Thursday, April 15, 2010

Quality sells, but sometimes quantity is needed

James Raggi posted some thoughts on business models. The follow on comments are interesting in their own right. John Adams of Brave Halfling Publication has some astute observation on the retail side of the roleplaying game industry. Namely that game store owners need a flow of new products in order to keep customers coming in.

Since the release of the Majestic Wilderlands I had several conversations with OSR Publishers. Without going into details the issue of having a retail presence came up.

The best answer I heard so far is for OSR publishers that want to have a retail presence to band together in order to keep a constant flow of product into the stores. This way the retailers are happy and the publishers can still take their time to hone their products.

In reply to the first comment each OSR publisher still continue to work as they did before, releasing one or two well honed product each year. It just when you have say ten publisher pooling their efforts into distribution then the retailer is now happy that there is a stream of new products coming in every month.

However the trick is getting enough of us with enough of a cash flow to afford print runs. Even then the margins can be low at our sales level.

UPDATE: Stuart comment on looking at the experience of Image Comics sounds good. While I don't know much about the comic scene I can see the hobbyist and industry atttitudes to be roughly equivalent as the gaming side of things. Certainly they are experiencing the same impact of PoD and the internet as we are.

17 comments:

Cusick said...

This post is a good example of why I'm a fan of PDF and POD business models. I don't want a game that's been designed to keep selling me more crap. I want a complete game, bought once. That's that magic that I love about Rules Cyclopedia, Settlers of Catan, Civilization, and the like. The latest splat written to keep Borders happy doesn't interest me.

Rob Conley said...

@Cusick I edited the post to clarify what I meant.

Stuart said...

Why do OSR publishers want a retail presence if it means focusing on quantity? (from my experience with Indy Comics, this is true)

Rob Conley said...

It depends on the goals of the publisher. Most I know want their stuff available to the broadest audience of gamers. Not just for profit but also so that it has the most chance of being used and appreciated.

Focusing solely on the internet (PoD and PDF) means that you losing the majority of the audience. Some are not content with just the audience available through the internet.

The challenges are retail side desire for quantity and upfront costs of print runs. From discussions I had some believe there are ways of dealing them without compromising the existing level of quality.

One of the approaches being tried is aggregating the smaller publishers to present a more attractive setup for distributors and retailers

Cusick said...

Is retail still the biggest channel? I guess I'm just out of touch. Except for one emergency dice purchase (a last-minute gift) I haven't even been in a gaming store in years. Even book stores are passe for me, with Amazon and RPGNow.

How do you explain Call of Cthulu then? It's been continuously in print for 30 years now, and the editions aren't even that different from each other (from what I've been told - I haven't played it myself). And that's despite that I've never seen a splat or module for it on sale.

dogrodeo said...

I want printed products with the option of pdfs. The book in hand is still my prefered method of play and always will be. I love books that also come with a pdf copy so you get the best of both worlds. ex- Cortex by mwp. OSR is really just starting to gain momentum and with each product produced, mainly core systems, it will grow.

Rob Conley said...

Yes retail still dwarfs the internet even in the United States including for gaming. The impact of the internet as still being played out.

As for Call of Cthulu, I not sure how that relevant to my point. I think how Chaosium treated Call of Cthulu would be a better model to emulate than the White Wolf or the Wizard model.

However we are better off to figure out something that works for us then emulating any one specific past (or present) model of business.

I am not talking about changing the type of products OSR publisher are writing. But rather showing what the issues are if you want to go into distribution. And a solution that I liked because it takes advantage one of the OSR's strengths which is it's diversity of publishers without impacting what those publishers would already write.

Telecanter said...

Your post makes sense and I think it would be a good strategy for the current small publishers to pursue if they really want a brick and mortar presence.

But, I think that's really thinking in old ways; the future is POD.

Maybe it's different in the midwest, but there is no rpg retail presence that is seeing a broad audience where I live, unless you're in Borders/Barnes & Noble.

So, is it feasible for smaller publishers to break into those stores? What are the costs in trying to do so?

My humble opinion is you would all be better off focussing on one POD market and trying to subsidize/support better shipping deals to foreign markets. I think the market is broad and shallow.

Rob Conley said...

@Telecanter - some good thoughts. My feeling on Internet (PoD, PDF) vs retail, is that both will be important. That the gaming store will continue to exist. So if one of your goals to get your stuff in the hands of the broadest possible audience you need to account for both.

Right now the economics for somebody small, like me, that any retail presence will have to be looked at as form of advertising. As the profit margin is very low for the print runs on the small end.

So the idea will be get a couple of products into retail and make sure the consumer know how to get your internet presence where your bread and butter stuff is (and profit margin).

Stuart said...

I think this is a good example of where the Hobby is better served by one thing (Quality) and the Industry is better served by another (Quantity).

limpey said...

I'd be happy to contribute more to products that show up in the retail stores. But as far as my own "vanity projects" go, I can only speak of my own goals --- which is pleasing myself first. Perhaps if a publisher approached me with an offer (like the one that led to Dungeon Alphabet!) I might sing a different tune, but I don't want to be out there trying to get my stuff into retail on my own.

Stuart said...

If someone is really serious about this then they need to follow the example of Image Comics. Speaking from experience trying to do that kind of thing in a decentralized "community" kind of way won't work nearly as well.

Basically you're talking about the model used for Fight On! and Knockspell, but instead of articles it's entire products.

Wickedmurph said...

*edit for spelling*

I live in a fairly small town where high-quality, handmade crafts are a fair portion of the economy. The difficulty that many small craftsfolk and artists have is that they cannot create enough material to have their own brick and mortar establishment, or supply a large number of existing stores with their material.

The response around here has been to create artists/crafters "Co-ops" - the work of 20 or 30 artists can fill a brick and mortar store, and ensure that new materials are coming in all the time.

They have also found that as a large group of artists, they have better negotiating power, more ability to guarantee a certain amount of product and more flexibility in working with retail locations.

This sort of organization might be a valuable way for people interested in publishing OSR materials to access retail outlets, and even pool resources to create higher-quality display/promotional materials for members.

It also means that members of the OSR publishing business wouldn't have to sacrifice quality for quantity, which is an important consideration

Blair said...

Or one could follow the example of many "underground" record labels that license their releases for distribution with a bigger, well-connected label.

Travis said...

I can't see offset print as the way to go in any case for OSR products. It is really only a good method if you are selling several thousand copies. There are POD services other than Lulu.

http://www.lightningsource.com

You might consider Lightning Source. It is far superior to Lulu. LS is owned by Ingram. Ingram is the world's largest distributer of books. You publish on LS and your book gets into the Ingram Distribution system which includes the big box stores, Amazon and overseas. With LS, you can stay with POD, not have to go to the expense of a print run and be in retail distro. It requires more money upfront than Lulu. You pay $12 a year to have the service you have to buy the ISBN numbers yourself and have a commercial checking account. They also offer; print to publisher at the printing cost to a reviewer or warehouse; offset printing but only on quantities over 2000.

Worth checking out.

Jerald said...

As the owner of one of those small brick-n-mortar stores, the attitude of some posters here, is simply incomprehensible to me... WHY would anyone NOT want to be able to visit a place where they are likely to meet other gamers, be able to actually talk to others who may have played the game in question, and possibly (at least in a place like mine, or anyplace with space set aside for gamers) - be able to sit right down with old and new friends and just start playing their new game?

In regards to the actual topic of this thread, I would have to say that I personally feel that the way to go is for many small publishers to pool their work like Rob and WickedMurph suggest. It is not just the distributors and sellers who would like to see more product more often, but the GAMERS themselves are always eager to find new games, or at least new material that they can incorporate into old favorites.

I have only just discovered this "new world" of small publishers that is growing online, and as a store owner, I see this as a great opportunity - to be able to offer my customers more great stuff, of the types that I know many of them will really like! (many of whom are also now friends - since meeting in the store.) I wouldn't have even met Rob if not for the store, and I still wouldn't have experienced the joy of gaming with him as the DM! I REALLY like his "outside the dungeon" type of gaming!

From now on. I will be actively looking for new products online that I can hopefully bring into my store. I have not liked being at the mercy of huge distributors such as Diamond or Alliance Games to decide what products are available! Truly great games often get dropped just because huge numbers of people don't start playing them "fast enough" (If a product takes more than a few weeks to sell out, It will likely be dropped completely!) This seems to be what keeps happening to the former Wizkids games like Pirates of the Coast, Heroclix, and others. Companies keep picking up, then dropping these lines before giving sufficient time for a fan base to grow and develop! Constantly putting out new sets, and frequent rule changes also alienates consumers.

I am in the process of ordering some copies from Black Blade Publishing to display along side Rob's Majestic Wilderlands, on a special shelf I plan to construct right above the existing shelves where I offer the "regular" D&D materials and related titles! For some time now I had been looking for "local" writers comics to promote, and I see promoting a local game author as equally important!

I guess I tried to tackle too many of the issues that beset the gaming industry all at once in this post. Of course what everyone really wants is everything they can get! Players and Retailers both want MORE great products, MORE often!

Rob Conley said...

Thanks for the post Jerald. Looking forward to seeing how Swords & Wizardry and the Majestic Wilderlands fare in retail.