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Author Topic: Challenges and Solutions for the RPG Market  (Read 26430 times)
guildofblades
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« Reply #30 on: November 23, 2005, 07:48:41 PM »

>>Burning Wheel is in Alliance distro and for reasons I cannot fathom, I have been relegated to the fabled, "Alliance reports your game is out of stock" status. Retailers who know about BW and who regularly order it have trouble getting it through distribution. These retailers then lose sales as the customers look for other venues to purchase the product. THAT, to me, seems more of a problem than pdf/pod production methods. In fact, POD/pdf production and distribution seems more of a reaction to the failure of the three tiered model than anything else.<<

Hi Luke,

I agree. Many manufacturers sought the use of POD technologies, the growth of the PDF market, and more direct to consumer avenues expressly because treatment of their products through the traditional 3 tier system was failing them. Note, however, that in many cases, the products were not failing that system. The market simply got overcrowded and cash strapped distributors working on thin margins reacted by concentrating on their largest vendors only and everything else as an afterthought.

Now, several years later, with no major TCG pulling in money like a Pokemon or Yu-gio, the explosion of D&D 2e sales over and the following D20 feeding frenxy over, the distributors ad retailers that practically shunned the rest of the market have all noticed that with sales of the leading brands in decline, and now at smaller profit margins than before (due to WOTC, Wiz Kids and other reducing discounts through the tiers), the "industry" is running scared and looking for ways to make more money.

But in truth, large chunks of the disenfranchised industry have moved on. Through neccessity, they have found other ways to conduct business that simply do not rely on the 3 tier system anymore. The Guild of Blades is one such company. Back in 1998,1999 I would have said that 95-97% of our revenues came from distribution sources. Today we don't sell to a single distributor and we are seling a great deal more total product and making better profit margins in the process.

Our last experience with Alliance was that they would restock our product line once every 8 weeks. But when they ordered they would order enough only to fill back orders and none to actually stock their shelves. And few retailers were willing to back order. So the vast majority of our marketing effort was going wasted as retailers and consumers simply could NOT get our products through that system. All of the distributors ran some variation of that business practice with our products.

Meanwhile, droves of dissatisfied customers turned to the Internet to find our products because they eventually learned that was the only way to actually get them. And this was happening with many, many manufacturers, not just us. Now today retailers and distributors have pulled their heads out of the sand and are wondering why so much of the market now circumvents them and seeks to order direct, either through Internet discounters (for whom many of the most established have a long history or ordering direct with the source to maintain product availability) or direct with the manufacturers.

These days well sell direct to the consumer and direct to retail accounts. The retail accounts that stock us primarily sell a large selection if not full line, of our products. Because we provide them incentives to do so, and to be blunt, we simply don't do business with those retailers that won't. As a result, our average retailer order is now as large as the average distribution order used to be. We have retail accounts we can suggest to customers with a reasonable certainty the store will have the product and a sale can actually be concluded. Where we do not have retailers, we can also tell the customer that and encourage a direct order. Our current business structure and method of selling is just so amazingly superior than our past experiences through the 3 tier system, I can not fathom a reason why we would want to return to that model.

The 3 tier system is a dying beast. Its utilility value has shruken to the point where it is only really useful for the largest of manufacturers. Everyone else is looking for alternatives, if they haven't already found them. These days it is not enough for a distributor to come knocking on our door to tell use they want to sell our products. I think that is true for many Forge members. They have to make a case with us, to present us with solid and valid business reasons why us selling to them would actually be benficial to our businesses. My wager is none can make that case and will not be able to until they do something dramtic to change the way they do business.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
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Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
Ben Lehman
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« Reply #31 on: November 23, 2005, 08:15:58 PM »

Sean --

I don't know how to say this, but... you aren't being flamed.  There's disagreement, here, yes.  What you're presenting, frankly, makes little-to-no-sense to us either as RPG Players or RPG Publishers (most of us are both) and we're telling, repeatedly, why it doesn't make sense to us.  We are telling you that bluntly and in no uncertain terms, which is pretty much a sign of respect.

I think that the key of the disagreement is, essentially, here

Quote from: Sean P. Fannon
However, in that I have an admittedly altruistic desire to help my colleagues in any way that is available to me, I am forced to look at how everyone can make some more money.

You see, none of us think of distributors as colleagues, in any sense of the word.  That doesn't mean that we don't like distributors (I use IPR to sell Polaris, IPR effectively being a direct-to-customer retailer/distributor combo).  But I use IPR because they provide me with a useful service.  They make lots of money for me and my company.  If my situation were to change (as it may in the future, with Lulu becoming a better and better option), I wouldn't hesitate to drop IPR in exchange for some other business model which was more convenient or more profitable for me.  I don't owe them anything other than what's stipulated in our contract.

I cannot fathom a mindset that sees a distributor as anything other than a service provider.  Frankly, from what I've seen amongst my colleagues (like, say, Luke with BW), RPG distributors are really shitty service providers at that.  The idea that I should turn over my printing jobs to them out of some sense of duty is laughable.

Other than that sense of duty, you haven't really explained why your proposed system is any better than, say, Lulu, which already provides printing, shipping, distribution to stores, cross-marketing to RPG and non-RPG audiences, direct-to-customer sales, and so on, for a reasonably modest price.  Not to mention excellent printing with ever-expanding options (they just added hardcover) and free shipping on large (store-sized) orders.

Does that make sense to you?

yrs--
--Ben
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #32 on: November 23, 2005, 08:35:10 PM »

High five both to Ryan and to Ben.

Moderator point: this thread so far contains only one single flame by Forge standards - Sean, it was you, addressing me as "sir," which is a synonym for "you fucking asshole." I spot you that one based on my own error when reading the posts and your minimal experience here. Nothing else in this thread constitutes a flame, and my standards for that are the only ones which matter.

One clarifying detail regarding your points, Ben, and this is a significant detail that I'm pretty fixated on. IPR is not a distributor, and neither is Key 20. A distributor, by definition, buys the game from the publisher and then sells it, as their product, to the retailer. Neither IPR nor Key 20 do that; they are instead the equivalent of the little kid you give a quarter to every time he takes the handful of your mail and runs it to the mailbox down the block. They are not fellow or co-existing merchants, they are emphatically service providers who have no conflict of interest with us regarding what and how much they sell.

Best,
Ron
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Sean P. Fannon
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Writer, Designer, Slave to Dice


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« Reply #33 on: November 23, 2005, 08:38:02 PM »

I don't know how to say this, but... you aren't being flamed.  There's disagreement, here, yes.  What you're presenting, frankly, makes little-to-no-sense to us either as RPG Players or RPG Publishers (most of us are both) and we're telling, repeatedly, why it doesn't make sense to us.  We are telling you that bluntly and in no uncertain terms, which is pretty much a sign of respect.

Ben, I very much appreciate your attempt to alleviate the tension here, but I must respectfully disagree. Some have given reasoned arguments against what I presented, while others have used the thread as an opportunity to be unnecessarily rude and ugly. In that those people are our hosts, I find the situation wholly inexcusable. Where I come from (Georgia, originally), you show a little more civility and hospitality to your newly-arrived guests in your home.

I am no babe in the woods here. I know the Internet Communication Follies quite well. However, I have never subscribed to the fallacy that rudeness and shameful behavior in the name of "blunt honesty" was ever acceptable. You have chosen to express your disagreement in a fashion that is reasoned, civil, and respectful of others, even if you don't see how they could think the way they do at all.

Mr. Nixon chose, instead, to "free speach" all over me, ostensibly because he is under the misperception that I somehow actually represent "the industry" in some grand fashion.

I don't.

I'm just a guy who wanted to share some new thoughts. And I do believe there are new thoughts here. But that's another tale...

Quote
Other than that sense of duty, you haven't really explained why your proposed system is any better than, say, Lulu

I had meant to share the larger document after the initial discussion, but as things have degraded so rapidly, I instead put the offer to send it directly to interested parties. In it, I hope I have explained in greater detail how things might be different and helpful. Please let me know if you'd like to see it.

Quote
Does that make sense to you?

Much moreso than our illustrious hosts chose to convey. Thank you.
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Sean Patrick Fannon
Creator, Shaintar: Immortal Legends[/u]
Senior Writer, Talisman Studios
Author, The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible

"I have a life. It just involves a lot of dice rolls..."
Bankuei
Guest
« Reply #34 on: November 23, 2005, 08:49:17 PM »

Hi Sean,

If I might ask again, what benefit there is for the consumer in having distributors deal in PDF/PODs?

Chris
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #35 on: November 23, 2005, 08:55:11 PM »

Sean --

Very brief question.

Are you familiar with Lulu?  If you aren't, you should definitely familiarize yourself with their publisher/author services (they have a very simple tour that will give you the rundown).

I don't really have any desire to read your longer document unless you can convince me, in this thread or another, that your proposal has something to offer me that Lulu doesn't.  Right now, I haven't seen anything that suggests that.

yrs--
--Ben

P.S.  Note that I choose not to use Lulu.  I'm not saying that it is the ideal.  I'm saying that it is a basic bar that any such service must meet in order to hold my interest.
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guildofblades
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« Reply #36 on: November 23, 2005, 09:09:34 PM »

Hi Patrick,

I'll take a look at your document. I am always curious when someone proposes a new business idea.

However...

If the idea is to steer business that is solidly done through alternative venues right now, you will have to convince us why we should give up more margin in order to deal with distributors. And you will have to convince me that somehow Alliance, ACD and the others will somehow conduct their stocking and sales activity with our products better than they did before. Because "simply being IN" distribution is no great thing. If the distributors can not make the effort to service the items properly, the trying to seel gaming items through distribution is pursuing a dead end when it comes to business building. The idea behind building a business is to increase revenues and as the business gets larger, you have to continually build a stronger, more reliable and cost efficient distribution channel. This is true weather you are selling hobby games, or operating a business that sells things door to door. From my past experience in dealing with distributors, they did not stock or service products well enough to let a small company build that stable distribution channel.

So what is your proposal will be making them change how they service our titles?

Also, if this is some kind of program actually to be run through GAMA, I'll have nothing to do with it.
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Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #37 on: November 23, 2005, 10:03:16 PM »

If the idea is to steer business that is solidly done through alternative venues right now, you will have to convince us why we should give up more margin in order to deal with distributors.

Word. I received a proposal a while back. "We'd like to handle printing and marketing of My Life with Master in europe." It was a nice, sincere proposal, along with some text about their percentage. But ultimately, it wasn't a plan for making me more money from the market. It was a plan for making money from me. Someone comes to me with a different proposal, "I'd like to print up two hundred nice copies of My Life with Master, for sale [as follows] and I'll pay you [this much money]," and it's more money per book than I'm making, then we're having a conversation. Instead I get, in essence, "we have no track record, and a dubious reputation, but you should hire us."

Sean, build it and if it really sells more books and carves out mindshare for indie games better than the Internet does, the publishers will come. We'll recognize a true value proposition when we see it. And it's not like we're at risk of going out of business or something.

Paul
« Last Edit: November 23, 2005, 10:06:00 PM by Paul Czege » Logged

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Luke
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« Reply #38 on: November 23, 2005, 10:23:36 PM »

If I am not mistaken, the purpose of this thread is to discuss Sean's concepts for PDF>POD on-site manufacturing that somehow involves the distributors and retailers.

Can I make a humble request that everyone stop sharing anecdotes, apologizing and clarifying until Sean answers Chris' question on this page (which is essentially mine from a few pages back)?

Also, Sean, can you better summarize the fabled "larger document." You've got "the public's" interest, though we disagree with the one-sheet. Please expand on your point so we can make a more reasoned judgement.

And can everyone (including Clinton and Ron) make an effort to be nicer to each other? I'm asking as a friend and peer. Personal intent be damned, this got ugly fast. I should hope that the Forge would welcome diverse view points in all forms (even if ineptly expressed -- isn't there a thread about charitable reading?), especially from idealistic members of the hobby outside our group and from experienced retailers. I'm certain that we can all make our own value judgements based on the reasoned discourse.

So, I await Sean's expanded response next week.

-Luke
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #39 on: November 24, 2005, 03:56:02 AM »

Sean, build it and if it really sells more books and carves out mindshare for indie games better than the Internet does, the publishers will come. We'll recognize a true value proposition when we see it. And it's not like we're at risk of going out of business or something.

Right on, Paul.

I'm not against a tool that can sell more books, make me more money, and gain me fame that can turn around into selling more books. None of us are. We're all snakeoil-shy, though.

Understand, Sean, that most of us are turning profit in our current models. POD makes that easier than it ever was before, but my most recent game didn't even use it and I broke even by the end of my GenCon premiere.

Would I like to sell more games? Sure! I'd like my games to reliably be in the hands of those who want, or might want, them, and I want to get paid for them. If what you're proposing can make that happen, I'm all ears.

But I gotta tell you: Ron's, Luke's, and Clinton's experiences are very real, and my openness to the idea may stem from my naïveté and what I've been told is an unnatural level of enthusiasm. Make this real — make it so publishers sell more books and make a greater profit — and there will be proud hat-eating all around.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Sean P. Fannon
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« Reply #40 on: November 24, 2005, 08:15:06 AM »

Hello, everyone.

First off, Happy Thanksgiving (or whatever you might choose to celebrate these days).

Secondly, I am much obliged, as I've said before, to those who either retain an openness to the discussion or at least choose to share their objections in a format that is respectful and instructive. Even those who chose to be otherwise have valid points, all of which go into my further thinking on this matter.

I will say that GAMA is very involved in this, but only inasmuch as we have venues and the capacity to facilitate larger discussions amongst many folks at many levels at once. There is not, as I see it, any administrative or functional role that GAMA can play outside of sharing ideas and collating possible system approaches to share. In that some take exception to working with GAMA, this should not be an obstruction to considering the ideas put forth.

As well, I very much agree with those who say "Build it. If it works, we'll be there." That makes perfect sense. This was never really meant to "sell" you, but only to solicit your viewpoints on how it might work or fail to work. In that, I've been successful (if somewhat bruised in the process).

At the end of the day, I honestly believe that the customers most of you have and are selling at the margins you currently enjoy will remain your direct customers. I'm fairly confident that the potential brick-and-mortar customers most of you might reach will be additional sales, for the most part. Lesser margins, certainly, but very simply added revenue.

Finally - as of last night, I was fairly convinced that I was going to walk away from here. Those who e-mailed me for the larger document would get it, and have my gratitude and continued attention. I was going to wash my hands of a place where the hosts choose to treat their guests with such acrimonious disrespect.

A friend very generously pointed out that the rest of you deserved better than that.

So long as I am able (and that may not be long, since it seems likely I will find myself banned for the improper use of the word "sir," or perhaps "hello," in the near future), I will honor those of you who have requested continued dialogue on this matter.

Or anything else that I can have meaningful input on, really.

When I return next week, I will go ahead and post, in parts, the larger document for your review and commentary.

By your collective leave, however, I am going to spend the rest of my holiday enjoying the snow, my friends and family, and getting some serious writing done on Shaintar: Immortal Legends. I am certain that James Mathe, Aaron Acevedo, and perhaps a few fans might appreciate seeing it done.

Cheers and best wishes.

To all of you.
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Sean Patrick Fannon
Creator, Shaintar: Immortal Legends[/u]
Senior Writer, Talisman Studios
Author, The Fantasy Roleplaying Gamer's Bible

"I have a life. It just involves a lot of dice rolls..."
Joshua A.C. Newman
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Posts: 1144

the glyphpress


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« Reply #41 on: November 24, 2005, 08:47:43 AM »

FWIW, no one has ever been banned from The Forge.

Understand, Sean, that there have been some very poor relationships with distributors stemming from the small size of our various endeavors here. Many of us have had nothing but the shitty end of the stick when it comes to any of the major distros, and the hostility is toward them. Any hostility toward you is simply out of frustration toward a system that's done little but burn people around here.

No one, Ron and Luke included, isn't interested in effective and economic methods of distribution. That's the reason they know so much about the system and its failings.

Happy Thanksgiving!
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #42 on: November 24, 2005, 09:14:00 AM »

There is still no answer to Luke's and Chris' question, as reinforced by Paul.

Bear that in mind.

Do notice as well the following:

- the provocation of Clinton over several posts, including the attempt to split him and me (Ron is good, Clinton is bad)

- the high horse on the high road, playing the virtuous visitor among the barbarians, especially leavened with compliments and digs

- the "punishment" - I was going to give you this, but now you don't deserve it and have to ask

- and right on cue, the now you're gonna ban me line

Sean, we're waiting for the answer to that question. In the interest of clarity and in recognition of Sean's absence for a few days, this thread is closed, so no one post to it again. Further discussions, including that answer if it's forthcoming, should be begun in new threads.

Best,
Ron
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LloydBrown
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« Reply #43 on: November 24, 2005, 05:27:47 PM »

Quote
Oh and I love the comment about using single distributors because otherwise ordering would take 50 hours a week.  That is such crap. 
Quote
Really?  How long did you own a game store?

Quote
Anyone that makes that bullshit argument is a lazy fucker and deserves to go out of business because of it.
Based on the credentials you've presented, you have no idea what you're talking about.  Even dealing with just 4-6 distributors instead of the 400 vendors I carried in my store took 6-10 hours/week. 

And by the way, I didn't go out of business.  I sold my store for a substantial profit--enough to provide a living for up to about 2 years while I write full time, after I paid off all store and personal debt.  ALL of it, even down to the credit cards.  I went from moderate debt (around $70,000) to substantial surplus in 5 years through my game store ownership.
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Lloyd Brown
Freelance writer
www.lloydwrites.com
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #44 on: November 24, 2005, 07:53:17 PM »

Lloyd,

When I say a thread is closed, it's closed. No one posts to that thread again, at all.

It ends here. Ryan has taken up your discussion in a new thread, which is the appropriate thing to do.

Best,
Ron
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