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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 81 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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guildofblades
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« Reply #15 on: September 08, 2007, 09:56:41 AM »

>>How do big box Booksellers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble) figure into the mix for the history of gaming?<<

Book chains such as Barns & Noble and Borders and their like have had a toe in the water of selling hobby games for a long time. First they sold a handful of the most prolific of the bookshelf war games. These days they generally sell the most prolific of the RPGs (by this I generally mean the D&D core book...usually, and handful of White Wolf titles and a tiny offering of other licensed RPG properties) and whatever is the hot collectible games of the moment. The degree to which each store services hobby games at all varies based on the whims of the person in charge of that department within each store.

Generally speaking, they don't service the "hobby" at all, and just skim the cream of the crop of the highest turning titles. TSR/WOTC, FASA, White Wolf and a few other companies with sufficient enough capital to risk the returns potential of the big book chains carved out some pretty good revenues in selling fiction titles based on their role playing properties (and Battle Tech has had a fair novel line as well). These fiction publications and the core D&D books have served as gateways for new players into the industry in the past, with D&D core book sales owing over half their total sales volume to the book chains. In the past when these new players would then migrate to game and hobby stores for more depth of selection for their D&D and White Wolf, it tended to be a good thing for the mid tier companies and small press because it gave our products shelves in those store the potential to be exposed to these new players as well. More recently with small press all but squeezed out of most hobby game stores, the book chains lend no real value to anyone but the top tier manufacturers.

Amazon is a different animal. Its harder to quantify its impact. In part it allows mid sized and small companies a potential high profile retail outlet to sell their product. But with Amazon's deep discount methodology on product it gets from primary distribution channels, it has also created a perception with many gamers that games should always be discounted 25-30% or more and has played a big part in further turning high profile gaming titles into commodity items in the minds of consumers. This I suspect has had a twofold affect of both weakening the value proposition of brick and mortar stores and created a perception that many small press and indie titles are majorly over priced compared to the product of say a WOTC, White Wolf, etc. When in fact it is merely the inequities of the distribution process that drive Amazon to heavily discount that stuff, but not the titles by smaller companies, creating an additional gap of 25-30% different in pricing on those goods, added to any additional disadvantages that lack of volume pricing the small companies already receive in production.

All in all, my bet is Amazon has hurt small companies more than it has helped. But that's just my feeling and its not something I have any hard data on.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
http://www.1483online.com
http://www.thermopylae-online.com
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Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #16 on: September 08, 2007, 10:56:14 AM »

Hi there,

Direct sales is an inexact term. I've seen it applied to any movement of product that doesn't follow the three-tier system. It's even been applied to a store ordering the book from a publisher.

I tend to restrict my use of it to end-consumer sales which don't go through distributor or retail, whether at conventions or through on-line methods that are directly tied to the publisher. IPR and Key 20 count because there are only two owners, publisher and then consumer, and so does POD ordering of various sorts.

Again, though, it's not a defined term, and I'm not claiming to define it here for anyone but myself. That's why I asked, because I needed to understand the possible difference in use.

Best, Ron
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TwoCrows
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« Reply #17 on: September 08, 2007, 11:15:18 AM »

Ron,

I see the logic in your definition, and how it contrasts the methods being discussed based on the number of ownership points between the publisher/manufacturer and the consumer.

My use of the term "eRetailer" came from a skewed sense of how folks like IPR, and Key 20 operate. Under your definition, yes, I'd categorize what they do as direct sales, based on the ownership criterion.

Would direct consignment sales seem a useful term to you?

Regards, Brad
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TwoCrows
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« Reply #18 on: September 08, 2007, 11:18:34 AM »

Ryan,

Thanx for your take on big box booksellers. My sense is that they have hurt smaller booksellers, and mortar and brick shops on a number of fronts.

Regards, Brad
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #19 on: September 10, 2007, 11:10:50 AM »

My brother now works for Top Shelf, an independent comics publisher, and has been dealing with comics distribution for a while now, having previously run the comic library at Reed College.  I linked him to this thread and he responded:

Quote from: Leigh Walton
Not sure what to say. I don't have a real behind-the-scenes view of either the comics or gaming industry. I know that comics has moved through the whole "ignoble origins -> makeshift distribution -> great popularity -> crash -> rise of new generation with unconventional content/audience/distribution" narrative, except that we've appended the additional step of "begin integrating with mainstream industry & audience" that you haven't done yet. Once the important New York editors were convinced, it was relatively trivial for the giant Book Industry Machine to pick up certain graphic novels (Maus, Persepolis, Fun Home etc) and get them into every home in America -- they're just books, after all, and the Machine is designed to push books. Even if roleplaying was able to achieve that (the D&D manuals have made it into nationwide B&N etc), the act of roleplaying is fundamentally something that people aren't used to, and B&N isn't equipped to provide ongoing support for a hobby culture.
« Last Edit: September 10, 2007, 11:44:30 AM by Jonathan Walton » Logged

Ron Edwards
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« Reply #20 on: September 10, 2007, 12:57:22 PM »

Hello,

Leigh's comments can be profitably read in the context of some important earlier Forge discussions. If you check out the threads linked in the post The Infamous Five, you'll see that they're divided up according to the forum they began in. The ones I recommend right now are the Publishing ("Mainstream: a revision") and Actual Play ("Actual play in the stores") ones, in which I talk about how store culture and gamer culture promote a ghetto mentality and a pseudo-industry. One of my points is that before the hobby can be more connected to the larger society and economy, or rather if it happens at all, it will depend on whether role-players, themselves, re-connect with one another and with the activity itself. As long as one buys subcultural identity simply by pumping money into marginal and failed business concerns, and thereby one is a "gamer," then there is no hobby.

Comics reclaimed their position as a real industry when the speculator market did what all speculator markets eventually do (pop!) and all those shiny-covered no-story pieces of "hot hot hot" paper were revealed as nothing but paper. The creators of what I call mainstream comics (fantasy, drama, sex, mystery, horror, history, autobiography) just kept plugging along without worrying about or even paying attention to all the chicken-little talk. Finally the people who generated venues for this stuff discovered they'd make money with it alongside the cool political books and the hip zines, and with the superheroes settled into their perfectly reasonable niche in the store rather than fronting and defining it. It took about six years, at most.

Please bear in mind that nothing I'm saying has anything to do with role-playing (a) being liked in some kind of we''re-sorry-we-picked-on-you way, or (b) becoming huge and neon-lit and "almost as good" as movies. I'm talking about whether the hobby is fun to do, whether that fun is demonstrable, and whether demonstrable fun can be monetized. This isn't about taking the current (rather grievously threadbare) hobby and making people stroke it. It's about seeing what's good in it and doing that.

Any answers to the larger social questions will have to come from events, and eventually they will become historical, empirical answers. But I do strongly think that the three-tier system resulted in an impediment to any such thing - first and foremost, starting with separating "owning the next hot book" from "having fun with the hobby up to its its wonderful intrinsic features' potential."

Exalted, I'm looking at you as a prime modern example. Yet another supplement with the unspoken message "This one will make your game fun after all" is nothing but exploitative trash. Whole walls devoted to conning early teens and gullible college kids with that message, over and over. I'd rather see them spend their money on baseball cards, and I don't even like baseball.

When I took a 90-degree turn away from the three-tier as my primary means of sales, and when I made it possible for players of Sorcerer to join a real community of others who did as well (as opposed to an identity-club), the fun + demonstrable fun + monetizing lined up like cherries. As far as I'm concerned, comics met reality in the middle of the 1990s. I'm fully confident that now, role-playing is doing so as well, with some parallels to be sure and for some of the similar reasons, but with quite a few steps left to go. Some of those steps may leave all of us, as individuals, behind, but that's another topic.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #21 on: September 10, 2007, 05:42:43 PM »

I forgot to say, "Many thanks," Jonathan, because I really appreciate the outreach to related fields and other people, to help us all understand what's happening with our thing.

Best, Ron
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Pelgrane
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« Reply #22 on: September 11, 2007, 03:13:23 AM »

Creator-owned publishers (COPs) are almost entirely a subset of small publishers, so what I say here applies to COPs. The commercial viability for a small press publisher of selling through the three tier system depends almost entirely on the volume of sales the publisher makes. If you print large volumes using offset printing, and consumers are chasing retailers for your products, then the three-tier system will work for you commercially. This means that in most cases a COP is better off selling directly, or via IPR or Key20.

IPR and Key20 both offer publishers direct sales to the consumer at MSRP, and both charge a small percentage for this. There is a definite difference between IPR and Key20, in that Key20 acts as a fulfilment agent selling to distributors (in other words, you get 40-45% of the MSRP minus their fee) - effectively adding a fourth tier. IPR sells to a small stable of retailers directly giving publishers a much better margin, but to fewer retailers. IPR only distributes small press games, mainly COPs. A few publishers sell via both channels - but I have no data from Key20, so I don't know how they compare. Maybe someone else can supply this info.

I use Impressions - a fulfilment house. It's been around for a while, and like Key20, it sells to distributors (and some retailers). This is primarily for historical reasons, although they do a good job. I suspect if I sold through IPR, I'd make more margin but sell fewer copies, but I'd rather sell more copies to bring what we sell to a wider audience. If I sold only direct to consumer, I'd need to sell something like a quarter as many, and I think I could do that, but I wouldn't be happy with the number of people playing our games. However, if I was starting out now, I suspect I'd avoid the three tier system altogether.

The temptation is always there once you've reached volume to sell through the three tier system just because it's there, and a few of COPs have taken this decisions (I think Ron is amongst them). How overall margin is affected would be useful data.

In the interests of disclosure, I have a small shareholding in IPR.

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #23 on: September 11, 2007, 04:38:36 AM »

Hi Simon!

A couple of the links I provided in earlier posts lead to discussions of the current retail system and the independent publishers. (COPs? Interesting. As good a term as any, I guess.)

Your point about volume of sales is a good one, but there's a hard limit to this principle which needs to be recognized, based on two factors. The first is that there's no guarantee that moving a book to distributors actually gets it into stores, reliably. Warehouses packed to the ceilings with long-forgotten RPG stock are legion. The second is that the customer base in all those stores may well set its own limit to how many you can sell, and this will tell in the time-unit that indicates market success (the tax year). As always, the market speaks: one might print a million books, using your reasoning, only to discover that 9,999,600 of them do not sell in that year, and that only 100 more will sell in the next year, and only 10 after that. I realize that you wouldn't make that error, but looking only at your text in the post, this needs to be brought up and recognized.

I'll quibble a bit about another term, too. I don't think Key 20 is a fourth tier, because ownership is not transferred. It is up to me, for instance, whether to mulch books in their care, or whether to send them to reviewers, or to call them back to my keeping, or anything of that sort at all. Policy over those books is mine alone. If they were a fourth tier, I couldn't do that. They are, effectively, the equivalent of paying a kid down the block to mail a package for me and to give me the receipt. That is not dismissive! That's an incredible and important service, especially since the "kid" is well-known to the "post office." It's another layer, yes, but I think calling it a tier is misleading.

Impressions has a different policy, or it did when I investigated all the fulfillment houses back in 2003 or so. I did not think that policy served the needs of the publisher well at all, primarily because of the ownership issue. I don't know about its current policy, whether it differs or what it is.

To be clear, I think the best policy for an independent publisher is to retain executive control over the product (amount, availability, price, and more, as much as possible) until a customer is holding it. It's not always possible in every particular, but as much as possible is what I recommend.

So! Why participate in the three-tier at all? For me, it's partly historical. Having printed a hard-cover, traditional-technology book, it was crucial for me to move several hundred at least into stores in order to get any kind of profit during that first year (the book came out in July 2001, so there weren't many months), in addition to sales at GenCon. It worked out very well. My plan from that point onwards was, upon the inevitable drop-to-zero of sales in the stores, to stay only with direct on-line sales.

Much to my surprise, which continues to this day, the stores kept selling the damn thing, and the supplements too. My margins are crappy: let's see, on the core book, about $8 per book, off-set by printing (about $6) and commission, so it comes to a dollar or so a book, I imagine. I get regular checks from Key 20, and I know from my accountant that store sales do not cost me money. But they barely break even.

The reason I stay with it at all is pretty much advertising. The books are in the stores they're in, apparently selling slowly but steadily at all times (retailers often mention it to me, that Sorcerer is one of the few "small sales but sturdy legs" games). They're even re-ordered routinely, heavens to Betsy - I'm serious, I never ever ever expected that. So someone is getting the game that way, which is nice in itself, but more importantly, the game is there on the shelf, basically a no-cost or teeny-profit testament to its existence.

Another reason is that a number of retailers have really stepped up to the plate - revising their business practices, revising the culture of their stores, seeking independent games to establish an "indie shelf," and otherwise participating in the industry, with no quotes. They've pursued me when a distributor or warehouser fell down on the job, and they've sought me out at conventions to say hello and to chat about games and gamers. If Sorcerer and Elfs are good games for these retailers to have in their stores, then I want these folks to have them. If, for whatever reason, they require that I work with distributors for this to happen, then that's OK with me as long as I'm not actually losing money.

Best, Ron
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Pelgrane
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« Reply #24 on: September 11, 2007, 04:58:47 AM »

Hi Simon!
Your point about volume of sales is a good one, but there's a hard limit to this principle which needs to be recognized, based on two factors. The first is that there's no guarantee that moving a book to distributors actually gets it into stores, reliably. Warehouses packed to the ceilings with long-forgotten RPG stock are legion. The second is that the customer base in all those stores may well set its own limit to how many you can sell, and this will tell in the time-unit that indicates market success (the tax year). As always, the market speaks: one might print a million books, using your reasoning, only to discover that 9,999,600 of them do not sell in that year, and that only 100 more will sell in the next year, and only 10 after that. I realize that you wouldn't make that error, but looking only at your text in the post, this needs to be brought up and recognized.

Cripes - if you took this as an incentive for publishers to print huge volumes in the hope of selling huge volumes, then others are likely to as well. No, you absolutely shouldn't do this. I've called this the litho print barrier in the past, and to quote me " The scalability of the new publishing model means that although it is very hard to make money, you are much, much less likely to lose it through an expensive litho print run. If you read that someone you haven't heard of is about to print 3000 copies of a new RPG, by all that's holy, stop them."

Quote
Impressions has a different policy, or it did when I investigated all the fulfillment houses back in 2003 or so. I did not think that policy served the needs of the publisher well at all, primarily because of the ownership issue. I don't know about its current policy, whether it differs or what it is.

Impressions is strictly a fulfilment house in the same way Key 20 is, and I am very impressed with Aldo's proactive approach to getting product into retailers via Games Buyer Magazine and now Free RPG day. Publishers own and control their books at all times. Aldo solicits products for the publisher. IPR does not own publisher's products either, so in that sense they differ from a standard distributor.

Quote
Another reason is that a number of retailers have really stepped up to the plate - revising their business practices, revising the culture of their stores, seeking independent games to establish an "indie shelf," and otherwise participating in the industry, with no quotes. They've pursued me when a distributor or warehouser fell down on the job, and they've sought me out at conventions to say hello and to chat about games and gamers. If Sorcerer and Elfs are good games for these retailers to have in their stores, then I want these folks to have them. If, for whatever reason, they require that I work with distributors for this to happen, then that's OK with me as long as I'm not actually losing money.

It's exactly these proactive retailers that IPR is seeking out, so that they have a stocked indie game shelf and an advocate in store. Brennan made it very clear at Games Expo and GTS to retailers that indie games only sell with a distributor who is behind the games. There are distinct advantages to the retailer for treating indie games in the same way you'd treat an individual publisher or publishing category, but that's a topic for another thread.
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TwoCrows
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« Reply #25 on: September 11, 2007, 05:39:28 AM »

What do you, Ron, and others, suggest as the method(s) of getting your product to the consumers that want it that best exemplifies the Indie Ethic as stated at the Forge?

The quote below seems to answer my perhaps poorly worded question above.

To be clear, I think the best policy for an independent publisher is to retain executive control over the product (amount, availability, price, and more, as much as possible) until a customer is holding it. It's not always possible in every particular, but as much as possible is what I recommend.

It seems to me that creator owned, and published is the core value of Indie games, and creator control of delivery channels a refinement of that value.

While Lulu seems a good option on the point of extremely low startup costs, I wonder if anyone is concerned with them being the publisher of record?

Regards, Brad
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #26 on: September 11, 2007, 07:14:51 AM »

Hi Brad,

When I published Spione via Lulu, I used my own ISBN from my own purchased block. So I think that makes me the publisher of record. I think!

Anyone who can confirm or correct me using actual legal-eagle links, please do!

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #27 on: September 11, 2007, 07:17:13 AM »

Oh yeah.

Brad, you wrote,

Quote
It seems to me that creator owned, and published is the core value of Indie games, and creator control of delivery channels a refinement of that value.

This sentence inspires a weird "this is where I came in" sensation for me. Because, well, it is where I came in. This is why the Forge exists, and why it was invented. Is there some question about that, or some reason why this can be seen as a conclusion of a discussion here?

Especially in this forum, this is why we came here. It's not something that needs to be discovered or teased out of a discussion.

Best, Ron
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David Artman
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« Reply #28 on: September 11, 2007, 08:29:01 AM »

This seems germane, but perhaps it will become a split topic:

In my talks with the local FLGS owner, he mentions how it can be hard to deal with ordering and stocking COP/POD/publisher-sold books or RPGs simply because of the time it takes him to do all the clicking from site to site and hunting for the "Buy Now" links and filling out forms at each channel. There is also the lack of an account--where he can order things on Net30 or Net60 terms and, thereby, sell some (or all) of it before he must pay the distributor for it--but I don't see that as being critical to his needs, as much as the time expenditure. (But it's NOT out of the question, for the general busniess concept I am about to present!)

So... knowing that, while I read this thread, I got to thinking, "What would bridge this gap?" It seems that a "clearing house" online business that would aggregate orders for COP/POD and then purchase and fulfill them on-the-fly could work for all involved. Yes, this is a form of "distributor," but its cost of operations is, effectively, nil: it runs some servers with some forms that, in turn, fill out other web forms at various sites (complete with per-purchase shipping details) which, thereby, saves the FLGS owner from doing the data entry and site hunting. Thus, it never becomes a "tier," as it never owns anything--it is little more than a portal, an aggregator site.

Then, ANY publisher--indie or not--need only go there and fill out a "Submit Product" form which asks for the actual ordering site and which walks though associating fields at that site with fields on the aggregator site. Thus, it "morrors" the main ordering site BUT it is smart enough to hide things it already knows (ex: my billing info, once I've logged onto the aggregator) and so I am only asked to fill out what I NEED to fill out: how many of what item, to where (and if the latter is my store, then that could be just a "Send to Me" checkbox, not a whole address form).

Further, customers could use this as their main site for shopping and browsing, rather than having to hunt down all these "weird" and varied POD channels, just to see "what's new." The aggregator, again, provides the portal--the unified interface and one-click buying--while the POD/COP/dude-with-stacks-in-basement get its orders through the "back end"--which, in turn, looks just like they expect it to look (because the aggregator site actually uses the POD's own interfaces to commit an order!).

Benefit to FLGS: One-stop shopping for items not carried by a major retailer.
Benefit to consumer: Broad range of small press options on shelves, because the FLGS can easily and at fairly low risk order one or two copies of all kinds of stuff.
Benefit to this business: A SMALL percentage of every order is held, as a "listing fee" or whatever. I'm thinking, like, 0.5%. Cost of operations: one serious web hosting service's monthly fees and some coding.
Benefit to all: Centralized billing, as the aggregator could both bill (Net30, here!) and cut single checks monthly for sales (to the POD, who sends it along to the publisher), reducing total paperwork involved per-transaction.

Would this work, or is this already out there but not being used by FLGSs (or does my local FLGS owner not know about such a service)?

Thanks;
David
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iago
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« Reply #29 on: September 11, 2007, 08:58:10 AM »

So... knowing that, while I read this thread, I got to thinking, "What would bridge this gap?" It seems that a "clearing house" online business that would aggregate orders for COP/POD and then purchase and fulfill them on-the-fly could work for all involved. Yes, this is a form of "distributor," but its cost of operations is, effectively, nil: it runs some servers with some forms that, in turn, fill out other web forms at various sites (complete with per-purchase shipping details) which, thereby, saves the FLGS owner from doing the data entry and site hunting. Thus, it never becomes a "tier," as it never owns anything--it is little more than a portal, an aggregator site.

You have pretty effectively defined what businesses like IPR (www.indiepressrevolution.com) do.
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