it now. Risking needing another fifty sales to hit a psychologically important price point may be worthwhile if it moves it from "not an impulse buy" to "yes, an impulse buy". While it's not bricks and mortar it's still retail and understanding pricing psychology is important. If nothing else, walk around Walmart and look at their, at first glance, odd price points (who ends prices in 7?).

    On the cost of printing point here publishers (game and general book) are suffering from their own statements. In the 90s when prices went up rapidly publishers, both gaming and general, said it was printing costs that were driving things up. Yet, when eBooks and PDFs first started to hit in the early aughts prices didn't show a deep discount over printed. When questioned we were told it was expensive to pay content creators and editors. A lot of publishers got caught talking out of both sides of their mouthes to justify prices and created a lot of cynical consumers in the process.

    Finally, tying to the impulse buy bit above, because storage and printing costs are lower (there are some admin costs in maintaining a PDF "warehouse" but not nearly as much) I think PDFs are much more viable for price variance through genuine cost accounting. Tracking the sales of individual books to note when they've amortized out their fixed costs (and I mean full cost accounting with time value of money, profit, and admin costs during the amortization period, not just have they made enough to pay the author) and doing deep discounting when they amortize out (maybe once a quarter or even as Christmas sales with never returning prices) would be worth investigating. Once they're paid off including TVoM, current overhead, and profit they can still provide an income stream and be a loss leader for that line.

    I think that's closer to a quarter. I would love to see you address the wrinkles added by my first two points though.

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    1. I tried to add this to my point one but it got too long. If you can give me better numbers I'd be happy to hear it.

      If a product is concurrently available in print I expect the PDF to be no more than 50% of the print price.

      My understanding is the print distributors pay about 30% of retail and printing costs represent about 15% of retail. Combined that tells me the publisher is making about 15% of retail, after printing costs, on anything that goes into the tiers.

      By your numbers, which I was familiar with, through PDF distributors they make about 65% of the listed cost.

      If X=printed retail and Y=PDF retail and I'm willing to put in the publisher's hand the same free cash for non-printing costs then I expect Y to be:

      .15X = .65Y
      3X = 13Y
      Y ~ .25X

      Given that Y has some layout costs that X doesn't (like bookmarks, which most publishers don't do, and administration of the accounts separate from the print accounts) I'm willing to pay twice the calculated price. I need to see better numbers to pay more.

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    2. Ugh, in #2 that should be "now discontinued"

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    3. Actually those are two excellent issues, worthy of a proper answer. On the first point, the issue with long-tail sales over time is one which the PDF/ebook market hasn't even come close to addressing yet, and is a problem that publishers across the board are having a hard time figuring out how to address. The computer game industry has handled this better, although the long term consequences of their method (which leads to a depreciation of value at faster and faster rates) are yet to be fully appreciated, I think. Right now it looks like most ebook publishers don't really have a grasp on this.

      One major contention I do have with the perceived worth and value of a product is the antagonism toward publishers who mark at or above the consumer's estimation of value. Honestly, if the publisher sees their product as being worth $50 and they mark it like that....even if 80% of the return is pure profit above and beyond their costs, then I don't begrudge them their right to value their product as they see fit. The problem, of course, is that consumers aren't going to buy a product that is over priced no matter how much the publisher would like them to.

      I would be surprised if many publishers are trying to subsidize the print product from PDF sales, but I could be wrong. That said, I suspect that when you see a PDF where the return is greater than that on the print product, what we're really seeing here is what happens when fewer hands are dipping in to take a cut of the sale. This suggests to me more that the return on print is so little now that PDF sales, even when there are fewer of them, are still potentially more profitable and a lot of publishers...okay, almost all publishers (especially when you get to general ebook sales) are trying to see if they can make more money, money that would otherwise have disappeared down the print distribution channel.

      Anyway, I think a lot of publishers are missing out now on long-tail sales because they don't understand that in a market full of churning products that they might make more in the long run by scaling down price over time, especially once they have paid off their initial costs and made an expected profit. On the other hand, I also suspect that...at least for RPGs.....very few publishers ever actually reach that golden profit point where a cost reduction looks smart for continued sales.

      I'm just speculating for the moment. I'll add this to my list for a future blog, though; I think these are some great points to analyze more closely in the near future.

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  4. First, thank you for the prompt answers.

    I'm not antagonist to publishers who over price PDFs with the exception of the publishers (more general book than game but some offenders in the later) who gave us the "prices are being driven by printing costs" song and dance circa 1995-2000 and then when questioned why PDFs/eBooks didn't have bigger discounts over print trotted out the "cost of creative input" to answer that. They had been caught wanting it both ways. That's going to create a lack of trust.

    I wrote the publisher of the out of print line because I thought it was important that they understood how they'd priced themselves out of the market for what could have been a sizeable impulse purchase. I also think publishers have often put out poorly done PDFs and wondered at the response. If you want to charge more take the time to bookmark them, for example. Keep them up to date as you get errata. Buying a PDF that doesn't incorporate errata from last year is unforgivable, especially given most new products are electronically laid out.

    When I got the reply from the publisher I was turned off less by what they thought it was worth than by their specific reason. The reason was they needed to amortize costs (he didn't use the word but it's what he meant). If something has gone out of print (and you're a print publisher) without amortizing its costs it probably never will. You made a bad business bet. By reducing PDFs sales because "they have to cover costs" you're throwing good money after bad by cutting off an income stream because it wouldn't cover the mistake. That annoys me less personally in terms of value than in wanting things run well.

    As for the case where I'm thinking the PDF return is higher than print two things. First, my calculation is based on some direct knowledge (Alliance's practices in the mid-aughts, OneBookShelf's costs) and a lot more second hand (articles such as this, RPG.net threads where publishers chimed in, general reading in running retail businesses) so they could be off although I doubt by too much. Second, if you're correct and print is just a rathole for money then go straight PDF. If I can't compare the pricing to a print product I'm much more likely to just evaluate the PDF price against interest than against interest and a printed book cost. If it's "is this worth $20" you're more likely to win than "well, it's not worth $26,99 as a book and if not then it's not worth $20 for just a PDF".

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    1. For me, and I suspect most buyers, if both the book and the PDF exist it is the book that gets the "is the content worth $X" evaluation and the PDF winds up "if the book is $X is the PDF worth $Y". Oddly, if I can get PDF or POD the chain of thought works the other way. So, if you want print do PDF with POD. Publishers working both markets hard are probably going to have issues without significant electronic price discounting or extras.

      Another interesting point of intersection is print+pdf combos and discounts. I'll admit, part of me wonders why I can't get the pdf free with print although I know there are marginal costs to the combo than alone. Still, I think it behoves publishers to provide a discount for one if you have the other (Pragmatic Publishing has me spoiled in this domain as does, to a lesser degree, Safari Books Online).

      To be honest I'm willing to pay more now for PDFs than I was a year ago. This is in large part because PDFs, at least over the $5 price point, are getting better (I don't expect a lot of extras under that price point). More publishers are bookmarking. More publishers are updating so I can get error corrected PDFs. All of those things, and tons of others that use the format instead of just printing to it, make a difference.

      As for piracy, I don't have easy answers. Some RPG publishers have put out a lot of filler which I think "justifies" it in the same way the music industry putting out 3 singles/12 filler albums and then cutting off singles sales did. I generally try to avoid questionable PDFs although in some circumstances I have them (mainly OOP items or PDFs of things I own/have owned and these are often OOP as well). In neither of the above cases (for the curious #1 was Fae Noir and #2 was Tribe 8) have I said, "screw them if they want that much I'll just pirate them". To this day I have neither game in PDF (I do have some Tribe 8 print products). I wish I had better answers on piracy but I don't. One thing I would be interested in knowing is how many pirated items are actually used in play. I think that gives us a better sense of lost sales than raw pirated numbers. There seem to be pirate collectors who pirate more to show off their collections than actually read/play/listen to content in them.

      On the long tail I think a sliding price scale is a good idea as is offering POD once the first print run is very OOP. I understand what you're saying about many books never paying off in terms of covering costs (including time value of money) and a profit. Until recently I'm sure most RPG book printing investments would have done better in a good CD. However, something important to understand is knowing when sunk costs are that and pricing to recover them is pricing to recover none of them. I see this in brick and mortar stores all the time where you can wipe a layer of dust off something but they want full retail because they need to recover what they spent on it. That money is gone and chasing it means losing 100% instead of maybe just 80% if you'd discount.

      What is that point? Well, I think a good estimate is "is the game line still active"? To use White Wolf, as you did, Mage the Awakening is IMHO less ripe for discounting than Mage the Ascension. One of those games you're still making new material for and can be found in stores. The other you're no longer investing in. There is less likely to be new players or people looking for stuff tonight to game in the later. Deeper discounting will move the few books that remaining players didn't buy and make it a good impulse buy for some guy who reads a thread on RPG.net.

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    2. I would love to know some names on the products you refer to, because there are more than a few publishers out there which I feel are operating electronic sales in a counter-productive, antagonistic fashion, and I wonder if some of those you have intereacted with are also those I've encountered as well.

      As a consumer of PDFs I think there are some fantastic models out there that encourage and incentivize me to purchase their product, both digital and print. I am much likelier, for example, to buy the print+PDF option for a book on rpgnow if the cost if the same (or better) than buying the two separately.

      Products that are long out of print deserve a different sort of treatment. If the company wants to take old files and turn them into revenue-generators that's a smart thing....but trying to artificially bolster their worth (as also happens) is really not going to help them do that. I think some publishers don't give enough credit to precisely how "industry savvy" many of their core supporters are....and overpriced products are just not worth the negative response, especially when its a needless inflation of costs.

      I'm thinking next week I'll take a closer look at some of what I consider the "success stories" in print and precisely why they did so well (and usually continue to do so). If I can find data on some less productive counter-examples I'll contrast them as well. There are a few PDF publishers who "get it" and a few who lucked into a good formula for success. Confidence in a strong product is a huge plus, of course. And honestly, a few current authors/artists and publishers out there right now are seriously gifted with greatness.....a lot of the rest, not so much.

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  5. Naming names:

    1. Dream Pod 9. Their Tribe 8 was priced at about $12 per add on book when cover was $15-20 and eBay was running about $10. In fairness, Tribe 8 as of today is running at about 30% of retail. The supplement books are sub-$6 in some cases which I think is actually a tad under priced. I think anything that was good enough for print can command $5.99 (that said, sub-$6 here is $5.69).

    2. White Wolf is mixed. Right now Orpheus PDF is $18 and that's about what used print is running (with shipping) on eBay. However, you can get more and more older product cheaper than eBay and even POD. Even Mage: The Ascension 2nd edition is cheaper at $16.80 which is higher than eBay without shipping but more expensive than eBay with. It's also 60% of print retail (as they themselves point out as a plus). For a game that's 20 years old and hasn't been supported for six plus I think that's high. $9.99 would be ideal but even $13.99 (half retail) would be better. Mage the Awakening, a currently supported line, is $20.99 for the core book, again 60% of retail. While I'd recommend they go to $19.99 to get below that $20 mind jump I consider a fairer price. The line is ongoing in terms of support.

    I think their issue is not differentiating between currently in print lines and out of print lines. Drop the OOP lines to 40-50% of retail and be more conscious about critical mental jumps in price points and they'd be much better off IMHO. Also getting more of the older stuff in POD (they are working on it) would help.

    3. Green Fairy Games. Their Fae Noir was my example for #2. At $26.99 print and $20 PDF that's a hard sell for a no name game company (yes, reputation matters on price...might not be fair but it's life).

    4. Palladium is a disaster but so is the company in general so no surprise.

    Success stories:

    1. Sine Nomine: I own nearly all they have in print as POD and am slowly ordering the rest. I buy their PDFs as they come out and the material is solid enough I have bought some POD at full POD price after paying full PDF price. It helps that their core game was free (you mention that working above) because it gives great advertising for the other material. Tags were good enough in SWN that it sold me Red Tide, An Echo Resounding, and Other Dust (as well as the Spears of Dawn Kickstarter).

    2. NOD: Not sure what Matt calls his company but I've bought all of NOD in PDF (I prefer it for mags) and now all his games in print. I do wish I could get a cheaper mix option but it is what it is.

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    1. Okay, the listing makes sense to me. I have to say, Sine Nomine has done very well with its free PDF approach, it got me to order the book (twice). And J.M. Stater's line-up is solid OSR gold in my book, I own all of his games in print and PDF (still working on getting NOD in print though) and consider his games built to be played.

      I've heard about the Dream Pod 9 situation before, but never personally had enough interest in the game to pursue it. On White Wolf, I think they are actively trying to move to a model of distribution that eliminates considerations like the age of the product or its status in print format....whether or not it's really worth it for the long haul is a different question, but my suspicion with both WW and WotC is that there is a certain price point at which they may worry they are devaluing their books (whether we agree or not) to the point where they cheapen the brand value as a whole. A lot of big name publishers in ebooks seem to have this approach....better to garner a trickle of sales on a full priced ebook than to drop the price to something many, many more might buy (and stick on the virtual shelf to ignore). Don't know if I subscribe to this perspective or not, though. As I said earlier, computer games through digital distribution are facing this issue, to the point where a larger and larger percentage of savvy consumers don't buy in to day one purchases anymore when they know the game will be half price on the next Steam Sale (or wait a year and get it for $5). Then again, Steam's man himself Gabe Newell has stated that full-priced new releases are not being impacted by second-round sales of discounted titles, so this may be something that ebook publishers are just going to have to learn for themselves in time; that there is a multi-tiered pricing market, and if they work with it they can get "all the sales" instead of just the willing consumers from a single price demographic.

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  6. Just wanted to post some personal observations about my own buying habits when it comes to electronic format.

    1. PDF's have very little actual playing value for me. I do like to reference them occasionally and possibly print off limited content for players to reference. I could accomplish the same thing with the physical product and a photocopier.

    2. I am more inclined to purchase a physical copy over a pdf when I have to choose.
    Unless:
    a. I can purchase and print the pdf cheaper myself. This is very rarely the case. But, I understand for those who have to pay over seas shipping, this is a factor.
    b. The pdf is cheap and I have no real interest beyond curiosity in the game.

    3. Cheap pdf's infer a lack of value to the product. I think it is better to find a middle ground on value and pricing. But, I also think it is good policy to discount or include pdf's for those who purchase the physical product, especially if your in the buisness of selling books. An argument could even be made that cheap pdf's might actually encourage piracy.

    4. Lastly, I worry that escalating prices of pdf's will inevitably escalate the costs that you mention in your post, as writers and artists demand a larger piece of the pie. This may actually shrink the profit margins for publishers. Maybe that's buisness?

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    1. I think a of gamers fall into the same category (PDFs having minimal play value) and I know I was that way until recently, myself. I also agree that cheap PDFs can lead to a perception of lower value. The fact that a lot of PDFs actually do offer minimal value doesn't help the issue, of course. On your last point, I think that's a very real concern for regular ebook publishers, but I doubt it will ever be an issue for the RPG hobby as the distinction between publisher and author is often vague and filled with overlap. Likewise, actual profits are something most of this niche industry does not actually see. To take my on example, as a no-name hole-in-the-wall PDF publisher (who is author, editor and publisher), I have made abouut as much at self publishing in three years as I make in one month at my day job. Odds are authors who can command a higher price already are....and the less well known of us need to break out of the hobby entirely, I think to work up to that level of cred.

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    2. Just to respond to your last point, there may be a time that you decide to break out of the hobby involves investing in the right artist for your products whose name is recognized. I have read a number of comments from publishers about the rising cost of good artists. This isn't to slam artists. It's simply a recognition of what helps sell products. Yes, you can get some very good art from Deviant art contacts who will work cheap. But that will be short lived if they are any good.

      Beyond that, you have the added pressure of crowd funding that I believe is also escalating such costs.

      It flies in the face of logic, but I really believe that part of keeping costs down involves keeping pricing down to reasonable levels. Part of this is because costs are what justifies price to producers, yet value (quality at price) is what determines demand- not cost.

      Thanks for this post and your perspective on the issue.

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