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Title: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Sean P. Fannon on November 29, 2005, 11:25:34 AM
Hello again, everyone. I do hope that the holiday was a pleasant one for everyone.

As promised, I am now posting the larger document that I referenced numerous times in the previous discussion. Hopefully, it will answer the questions asked, and provide the added information that many felt was missing from the One Page. I will probably break this up across multiple posts, just to prevent it from being one long scroll-fest.

If, after reading this, you still have questions, comments, concerns, or what-have-you, I will be happy to entertain any reasonable discourse. I encourage you to ping me directly at my SeanPatFan@gmail.com for quick replies.

Challenges and Solutions for the RPG Market of 2006 and Beyond
A GAMA Program for Publishers, POD Printers, Distributors, PDF Sales Sites, and Retailers

Goal: To provide both a vision and assistance towards integrated solutions that enhance business opportunities for everyone involved in 21st Century RPG publication and sales.

The Foundational Issues

   Most RPG publishers cannot afford to do business in the same mode they once did. Up-front printing costs are too high, with too little chance that enough books will be sold to make up the investment, much less pay the bills of doing business. Those publishers that do print products have, in most cases, taken to direct sales to try and make up their losses (in some cases going so far as to actively encourage their customers to buy direct from them instead of supporting the retail outlets).

   Retailers are, not surprisingly, angry with such publishers. That is, they are angry with the publishers whose product they would be carrying. Other publishers – particularly newer ones – go this route because they can’t even get retailers to ask for their products from distributors, and distributors are becoming increasingly careful about what products they will dare to carry.

   More and more RPG publishers have foregone print publishing altogether, instead relying on sales of their products as electronic files (almost entirely PDF) sold directly from their sites and through such venues as RPGNow, DriveThruRPG, e23, and Paizo. This market has fairly exploded for some companies, and it does well enough for others as to make it worth their sweat equity to keep producing.

   These adaptations have changed the business model to a large degree, to be sure, but things are still rough all over. In addition, there are a few other issues and challenges at work:

  • Gamers generally want books. While many are willing to purchase PDFs, they would greatly prefer actual print products that did not require them to burn their own printer ink and spend lots of time putting sheets into binders. This is an oft-repeated comment from the consumer base.
  • Publishers, as a general rule, really would prefer to have print versions of their product in the market as well.
  • Retailers gain no benefit from the current PDF market; in many cases, they feel their businesses being unfairly undercut by this market.
  • Distributors also gain no benefit from either the direct sales or PDF markets. In many cases, the products in question are not produced or sold in quantities that are worthwhile for them, but there are still quite a few products that could represent sales they are currently missing out on.
  • Consumers who genuinely wish to support their locals stores cannot do so in the cases where the product lines they are interested in are only offered via PDFs or are otherwise attainable only through direct sales.
  • Current trends have created a self-sustaining downward spiral as publishers have less and less opportunity to put products into the regular distribution channels (and less and less incentive to do so), while retailers lose more and more products to direct sales (as well as losing interest in supporting new and innovative product lines).


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Sean P. Fannon on November 29, 2005, 11:28:11 AM
Positive Impact Elements

   Disparate elements and evolving models have, thus far, only served certain portions of the RPG market. However, enough ideas and technological breakthroughs have come about that a holistic, integrated set of solutions can now be described and undertaken to include various levels of the industry. A “win-win” scenario can be achieved for all concerned, in other words.

   The following elements figure into the solution options that now exist:

  • Print-On-Demand (POD) technology has evolved to a state that serves the quality needs of the RPG industry. The average POD book can now sit on the same shelf as a traditional print product and be virtually indistinguishable from such a product in the eyes of the consumer.
  • POD still offers the extremely valuable assets of low investment costs, low overhead, low risk, and no need for warehousing.
  • POD technology is on the threshold of changing the entire print industry; it is not beyond reason to see that traditional print houses will lose massive ground to POD shops, especially as POD becomes capable of serving the color needs of publishers at costs equal to today’s black-and-white costs.
  • There are now two identifiable customer bases for RPGs – Internet customers and brick-and-mortar customers. These groups overlap, to be certain, but most RPG consumers still want print books for the majority of their gaming libraries. Many customers, in fact, will actually purchase both a PDF and a print version of their favorite products.
  • Customers purchasing books via direct sales options are currently paying harsh shipping fees, and this strongly chills their purchase frequency.
  • The average creator (writer, editor, artist, etc.) has been trained by current trends to take “back end” options for their work, making it much more possible for companies to put together good product for low up front costs. This is possible because the PDF/direct sales percentages from a product are so much higher than traditional per-book revenue. This model still works in the proposed solution options.
  • Current marketing approaches enable publishers to develop a strong and loyal following of core fans that will consistently purchase new products. These fan bases can be cultivated to serve the entire industry chain if serviced correctly.


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Sean P. Fannon on November 29, 2005, 11:31:33 AM
Clean and Easy Solutions

   The above positive elements can be combined in a manner that is both innovative and familiar to provide access to more customers for all concerned. Publishers, PDF shops, and POD houses can access traditional brick-and-mortar customers, while distributors and retailers can finally get a piece of the PDF market as well as woo back some of the direct sales customers.

   The following are some models that can be applied to accomplish these goals:

The “POD as Distributor” Model

In this model, a Print On Demand shop actually adopts the role of a distributor, creating a variant of the traditional three-tier business that currently exists. They establish direct relationships with the retailers, taking and fulfilling orders for product and shipping books to all points.

   The pricing is probably not dissimilar to that of the classic three tier mode of business, though adjustments for different costs and expectations may well shift that. At any rate, retailers will charge a cover price, while the POD shop and the manufacturer each gain a percentage of that price.

Advantages
  • For the end consumer, this is little change beyond a wider variety of products made available. Those consumers seeking to attain print versions of their favorite PDF products will be able to get them from their local shops.
  • For the retailer, there is access to product lines that were previously unavailable. They will be able to carry what was previously only available as PDFs and fulfill their customers needs for (a) print versions of PDF product and (b) relief from the burdens of high shipping costs.
  • For the publishers and the POD shop, there is access to sales that were not previously being made. Both can benefit from retail sales to customers unattainable via Internet shopping.
  • Both the publisher and the retailer will be working with a model they understand; the retailer, in particular, will have to do very little “mental adjustment” to make use of this model, other than perusing another catalogue of available products and making orders from it.
  • The retailer will have some new options as well; they can order just one of the products they really want to have on hand, without having to worry about making particular price breaks or “stocking up” in case a print run sells out. They can always order another one, any time. The retailer can also just have catalogues and sales material on hand for other product, confident they can order what they need and have it on hand within a couple of days (which is actually pretty much the same as it is for regular print product).
  • Savvy publishers will make sure they can offer anything released as PDF in print form. Savvy retailers will make sure they can sell anything published.
  • PDF consumers will now have the ability to get print version without having to burn their own ink and paper. They will also be able to have a “real book” instead of a three-ring binder version.

Disadvantages
  • The POD shop will have to develop an expanded order fulfillment operation. They will be dealing with far more shipping, entailing smaller orders sent all over the country far more frequently than they are currently accustomed to.
  • The POD shop will have to develop direct sales relationships with the retailers, similar to those the distributors already have. In some cases, this will mean some form of competition with distributors, which can be problematic for those POD shops that are currently doing business with distributors on behalf of their current publisher clients.
  • Retailers will have to develop relationships with the POD houses offering the product lines they want to carry. They will have to handle more ordering processes and track more product shipments.
  • Publishers will have to evaluate their product offerings to maximize their revenue; additional sales into the retail market will be a good thing, but in some cases it could reduce the number of direct and PDF sales they are expecting. This will likely be a product-by-product issue. In most situations, however, sales into the retail outlets will be added revenue that was not being attained otherwise.


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Sean P. Fannon on November 29, 2005, 11:34:09 AM
The “POD + Distributor” Model

In this model, a Print On Demand shop sets up with one or more distributors to fulfill POD-based orders for them. In effect, they become the “digital warehouse” portion of the distributor’s operation, printing out books and including them in outgoing shipments to retailers.

   Alternately, the distributor can actually go so far as to set up their own POD operation within their main office, printing and fulfilling orders right alongside the stacks of traditionally-printed product and other product they are shipping out.

   As with the first model, the pricing is probably close to that of the classic three tier mode of business.

Advantages
  • Most of the same advantages as found on the first model.
  • The distributor already has all of the retail contacts needed and established business accounts.
  • The distributor already has shipment processing on the scale required.
  • The distributor is included in the revenue access, rather than excluded.
  • The distributor’s catalogue of offerings expanded tremendously.

Disadvantages
  • Added complexity; either an intricate business deal between the POD shop and the distributor, or added complexity to the distributors processes.
  • Up-front investment on the distributors part if they actually put POD capacity into the warehouse.
  • Thinner slices of the revenue pie if the distributor and the POD shop are both cut in along with the publisher and the retailer.
  • The distributor’s catalogue of offerings expanded tremendously (thus increasing the “signal/noise” the retailers must sift through in their shopping).


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Sean P. Fannon on November 29, 2005, 11:36:21 AM
The “PDF Internet Seller as Distributor” Model

The prime example of this model is RPGNow, though any Internet-based company that specializes in PDF sales and can supply POD versions is a viable element of this structure.

In this model, the PDF seller establishes the contacts and business practices necessary to fulfill orders from retailers for products they are already selling direct to their consumer base. In almost all ways, this puts the PDF seller in the same role as that of the POD shop in the first model. This usually means that a separate POD shop is involved as well (in the case of RPGNow, this means Lulu).

Advantages
  • Again, many of the same advantages of the previous two models.
  • The publisher is dealing with the same people, making their business easier to manage with little change.
  • The PDF seller is converted from being only a competitor to becoming a partner with retailers, fomenting a positive relationship instead of a negatively competitive one.
  • The PDF seller, along with their PDF-primary and PDF-only vendors, gains new revenue streams and opportunities.

Disadvantages
  • Additional workload and other complications for the PDF seller.
  • Likely pie-slicing issues as in the second model.
  • Completely unfamiliar business mode for the PDF seller (and probably many of the publishers), requiring much education.


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Sean P. Fannon on November 29, 2005, 11:38:52 AM
That's it, friends. That's the "big idea" that I've had about how at least some of us might make some additional money and reach more of our potential customers. I do also see it as a means of supporting existing participants in the industry overall, and while I understand that this may be a negative motivator for some of you, I do hope at least some here can see value in that goal.

I posted this because I wanted to honor those of you who've been kind, thoughtful, and welcoming in your dealings with me.

Thank you for that.


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Bankuei on November 29, 2005, 12:04:07 PM
Hi Sean,

Can you explain, if at all, how this changes the relationship to retailers or distributors?  From the retailer side, there's no real incentive to try to stock POD games, and from the consumer side, there's no reason to pay extra for those games when they could be ordered via Lulu, RPGNow, etc.  I don't see how any of the current traditional distributors have something extra to contribute in either side.

As far as I can tell, this isn't any change from what is currently served by the market.

Chris


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: timfire on November 29, 2005, 12:10:48 PM
One issue you don't discuss here is the cost of POD printing. You acknowledge that POD costs are high, but don't really answer how to solve that issue. Presumably, if the Distributor does POD printing in-house, or partners with a POD service, it would cut the cost some. But I'm not sure if it will cut it enough.

Another issue to consider is what type of POD printing you're talking about. I'm sure you're aware of the difference between "true" POD (books are printed one by one when ordered) and "short-run" POD (books are ordered in batches of 100-500 or so). "True" POD is really expensive. That's possible when selling direct. So what if printing costs 30-40% of the cover? That still leaves 60-70%. But in the 3-tier system, when the publisher only keeps 40%, that's a killer. Even if you can get the cost down to 20%, that's not leaving a whole lot for the publisher.

I believe you can get the cost of "short-run" books within a managable percentage, but short-run books have most of the disadvantages as traditional printing. You still have to front money (though not as much), which means you have to worry whether the book will sell or not. You have also to worry about warehousing (though again, not as much).

(Cross-posted with Chris)


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Luke on November 29, 2005, 12:51:27 PM
Hi Sean,

Thanks for posting this up for discussion. I'm sure this'll clear up a lot of questions so we can cut to the heart of the matter.

Quote
Distributors also gain no benefit from either the direct sales or PDF markets. In many cases, the products in question are not produced or sold in quantities that are worthwhile for them, but there are still quite a few products that could represent sales they are currently missing out on.

Consumers who genuinely wish to support their locals stores cannot do so in the cases where the product lines they are interested in are only offered via PDFs or are otherwise attainable only through direct sales.

Current trends have created a self-sustaining downward spiral as publishers have less and less opportunity to put products into the regular distribution channels (and less and less incentive to do so), while retailers lose more and more products to direct sales (as well as losing interest in supporting new and innovative product lines).

On one hand, you attest that customers overwhelming want books. I agree. But the above passage seems to fingerpoint at PDFs for cutting retailers and distributers out of a major revenue stream. It doesn't gel. Either customers are primarily buying books and PDFs are a minor side gig for the rpg publishing industry, or PDFs are the wave of the future. If PDF technology is adopted by the consumer, I don't think that printing is an issue. People who want PDFs will want them for their virtues not their flaws.

But all this also dances around the idea of this downward spiral you mention. How is a POD production model controlled by distribution -- who many of us see as the choking vine in the industry -- going to reinvigorate the process  of buying and selling rpgs? How is introducing more product into an already saturated industry going to help get kids to stores to play and buy games?

I dunno man. This model seems like you're centralizing production and distribution which has historically proven to be bad.

Thanks,
-Luke


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Keith Senkowski on November 29, 2005, 01:02:40 PM
Sean,

I think Luke asked a very good, very tough question and I too am very interested how this model you have proposed going to get more people to sit down and play.  The current model, which you are just tweaking a bit, isn't putting more butts in the seats.  How is shuffling the deck of responsibility in the three tier system going to get more people to buy product, play that shit, and come back for more?

I say nuke the whole fucking three tier system as it stands right now cause it ain't help'n nobody.  Instead we should be looking at how to harness the success of conventions and learn how to export that to the smaller scale, much in the way those crazy fuckers in NYC do it.  But that is a whole 'nother topic and I should have kept my mouth shut and started a new thread.

Keith


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Sean P. Fannon on November 29, 2005, 02:00:08 PM
Folks,

I am reading as best I can, and I am thrilled to already be getting feedback. I will be collecting all of your questions and posting a "mega-response" in the near future.

Right now, however, I am very much involved in getting an event submission system up in place for Origins 2006, and this will be a priority for the next couple of days.

More when I can, I promise.

I will say that I agree this is not and end-all, be-all solution. It is only one of a number of things that could or should be done to enhance the business. One of my main tasks at GAMA, beyond the shows we do, is to figure out ways to expand the RPG market and get more people to, as Keith so wonderfully put it, "play that shit."


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: LloydBrown on November 29, 2005, 04:41:01 PM
Can you explain, if at all, how this changes the relationship to retailers or distributors?  From the retailer side, there's no real incentive to try to stock POD games,

Know how I keep pointing out how indie pubs don't offer retailers anything?  Well, here's the caveat.  Once a store reaches a certain volume and cash-flow comfort level, it's not necessarily searching for every point of margin it can eke out on every single item.  It looks for other benefits, as well.  Picking up indie RPGs offers a competitive edge vs. big box and other independent retailers in the same market.  It also serves to reach those customers who spend some dollars in the store and some dollars online. 

Removing the burden of special-ordering every single title directly from the publisher makes ordering indie RPGs much easier on the retailer. 

At this point, speaking as someone with retailing experience, I wouldn't be worried about the cost until I saw some real numbers.  Many indie publishers underprice their product, which allows me to make my money anyway.  Just keep your darn un-informed SRP off the cover!  (said with a grin, guys). 



Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Bankuei on November 29, 2005, 05:37:54 PM
Hi Sean,

Quote
I am reading as best I can, and I am thrilled to already be getting feedback. I will be collecting all of your questions and posting a "mega-response" in the near future.

Thus far, you've avoided every direct question about the material you've presented, from the previous thread and this one as well.  How about instead of a mega-response, try addressing just a single question that has been posited to you.  I'm sure that it would require less effort on your part and serve everyone's needs here better.

Chris


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Ben Lehman on November 29, 2005, 10:16:21 PM
Sean --

Well, thanks for posting.  I honestly cannot see what any of this has to offer me as a publisher or as a game player.

Perhaps your answer to Chris's question will clarify that.

yrs--
--Ben


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Valamir on November 29, 2005, 11:04:24 PM
You know, maybe we could try cutting Sean some slack here.  I mean I'm pretty much a blunt, direct, eff you if you don't like it kind of guy; but these last threads are even making me cringe.

Is is really appropriate to turn Sean's threads into a bear pit just because we don't immediately see where the value added is?  I mean hell, even if we think the idea is all wet we should still be slapping him on the back and giving him kudos for trying...I mean this stuff may be so routine to us that we don't see why we need some third party assistance to accomplish it...but for some publishers out there the idea is down right revolutionary. Ok, so maybe it doesn't go far enough, and maybe it doesn't make a clean enough break with "the old school", but christ on a cracker why all the embedded hostility?

There are better ways of debating the merits of an idea than we've seen in the last couple of these threads, and 99 times in a 100 we'd be using them.  I'd appreciate it greatly if we stopped making these the 1 in 100 exception.

Thanks


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: madelf on November 30, 2005, 09:19:26 AM
The biggest problem I see with this idea is that it's just... an idea. The mechanisms to carry it out aren't in place. I mean sure it would be nice if there was a someone who would serve the function of a distributor (or even a fulfillment house), with in-house POD (if they were any good at it, unlike the RapidPOD fiasco). But I have a hard time picturing anyone here jumping into that sort of thing. And there's not much we can do about it if there's no one ready to step up and carry it out. (And, yeah, RPGnow is experimenting with something sort of like that, but it's looking like it'll proceed at a snail's pace if it works out at all)

A lot of the rest sounds like stuff that could already be accomplished with methods that are currently existing.

Maybe I'm missing something...


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Sean P. Fannon on November 30, 2005, 09:46:21 PM
Hello, folks.

Today I was designing a logic flow for a survey-based WebGUI-driven event submission system for Origins.

Brain hurt. This is not my area of fundamental expertise or training. Here's hoping it works...

Anyway, I explain that in hopes that you all will realize I've really got my hands full. There's been more than a few "Why won't you answer this specific question?" posts, and I have felt very bad about it. However, these questions deserve more than a casually tossed-off answer on my part, and I've simply not had the time to devote.

Tonight, I take a crack at it. What's that old saying?

"Sleep is for the weak..."

I will be using quotes, but I do hope you will all indulge me and permit me the cheat of not making specific attributions. My HTML-fu is weak. I will, however, take them in order, which should make it easy to follow.

Quote
Can you explain, if at all, how this changes the relationship to retailers or distributors?  From the retailer side, there's no real incentive to try to stock POD games, and from the consumer side, there's no reason to pay extra for those games when they could be ordered via Lulu, RPGNow, etc.  I don't see how any of the current traditional distributors have something extra to contribute in either side.

As far as I can tell, this isn't any change from what is currently served by the market.

In the end, you may well be right. However, I believe, based on my research, experience, and (yes, I admit it) intuition, the models presented can result in the following changes:

Retailers will be able to more easily establish relationships with RPG publishers if they can get products like Burning Wheel and Dogs In the Vinyard from centralized sources where they can make larger orders. This doesn't mean I am remotely recommending that publishers abandon other venues for such a model. Never once have I, or would I, suggest it. Talisman's not going to do it, and neither should any outfit that is positioned to make sales in every venue possible.

My assertion is that, if some of the suggested combinations can be applied, some publishers might see additional sales, books on game store shelves, and wider presentation to customers not otherwise reached.

And, yes, what I have proposed looks a great deal like the "system of old." That is, despite being pure anathema to some of the esteemed constituents here, an intentional feature of the proposal.

By constructing the models along familiar lines, yet employing the technologies developed and lessons learned in the "alternate" markets, I am hoping to create new bridges from some of those that were burned down from the negative elements of the past.

Am I grabbing your steering wheel and demanding you drive across the bridge? Not on your life. I am inviting you to keep an eye on the bridge, maybe give some ideas on how to build it better, and even grab a hammer and nails if you like.

If you have a jet car, though, you don't need my bridge. I'm cool with that.

OK, I went a little off track there. Back to the specifics asked above.

There's no incentive for a retailer to stock POD games if they are being asked to buy them direct, I agree. If we make it easier on them, as explained above, then there's no opposing force for them to overcome in ordering the products. With POD quality indistinguishable from regular print, there doesn't have to be any difference at all.

As for customers paying more - not sure why they would. I certainly don't have any plans to change the cover price of my products, regardless of where they are sold. Yes, I get greater margins selling direct. I don't believe I lose very many sales by taking the fraction I get from retail sales, since I attest that those are added sales to what I plan to earn via the means already in front of me.

Traditional distributors may not have anything to contribute. You'll note that they are only one possible component in the models presented. It's up to them to take the initiative to participate as well. They could benefit greatly from either putting POD tech into their facilities (thus storing files like books, but with far less long-term overhead) or working closely with POD operations. Yes, they might end up making less per book than from a traditional print run.

Once again, my assertion is that those would be additional sales to their current flow, not replacements to current lines.

If I've failed to really get at the heart of the above questions, please let me know and I will take another crack. However, I am not claiming that I will have perfect, or even good, answers to all the challenges.

This was, and remains, an opportunity to explore those challenges and, if necessary, face which ones may not be overcome.

Quote
One issue you don't discuss here is the cost of POD printing. You acknowledge that POD costs are high, but don't really answer how to solve that issue. Presumably, if the Distributor does POD printing in-house, or partners with a POD service, it would cut the cost some. But I'm not sure if it will cut it enough.

Actually, from what I've seen on the table, such partnerships would, in fact, cut those costs more than enough to make the additional revenue streams worthwhile to all involved. The technology is rapidly approaching the point where it will price traditional print right out of the market. This will happen fast enough to make early preparatory efforts along these lines smart investments for the future.

Straight up, outside any of my models, I believe all of us need to keep a close eye on this. Those who can come up with the capital, or at least the lease money, may well discover it's a real boon to pick up their own systems down the road.

Quote
Another issue to consider is what type of POD printing you're talking about. I'm sure you're aware of the difference between "true" POD (books are printed one by one when ordered) and "short-run" POD (books are ordered in batches of 100-500 or so). "True" POD is really expensive. That's possible when selling direct. So what if printing costs 30-40% of the cover? That still leaves 60-70%. But in the 3-tier system, when the publisher only keeps 40%, that's a killer. Even if you can get the cost down to 20%, that's not leaving a whole lot for the publisher.

Understood, but I am not suggesting anyone look at this as the sole approach to their market presence. It will take everyone adjusting to the different cost structures, which is why I've engaged ever level of the industry in this discussion. Traditional 3-tier pricing won't work with the flat costing as you've pointed out, but I've already got people at all levels agreeing that other pricing models should and would apply in such circumstances.

Even so, a one-off printed book sold through the distributor network won't net you jack piddle compared to selling it direct, or even through RPGNow, etc.. But if it nets you anything at all, gets into the hand of a store customer who then turns on his gaming group to this book that they would have never heard of otherwise, well...

Quote
I believe you can get the cost of "short-run" books within a manageable percentage, but short-run books have most of the disadvantages as traditional printing. You still have to front money (though not as much), which means you have to worry whether the book will sell or not. You have also to worry about warehousing (though again, not as much).

True, these equations will be different for each developer and publisher, and some just won't like the math of they've go no capital at all. However, you even agree the concerns for short-run fall well within reasonable burdens for anyone with a little float and a garage.

Or an alternate plan.

Take Talisman, for instance. PDF sales of the Shaintar Player's Guide (and some serious ground-level marketing and promotions to generate those sales) has netted us the money we've needed for short print runs (for direct and convention sales), and continues to help us generate the "war chest" we'll need for the bigger print run of the full Setting Book for Shaintar. Having a proven product with a track record of sales has enabled us to discuss very friendly deals and arrangements (to include back end cuts rather than up front capitalization) to reach for the next level of market presence.

All I know is that I am looking at a process much akin to what I've proposed, and I think it's going to work for Talisman. I'd like to see it work for others.

Quote
On one hand, you attest that customers overwhelming want books. I agree. But the above passage seems to fingerpoint at PDFs for cutting retailers and distributors out of a major revenue stream. It doesn't gel. Either customers are primarily buying books and PDFs are a minor side gig for the rpg publishing industry, or PDFs are the wave of the future. If PDF technology is adopted by the consumer, I don't think that printing is an issue. People who want PDFs will want them for their virtues not their flaws.

I don't think the ideas are mutually exclusive. I think there's a segment of the buying public -a significant segment - that would be much happier buying real books. I think their purchasing is chilled because they don't like spending the time and effort to "make" the books themselves. What PDFs they do buy, however, represent sales lost for retailers. Furthermore, there is another segment that is all about the PDF market, and it's for certain that they are sales lost to retailers.

I am not claiming that my approach will eliminate any of these practices or issues. I do believe that some alteration can occur, such that some publishers are able to make more of their fans happy with easier-to-obtain print products, and some retailers will enjoy selling product they were feeling otherwise cut off from.

Please understand that I am not painting any one-zero pictures here. I believe the market, as tiny as it is, is highly complex and diverse. The customer base is by no means homogeneous, and thus requires diverse tactics to reach a larger portion of it.

Quote
But all this also dances around the idea of this downward spiral you mention. How is a POD production model controlled by distribution -- who many of us see as the choking vine in the industry -- going to reinvigorate the process  of buying and selling rpgs? How is introducing more product into an already saturated industry going to help get kids to stores to play and buy games?

I dunno man. This model seems like you're centralizing production and distribution which has historically proven to be bad.

Except that I am not proposing centralization. If anything, I am proposing diversification. I hear that many of you feel good about the sales you are making. Excellent! However, I know there are plenty of folks - with top-grade products - who really should be making more, and whose products should be more widely known.

I don't think POD production should be "controlled" by the distribution networks. I do think a lot can be gained if they are involved in distributing books heretofore not readily or easily available to them.

Don't think for a minute that I am suggesting any of you abandon your current practices. I'm simply advocating that at least some of you might enhance your bottom line if some effective ways of implementing the proposed models can be brought into realistic application.

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I think Luke asked a very good, very tough question and I too am very interested how this model you have proposed going to get more people to sit down and play.  The current model, which you are just tweaking a bit, isn't putting more butts in the seats.  How is shuffling the deck of responsibility in the three tier system going to get more people to buy product, play that shit, and come back for more?

Different kettle of fish, though tangentially getting high-quality, trend-altering games like the ones created by this crew into stores should have some impact on that.

This is but one card in the hand, sir. I'm not going all in, yet, either. I am still working on the flop, if you will...

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I say nuke the whole fucking three tier system as it stands right now cause it ain't help'n nobody.  Instead we should be looking at how to harness the success of conventions and learn how to export that to the smaller scale, much in the way those crazy fuckers in NYC do it.  But that is a whole 'nother topic and I should have kept my mouth shut and started a new thread.

Nah, it's part of the bigger picture. If you'd be willing to ping me some reference points, I'd love to know more about what you're talking about in NYC. I will say that the "year-round-convention" model is something I have been avidly working on for a while, now...

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Removing the burden of special-ordering every single title directly from the publisher makes ordering indie RPGs much easier on the retailer. 

A very, very powerful point, folks. Some of you feel retailers are lazy, and others feel like there's little point in making things easier for them. Respectfully, I heartily disagree. Those who have found other ways to reach retailers are to be commended, but you really will find a much larger success margin if you can figure out a way to at least recreate the relative ease of the "old system," even if you wish to abandon standard practices utterly.

Once again, the reason for the proposed models looking the way they do is to present the familiar while incorporating the new.

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The biggest problem I see with this idea is that it's just... an idea. The mechanisms to carry it out aren't in place. I mean sure it would be nice if there was a someone who would serve the function of a distributor (or even a fulfillment house), with in-house POD (if they were any good at it, unlike the RapidPOD fiasco). But I have a hard time picturing anyone here jumping into that sort of thing. And there's not much we can do about it if there's no one ready to step up and carry it out. (And, yeah, RPGnow is experimenting with something sort of like that, but it's looking like it'll proceed at a snail's pace if it works out at all)

Fair enough, and very true.

Which is why I stepped up, and why I am actively recruiting others, from each part of the industry, to do the same.

And, actually, there is plenty you can do, if you care to. Mind you, I am not advocating anyone jumping on a bandwagon, per se. However, I encourage you to talk to retailers, and distributors, and other possible partners in the process. Explore this and see if you can't crunch out numbers and a process that makes any kind of sense. After all, as James is proving with RPGNow, there's nothing wrong with starting small and seeing if it might work.

However, one thing I've said from the very beginning of this is that one of the most important elements for success will be if publishers can save enough money, foregoing traditional print costs, to invest into marketing, advertising, and promotion of their products. Just opening up new channels of sales won't be enough if no one knows you exist. You have to work on building that clientele, as always, with the added incentive to getting into stores and on convention floors, pushing your wares into exploratory hands.

.......

I am no Man on the Mountain, no guru, no Yoda. I'm an old soldier, but one of many. I have a passion for this industry that has grown far beyond my need for personal gratification. I really and truly want good people with fun games to succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

I mean, honestly, I don't stand to make one cent if Burning Wheel sells 10,000 copies because of anything I might propose. I hope everyone realizes that. There's no profit motive here. No real ego motive, either.

It is, frankly, my job. And my mission.

That's it, and it's enough.


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: MatrixGamer on December 01, 2005, 06:29:40 AM
I just noticed this thread today and read through it.

On the surface the model looks fine. Say I have a PDF product and a POD company has stepped up to the plate to do this job (either as a pseudo distributor or a fullfiller for an expisting distributor). If I don't have a "set up" fee then I have no disincentive to post my product there. If there is a set up fee (say $100) then it may never pay off.

Assume there is no set up fee. I have no reason not to post my product there at all. It would be just another avenue of sales. Maybe it would get product into stores - that would be up to the stores - but since it would be out of my hands it wouldn't matter. I could focus all my energies on writing more stuff (and hopefully proofreading, and editing, and making a good design, and putting in really good art).

My question is this. Isn't this something that should be presented to a printers/POD forum rather than here? I know that Ryan at Guild of Blades and I at Hamster Press do in house production, but very few people here do. Until a quality printer is ready to set up this kind of business we game designers are not involved. Once it is set up then the business owner should post on these lists to let people know about the service to fish for titles. In your role in GAMA you are fishing for interest without the model existing.

If you find lots of interest here I could see it helping you sell the idea to a Printer - but since the three tiered system is not very popular here I can see why your not getting that support.

A lot of this is going to come down to margins. True POD is pretty expensive, tight margins. Short run printing is merely expensive, margins still tight. And then there is the necessity of knowledge of the gaming industry and printing (which will be a difficult combination to find in a business man).

Speaking as a printer and a book binder, I can see this model working but it will take a special person to run it.

Sincerely Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Sean P. Fannon on December 01, 2005, 07:07:34 AM
On the surface the model looks fine... My question is this. Isn't this something that should be presented to a printers/POD forum rather than here?... In your role in GAMA you are fishing for interest without the model existing.

Much obliged, Chris. I truly appreciate all you've said here.

Trust me when I tell you this isn't the only place this is being vetted.

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Speaking as a printer and a book binder, I can see this model working but it will take a special person to run it.

More like a special collection of folks, I think.


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Luke on December 01, 2005, 08:23:46 AM
Sean,
I appreciate your noble intentions. Many of us hear have noble intentions as well. But I hope that wasn't a hint for us to back off! You posted your model for a reason...

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I think there's a segment of the buying public -a significant segment - that would be much happier buying real books. I think their purchasing is chilled because they don't like spending the time and effort to "make" the books themselves. What PDFs they do buy, however, represent sales lost for retailers. Furthermore, there is another segment that is all about the PDF market, and it's for certain that they are sales lost to retailers.

Personally, I think GAMA would be far better served by conducting some hardcore market research in the roleplaying game community. Market research it could publish. Market research we all could use to better expand the reach of our products and art. I say this because I know instinctively that segment I quoted is wrong.

People who want to buy printed matter will primarily buy books. The PDF market/publishers are not "losing money" because someone decides to buy a book. A PDF publisher attempting to lure a book-buying customer to buy his product is taking a risk and is attempting to jump market niches.

People who buy PDFs do not represent a loss of sales for the retailer. I submit that PDF-purchasers are extremely unlikely to buy the same book in a brick and mortar store. If they were never going to buy it in the first place, there's no "lost sales."

There are niches within the market. Retailers serve a very different purpose than PDF vendors. Part of the PDF buying experience involves sitting at home, browsing and purchasing at leisure. A retailer can't provide that experience.

And maybe all large-run printing will die soon. Maybe someday we will just push a button and the machine will spit out the book. But that seems to utterly undermine both retail and distribution. Hastening that end doesn't seem like the best idea.

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Except that I am not proposing centralization. If anything, I am proposing diversification.

I think I don't understand. Aren't you proposing making the distributers into POD houses and distributers?



I propose that GAMA encourage retailers to offer services that give them a true competitive edge stands to sell more books and bring more gamers to the table. Have you ever been in a Games Workshop store? You walk into that store and you play a game. Period. 30 minute demo the second you walk through that door. Mom and pop retailers, for the most part, act as book stores, toy shops and cigar shops. They've got no focus on what the games actually do. This is the direction I'd love to see GAMA move in: research and programs that will help publishers, retailers, distributers and ultimately gamers.

-L


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Troy_Costisick on December 01, 2005, 08:51:30 AM
Heya,

You have a good point, Luke.  A store that gets people in there and gets them playing will end up with a lot more sales.  There is no substitute for actual play.  That'll hook more customers than anything else.

Peace,

-Troy


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: komradebob on December 01, 2005, 09:15:10 AM
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People who buy PDFs do not represent a loss of sales for the retailer. I submit that PDF-purchasers are extremely unlikely to buy the same book in a brick and mortar store. If they were never going to buy it in the first place, there's no "lost sales."

I totally disagree. The only time I buy pdfs is when a book is not available locally.

I'll say though that my personal preferred method is for a free pdf of a game that I have to order, so that I can enjoy it while I wait on the mail.

I'm not big on delayed gratification.


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Keith Senkowski on December 01, 2005, 09:44:30 AM
Different kettle of fish, though tangentially getting high-quality, trend-altering games like the ones created by this crew into stores should have some impact on that.

This is but one card in the hand, sir. I'm not going all in, yet, either. I am still working on the flop, if you will...

Sean,

What does this even mean?  Cryptic bullshit don't fly here man.  You say what ya fucking mean and mean what you fucking say.

I'm done with what Luke is saying.  GAMA should function like and actual trade organization.  Market research should be a big part of what it does.  It should also promote activities to grow the industry.  Teach retailers how to sell product and be a resource that surveys and vets printers and distributors.

You proposal so far doesn't offer a solution.  It offers a way for a dying system to try and squeeze out a few more dollars before it is done.  Fuck that noise.  If you are interested in helping community (notice I didn't say industry), then you would be proposing actual solutions to turn shit around.

And the NYC thing I spoke of is the Gotham Gaming Guild (http://www.nerdnyc.com/guild.php).  Also check out the Get Your Geek On-Athon (http://s7.invisionfree.com/IthacaGamers/index.php?s=2cd2765e5e5a07fb3623026c7cf3d30b&showforum=14) in Ithaca, NY.

Keith


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Sean P. Fannon on December 01, 2005, 09:57:45 AM
I appreciate your noble intentions. Many of us hear have noble intentions as well. But I hope that wasn't a hint for us to back off! You posted your model for a reason...

Absolutely! And please don't consider me being patronizing if I say that I really appreciate the way you are engaging me in this thread.

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Personally, I think GAMA would be far better served by conducting some hardcore market research in the roleplaying game community. Market research it could publish. Market research we all could use to better expand the reach of our products and art.

I am lock-step with you on this point. It has been a mission at GAMA for a long time, and we are finally getting enough groundwork laid with the right sources to start really compiling it. It would not be unwarranted for me to admit that past political fireballs destroyed a lot of previous efforts in this regard. So up goes the scaffolding...

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I say this because I know instinctively that segment I quoted is wrong.

People who want to buy printed matter will primarily buy books... People who buy PDFs do not represent a loss of sales for the retailer. I submit that PDF-purchasers are extremely unlikely to buy the same book in a brick and mortar store. If they were never going to buy it in the first place, there's no "lost sales."

With absolute respect, we are working from clearly different intuitive bases, to be sure. As well, my own research provides some support for my assertion. It's purely empirical, I admit, but what Komradebob said in response -

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I totally disagree. The only time I buy pdfs is when a book is not available locally.

- is very consistent with my experiences and the empirical research I've managed.

Unfortunately, we would both be better served by more information. This is one of the main reasons I've kicked this whole idea into play. I am hopeful that I can start getting support for the research necessary to establish the truths and the mis-perceptions. That kind of data would be incredibly helpful to us all.

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There are niches within the market. Retailers serve a very different purpose than PDF vendors. Part of the PDF buying experience involves sitting at home, browsing and purchasing at leisure. A retailer can't provide that experience.

I can't disagree with you here, and I don't doubt that this truth will remain a truth regardless of what happens. I just don't think that there are only PDF and retail customers, one-zero. I have a great deal of faith in the idea that many of these people are both, and would buy their favorite stuff as books were it possible and convenient.

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And maybe all large-run printing will die soon. Maybe someday we will just push a button and the machine will spit out the book. But that seems to utterly undermine both retail and distribution. Hastening that end doesn't seem like the best idea.

I don't see it that way. Push-button book printing will simple reduce the up-front costs and warehousing overhead. It will ensure books need never go out of print. It will make it easier for everyone, and ultimately cheaper.

However, the distribution/retail options still offer what they offer, which includes such things as savings on shipping (this is something that I think too many are inclined to ignore as a barrier to purchase, and I strongly warn against this) and impulse purchase opportunities.

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Except that I am not proposing centralization. If anything, I am proposing diversification.

I think I don't understand. Aren't you proposing making the distributors into POD houses and distributors?

I hope I am not failing in my communication here, but I really don't see these as mutually exclusive. Distributors handling POD products will offer the publishers another venue for sales, not remove venues. To me, this diversifies the sales options for the publisher.

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I propose that GAMA encourage retailers to offer services that give them a true competitive edge stands to sell more books and bring more gamers to the table... This is the direction I'd love to see GAMA move in: research and programs that will help publishers, retailers, distributors and ultimately gamers.

We are, again, lock-step on this. What I've brought to the table here is but one card in the hand (if I may return to the poker analogy again). Retailer-as-event-space is a huge initiative with me, and I am also working on that.

Again, thank you for the great input.


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Sean P. Fannon on December 01, 2005, 10:04:31 AM
What does this even mean?  Cryptic bullshit don't fly here man.  You say what ya fucking mean and mean what you fucking say.

I tend to be poetic, I guess. I am not trying to be cryptic, though, and I don't peddle bovine excrement. I just prefer to keep the tone higher and the language professional.

(In this context, anyway. Bars and room parties at cons... that's a different thing altogether.)

And you can take it to the bank that I've meant all that I've said, sir.

I was trying to communicate that there are a lot of things we all could and should be doing, and I agree that initiatives that get more gamers playing games, especially in stores, is a key element. It's something else I am working on.

Thank you, by the way, for the excellent links. I am looking forward to researching them more.


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 01, 2005, 10:08:38 AM
There's that "sir" again.

I lived in Georgia for a while. I know the difference between the two ways to say it.

Here, use it the right way, if at all. That wasn't it.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: daMoose_Neo on December 01, 2005, 11:25:52 AM
Retailer-as-event-space is a huge initiative with me, and I am also working on that.

Um, from personal observation, this should really really be #1 as opposed to trying to scrap the whole current print process.
I was involved in a discussion about something related earlier, to which this is the real solution.

The MOST valuable thing I learned at the Forge booth at GenCon is what is more or less preached all the way around here: Play sells. Simple. The GW example is prime. I'm absolutely lousy face to face, and my first couple days at GenCon I sold about $20-$30 a day. Changing gears, I swapped places with my partner, the people person between us, and ran some events while he demoed and pulled about $120 a day. Small numbers to be true, but for what we were offering not bad. The difference was the play.
Way too many stores simply kick back and rely on D&D, Magic, YuGiOh, etc. to make their bills each and every month and then bitch that WalMart, Meijer, KMart, Target, or whatever else in their area is getting the sales. Way too many retailers simply wait for their distributor or magazine to tell them what is going to be "Hot", stock it, and wait for the sales to fall in- advertising only does so much! It makes people vaugley aware something exists!  Relying on THAT to make your sales is a lousy way to do business.
I'm looking at opening a store front and a number of people who are involved in running stores question why I want open tables and play space, because that will only cost me money according to them. The thing is, having the space for gamers to come in means they'll play their new favorites or sit down so I can show them something new coming out or an old favorite they've never touched. Locally, *I* can help decide what is hot or what is not. Retailers forget that, and apperently so does most retailer supporting organizations. I'm doing it now with my own card game. The last couple of in-store events I've hosted I've paid for new runs of cards, just with the sales from local events (Know anything about CCG Printing? Thats saying something). Imagine if I had that retail assistance across the country. It SELLS when your show it, when they play it. It DOESN'T sell in a magazine ad. It DOESN'T sell in an industry or distributor catalog.
And here's where PDF is wonderful: for a rate less than that of a print book, a player can take a risk. A publisher can release a mass amount of material so players can play it. My card game is available in PDF for $1 a set. Its also online via CCGWorkshop, free to play. I also support it with free PDF card downloads. And with current POD models, a player who likes the PDF can order a print copy. If they can't, its the designers own lazy fault.


Title: Re: Challenges and Solutions, Take Two
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on December 01, 2005, 11:49:53 AM
Now, Nate's talking the kind of retail reform I can understand. That's how art galleries operate, isn't it? Time-limited events highlighting artists the gallery owner thinks will sell. The artist sells what he can, the gallery gets its cut and the stuff makes the rounds. Some constantly popular stuff is kept available all the time, but the emphasis is on tailored events.

Just imagine that in gaming: everything sold on a sales account (hmm... that's not the English term for it, but I don't remember what is) with excesses returned to publisher in short cycles. Small stocks and an event-based sales culture. I think they do that already for CCGs at times. Sounds like a game plan to me. I'll be interested to see how it goes when somebody tries that!

I like Sean's demeanor just fine, but I can't see the exciting ideas yet. I'm probably missing something, because mostly I'm wondering if really the US distributors and retailers do not already do the things he outlines. They seem rather self-evident, after all.