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Author Topic: Distributor Questions  (Read 5198 times)
Tav_Behemoth
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« Reply #15 on: September 21, 2004, 07:33:58 AM »

Quote from: abzu

You can quite feasibly do a BW "art light" version of your piece in POD, get people interested, get the bugs worked out, and then turn around a year or two later and knock our socks off with a big glossy book...
A lot of your perceptions of the game are going to change as it meets the public. I suspect, and I could be wrong, that you'll actually want to revise a lot of it. Ron hit the streets with a MS word printout of Sorcerer and made everyone he met sit down and play the damn thing.


It's the public perceptions of the game that I'm thinking about. Ron's MS word printout clearly sends the message "This game is still in development; play it now so the official release will be as good as I can make it."

If you come out with an "art light" version, the folks who've followed it will be impressed when the snazzy-looking revision comes out a year later. But you'll then have to work extra hard to win back the attention of the glossy art whores who looked at it a year ago and turned up their noses.

If the game needs a public gestation period, I'd suggest releasing it as a PDF first. Art costs nothing to reproduce on screen, and when you come out with the snazzy revision, the legions of people who don't know what a PDF is will still think it's a hot new thing and not a revision of last year's game.

(Note: I'm not denying that quality play and design are essential to a game's longevity, and that the three-tier system is poorly suited to achieve that longevity. But if Valherjar is potentially a hot date on the shallow short-term meat market, I say use that scene for all it's worth and then surprise people with the fact that they still feel good about the game the next morning.)

Going to cons and meeting people is, as Luke says, fun and good for your game. But I'd make sure the print version you're showing them is, like Ron's Sorceror draft, clearly just an appetizer for the big event.

Quote from: abzu

Please tell me where you have found this magic traditional press, Tav! This is the impossible dream for press work. Typically, minimum set up is 1000 pieces, and even then most printers won't do that little.  I've found that the per unit cost for printing 500 pieces on press is just too high.
-L


Well, I left off the "talking out of my ass" tags in my last post :) Correct me where I'm wrong, though:

- The per unit cost of any number of copies = the setup cost plus the incremental cost

- The incremental cost doesn't change whether you're doing 500 copies or 50,000; the higher unit cost of 500 on press is just due to the fact that the (setup + incremental) cost is divided over 500 instead of 50,000

- POD printers have a low setup cost but a higher incremental cost; as print run size increases, traditional printers become more cost effective

- Some traditional printers will do an initial setup for 1000 copies; at around 1,200 copies, traditional printers in Thailand or China become very cost-effective

- Some indie RPGs can reasonably expect to sell more than that many copies sooner or later

- The better production values of traditional print vs. POD/digital press might help sell more books

So if you can invest the setup costs now and keep the setup for later, and if you can warehouse cheaply (in your garage?), and if you are in fact ready to bring your game to market without further development, and if you have solid reasons to believe it might someday sell upwards of 1,000 copies -- I think traditional print is a Good Idea.

To move this from the theoretical to the actual (and maybe to a different thread), why wouldn't you have gone traditional press in retrospect, abzu?
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Luke
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« Reply #16 on: September 21, 2004, 07:39:36 AM »

Quote
The incremental cost doesn't change whether you're doing 500 copies or 50,000; the higher unit cost of 500 on press is just due to the fact that the (setup + incremental) cost is divided over 500 instead of 50,000


I could be wrong, but I don't think this is true. The cost of paper and ink for each book drops the larger the print run.

Per unit for 10,000 is lower than per unit for 1,000. Not only because of the set up cost, but because materials (and time) can be booked in bulk.

It's the standard economy of scale.

I'm fairly certain on this one, but, then again, I'm often wrong.
-L
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Tav_Behemoth
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« Reply #17 on: September 21, 2004, 08:12:26 AM »

Quote from: abzu

I could be wrong, but I don't think this is true. The cost of paper and ink for each book drops the larger the print run. Per unit for 10,000 is lower than per unit for 1,000. Not only because of the set up cost, but because materials (and time) can be booked in bulk. It's the standard economy of scale.


I'm probably wrong too, but I'm faster on the reply button than anyone who might be right!

That said, I still stand by the idea that the cost of printing n+1 copies remains the same whether the initial n is 1,000 or 10,ooo. The economy of scale doesn't apply to the client, unless yours is the only book the printer does all year. The printer orders materials in bulk, getting the best economy of scale they can. This is passed on to each of their clients as a fixed incremental cost.
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Masters and Minions: "Immediate, concrete, gameable" - Ken Hite.
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daMoose_Neo
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« Reply #18 on: September 21, 2004, 08:40:54 AM »

Actually, at least from the printers I spoke to about Twlight, that sounds about right. The cost for materials is the same, the cost for setting up is the same, its just cheaper because its spread out.

IE (this is in no way representative) Setup costs: $50 (materials & ink for setting printers, prepping machines, time etc), cost per unit materials: $1
An order for 5 units costs $55, $11 per unit, expensive. However, order 50 units = $100, $2 per unit, cheap.

According to the printers I spoke to, its quite a number of sheets they run for the intial setting of the presses, making sure all the alignments and everthing are correct.
Materials and everything for a regular printer are bought in bulk on a regular basis anyway, so they're getting a good deal as it is. They'll go through as much material for product for three runs of 100 as they would for one run of 300, minus of course the materials run for setups, which is covered by the setup charge.
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Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!
Chris Passeno
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Print Geek


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« Reply #19 on: September 21, 2004, 11:42:25 AM »

There are a couple things that need clarified.  There are two kinds of "set up."

Prepress Set Up- which is everything involved in taking the job on disk all the way up to just before the press is turned on. This value is constant.  Once it's done, so long as there are no changes, you shouldn't be charged that again on a reorder.

Press Set Up-  this is more than just turning on the press.  It's got everything from hanging the plates, registering color, and getting consistant color.  This isn't a set price.  Technically, color will go out of gamut in a matter of minutes, depending on humidity, paper stock, and what not.  So each time the job is put on the press, it's a struggle to get it to a point where it's fine to run.

Run-Time-  once all the press set up is done, the difference in time to run a book between 100 books and 1000 books is quite small.  For instance, on a single page flyer the difference between 100 flyers and 1000 flyers is about 20 minutes.  It's just a matter of letting the machine chug along a little while longer.  All the hard work is done.

 Therefore, on a traditional print run, the more copies you get, the less expensive per piece it is.  If you want to break the prepress out of the equation, it would still be less expensive per piece because you still have Press Setup to contend with.  Now you will eventually bottom out the scale, but that wouldn't be till you get in the astronomical numbers.

Now POD is similar, 'cept different.  Pricing often mocks traditional pricing, but you reach the bottom end of that scale pretty quickly.
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Ed Cha
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« Reply #20 on: September 21, 2004, 03:45:19 PM »

Quote from: Tav_Behemoth

So if you can invest the setup costs now and keep the setup for later, and if you can warehouse cheaply (in your garage?), and if you are in fact ready to bring your game to market without further development, and if you have solid reasons to believe it might someday sell upwards of 1,000 copies -- I think traditional print is a Good Idea.


Hey, not everyone is an Abzu or a Ron! :) Selling 1,000 copies on your own is not an easy job.

It really takes a lot of ass-kicking promotion work, working your butt off at conventions big and small, whoring yourself on the Internet, etc to sell that many copies.

Even then, you might still have to sell a bunch of copies to distributors or liquidators at 40% or less to unload your stock.

I don't know anything about your product, but it sounds like a setting book for d20 or something. There is already plenty of that stuff working its way through different channels and they've got a lot of support. If you had an original RPG, you'd get some automatic sales from people who just love to pick up any new system. Then the rest, you'd have to sell by merit. But I think you don't.

I'd advise starting out small and then working your way up. You need to build a following, a knowledge base, a reputation, and a network.
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GregS
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« Reply #21 on: September 21, 2004, 10:43:56 PM »

Firstly, allow me to say thank you immeasurably to everyone who chimed in.  It has been wonderful getting the numerous perspectives and I appreciate everyone's time and response.

As for how it effects me...I as of yet have no idea.  There was so much information presented, and it is so divergent from my anticipated designs, that I really don't know what I'm going to do yet.

But I wanted to take the time to say thanks now...and invite people to keep the thoughts coming.

Greg
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Michael S. Miller
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« Reply #22 on: September 22, 2004, 06:13:32 AM »

Hi, Greg.

I noticed that you cited the number of selling 2000 copies through distribution as coming from a number of different industry sources. Some people keep giving out the same advice for year after year, even when conditions change. It becomes a habit.

For another industry perspective, check out this brief exchange I had with Sandy Antunes of RPG.net. He claims that books that would sell 2000 copies through distribution a year or two ago are lucky to sell 200 nowadays. While you're over there, read as much of Sandy's Soapbox column as you can stand. He's got a keen insight into the "industry" side of the RPG scene.
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Ed Cha
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« Reply #23 on: September 22, 2004, 04:46:09 PM »

Well, I'd say 200 copies through distribution is a bit on the low side, but I guess it depends on how well known your company is and what the actual product is. The fact is the first 200 copies are the easiest to sell. Why sell them at a 40% (or less) rate?
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madelf
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« Reply #24 on: September 23, 2004, 08:25:45 AM »

What I've been able to figure (from observation and talking to people who should know), tells me that it's not a good idea for a new company to release their product into distribution immediately.

The distribution system is geared to fast turnover. 60 to 90 days average life expectancy for a game product, then the next book needs to be in place to boost plummeting sales of the first, starting the infamous "supplement treadmill" to keep the company on the distributor's radar. (And yes, I've had it confirmed by reps from both a major distributor and a fullfillment house, sales for a new release non-d20 product was 300 to 500 and falling, as of several months ago. 200 may be very realistic by now. D20 used to do far better, but that's been dropping off in numbers very quickly as well)

An unknown game company (even if they manage to get a product into distribution at all) is going to have it burn through that short sales cycle without selling well simply because no one will have heard of it. It might be out there, it might get bought by the distributors, and it might even make it to a handful of stores... but for the most part it's going to sit there. Even if someone does happen to hear of it, if they go looking for information there will be no review, no forum discussion about it, no presence beyond the company website, and they won't be reassured. By the time that sort of presence does develop, the game may have already been dropped from distribution for low sales.

I believe (and yes my belief is untested except by observation) that it would be much better to get the product out, promote it, circulate it at some cons, give time for some reviews to get done, for people to play the game and talk about the game... and then hit distribution with an established product that is already a demonstrated success. Make distribution a step up to wider accessibility of the game, not the first step.

PDF is a good example. Sales of PDF products do not generally drop off, they grow over time. Backlist sales of pdf products from a couple years ago still seem to move. Self-promoted POD should be able to work the same (though apparently it has been a bust at RPGnow - primarily due to lack of interest from the publishers I suspect).

Unfortunately there aren't exactly a ton of people doing POD print products with on-line promotion through their own storefronts to gather data from (I can't for the life of me figure out why - it seems like a near perfect solution to me - all the low risk and  benefits of PDF publishing with a hard copy product), but what I have heard sounds pretty optimistic. It's certainly the way I plan to go.

That's my two cents worth.
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Calvin W. Camp

Mad Elf Enterprises
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #25 on: September 23, 2004, 08:37:26 AM »

Hi Calvin,

As the fellow pioneered the whole idea of selling an RPG on-line as a PDF product (yeah, it was me), and who then later went to print, I can only agree with you 100%. There is literally no downside to this strategy, as a strategy per se.

After that point, one can do any number of things. I prefer to discontinue the PDF once the print version is available. Others prefer to sell finalized PDF and print versions concurrently, and all reports from that angle seem strong. My real point is that print is only an option, not a necessary obligation, and that distribution through the three-tier is only an option within the first.

Back to distribution specifically, here are some useful threads for folks to check out. Please note the dates.
PDF publishing
Price setting in the gaming world
Successful RPG line
Channel conflict with distribution-retail-manufacturers

Best,
Ron
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madelf
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« Reply #26 on: September 23, 2004, 10:46:19 AM »

Hey, Ron.

Interesting to hear you where a PDF pioneer. Doesn't surprise me somehow...

Anyway, I agree with you that print isn't a requirement. I do, however, think that it can be a huge benefit for some games, particularly the ones with a larger book.

Everything I've seen while watching the PDF side of things tells me that PDF only does really well for relatively small products. Larger products (by which I mean things much over 100 to 150 pages or so) don't generally do nearly as well. It seems like the smaller the PDF, the better it sells. The reason? IMO, most people want to print them out & printing ain't cheap.

Also, the PDF industry looses many customers who might buy a book if it was available in hard copy (or so those who don't buy PDFs claim at least), but who aren't interested at all in bringing a laptop to the game or printing things out.

The solution to both of those drawbacks is a print copy of the book. That means an investment in an expensive traditional print run, or POD. Tough decision there, huh?

The downside to POD is that it has gained a bad rep. I think the rep is undeserved (these days at least) but it is there. Some people think POD means low quality. At that point I have to ask, "If you're worried about that, why tell them it''s POD? Get short POD print runs, warehouse them in your attic, and sell them from your website as print books." I bet no one would even know the difference if you didn't tell them. And secretly, I suspect most of the people looking for anything besides the latest big-name d20 supplement couldn't care less how the book was printed.

Anyway, what I'm getting at here is that, with POD where it is today... there's really no good reason not to go to print. Distribution on the other hand, there's a lot of reasons to not go there. Fortunately the one doesn't have to involve the other.
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Calvin W. Camp

Mad Elf Enterprises
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-Check out my clip art collections!-
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #27 on: September 23, 2004, 10:56:47 AM »

Hello,

Calvin, I think you're on the right track, but working with too few categories and options. Let's break it down into completely independent binary options. Again, these are not nested, but available in any combination

1: free pre-commercial copy, or not

2: PDF (or other electronic) version, or not

3: print version, or not

As you rightly point out, game-store distribution via the three-tier is a subset of #3, so I'm not including it here.

Back to #1-3, any combination is possible.

- Trollbabe = #1 no, #2 yes, #3 no

- Scarlet Wake = #1 yes, #2 yes, #3 unknown

- My Life with Master = #1 no, #2 yes, #3 yes

- Sorcerer (currently) = #1 no, #2 no, #3 yes

Nuances
Add in the possibility of changing as you go, as with Elfs going to print or many older games now being available only as PDFs.

I'm not including quick-start versions as #1; I'm talking about the full game. Just doin' this to avoid grayness.

Since print can be either traditional or POD, that adds a little set of nuances to #3 as well.

Anyway, my point is that it's not a matter of either-or. All sorts of combinations and changes in them can be set up as a business model. I suggest that publishers pick low-risk combinations to start, then change the policy to other combinations only when they seem financially viable.

The days of "write it, print it, look around desperately for help in getting it distributed" are over. Anyone who goes into RPG publishing with that model in mind is a decade out of touch and guaranteed to take a bath, and not the good kind either.

Best,
Ron
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jdagna
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« Reply #28 on: September 23, 2004, 11:28:41 AM »

Quote from: Michael S. Miller
I noticed that you cited the number of selling 2000 copies through distribution as coming from a number of different industry sources. Some people keep giving out the same advice for year after year, even when conditions change. It becomes a habit.


Just to back this up from another source... Aldo of Impressions Marketing (who runs one of the big fulfillment houses on top of doing a lot of advertising) said last year that an "average" non-d20 RPG core book could sell about 500 copies, with about 90% of that in the first three months.

Now, that doesn't quite match my experiences... in a year, I haven't quite sold 500, and none of them were in the first three months.  In fact, sales seem to be slowly going up instead of dropping off.

But given that Aldo deals with many different products and companies, I think the 500 number is a pretty realistic high-end target for a small publisher in the first year.

I haven't heard anyone say that printing more than 1000 copies is a good idea for a first run.
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Justin Dagna
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GregS
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« Reply #29 on: September 23, 2004, 11:56:34 AM »

Ah, the synchranicity of life...And my horrible, horrible spelling...

Coincidentally, I just had a conversation with a very supportive distributor about this same concept.  Essentially, I asked if he felt it would hurt my chances of distribution if my launch was a small, subtle event that got the game out more to generate buzz than to make sales, including through PDF forms.  I was concerned he would frown on the idea of losing out on the "first run" sales numbers.

He said he had no problem with it.  And while he was pretty sure some of the other distributors might be pissed, he said he thought it was a great idea for getting the kinks out and generating long term sales.  He also noted, in addendum to an early post, that most distributors are now down to a 30 day, rather than a 60 or 90 day, inventory turn around.  In other words, if it doesn't sell in the first month they're done with it.

It was a LOT more incentive to explore alternative options first.
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