Friday, February 18, 2011

State of the Industry! What to Do with PDFs?

Some rambling thoughts about some recent news...

Steve Jackson Games 2011 Stakeholders Report here
Posthuman Studios 2010 Year End Review

Eclipse Phase has done almost 6000 physical sales in a year and a half? And another 1400 in PDF?
Not a huge company but I think I would kill people if it would guarantee me those kinds of sales. Steve Jackson Games reports slow sales on its GURPS Low-Tech hardcover (was that its lone physical offering this year?) but good PDF sales on the title.

After the Adamant Entertainment move to "app pricing," people are taking for granted that that's the way to go for PDFs. However, several points about that. AE is a "digital entertainment company." They have some few things in print, but largely PDF is their business. Also, say that pricing scheme becomes standard across the industry. The pie will still be divided in favor of the bigger, more reputable publishers. I'd bet that there will be an influx of new customers, but where would they come from? People who used to buy print? Is there a certain point at which a low-priced PDF discourages people from buying the print version who would otherwise choose it?

That's my concern. I have no interest in being a PDF-only publisher. I don't buy them, I don't download them for free, I don't use them. I know this makes me a poor businessman, but my interest as a business is to first and foremost produce the things I want. That's what makes this a job worth doing despite the sub-Quickie Mart part-time cashier pay. Yes, I'll produce PDF versions of my releases because only an idiot doesn't - there's a demand for them. I'll do the best I can on them. But I think in terms of physical formats when planning releases and always will.

My own PDF sale came 5 months since my last physical release (the core box was out of stock at that point too) so I wasn't cannibalizing sales much. The box set was by far the biggest seller during that sale. Was the attention on the fact that "ohh! $1.34!" on its own, or the fact that it was almost 90% off the normal price? Why wouldn't Hammers of the God have done near as much sales, coming out at the same time and not as many people had it as the box?

Let's take a look at some examples:

Eclipse Phase book: $49.99
Eclipse Phase PDF: $15.00

ICONS book: $29.99
ICONS PDF: $1.99

GURPS Low Tech book: $29.99

GURPS Low Tech PDF: $19.99

HERO System 6th Edition Characters + Campaigns books: $69.99 (bundle deal)
HERO System 6th Edition Characters + Campaigns PDFs: $50.00

Deathwatch book: $59.95
Deathwatch PDF: $30.00

Dresden Files Your Story + Our World books: $89.98
Dresden Files Your Story + Our World PDFs: $45.00

Pathfinder book: $49.99

Pathfinder PDF: $9.99

Castles & Crusades Castle Keeper's Guide book: $29.99
Castles & Crusades Castle Keeper's Guide PDF: $31.99

Obviously mixed messages on this list, and there's no easy answer. We know the Eclipse Phase, GURPS Low Tech, and Dresden Files have done well (by the publisher's own standards) at those price points.
The Eclipse Phase PDF is released under a creative commons so it's not even piracy to download it free, yet people are paying for it in large amounts. The Castle Keeper's Guide PDF price has been mocked endlessly the last day or so, but it's currently at #3 on RPGNow so it's making them money.

I'm curious as to how the Deathwatch and HERO System PDFs are doing.


  1. Regarding the CKG, I assume that the sheer hype over the last few years about this product –what with delay after delay– is what's driving sales more than anything else.

  2. Amazon reports ebook sales are up %200 from this time last year. Borders is filing for Chapter 11 in part because they did not get to the ebook market as quickly and deftly as rival Barnes and Noble. eBook readers are getting cheaper all the time and many US universities are looking to move to eBooks as a cost cutting alternative for students.

    I think the answer is actually quite clear.

    People want eBooks/PDFs more and more.

  3. For the Dresden ones, I bought the hardcover books and got the pdf's for free with that purchase.

  4. PDFs are all well and good for those who have decent portable devices (iPad, laptops, of whatever) but if you are on a lower income and need something physical to carry round, then a hard copy is a must. I have both hard- and soft-copies of a few things, but I still prefer the heft of a good hardback or boxed set. I like the way you're giving out both or offering the option of a PDF. Seems to me to be the way to go (of course, I'm not a business type, so that's purely my own opinion).

  5. PDFs were vital for me while I was in the Army as I'd spend 6-9 months each year either deployed or TDY and hard copies were just not feasible. I'm still mostly PDF, based on the fact that over the years, my work habits have evolved to be PDF-centric over the hard copies.

  6. A pdf should be priced so a customer printing it on their own at a cheap copy center might have wanted to buy the print version instead.

    I get really critical with my purchases when they are in the 6-10 cents a page region and simply don't buy pdfs that cost more then 10 cents a page.

    I like pdfs they are too darned handy for DMing. I can print out what I need of a book and write all over it without destroying the original.

  7. Currently I prefer print versions of RPGs. Reading pdfs on a computer is a pain, and I don't see that you save that much if you end up printing them out.

    I like Paizo's practice of giving you a free pdf of any of their books you buy in print, though I've only bothered to download a couple.

    I ordered the LotFP box set from Noble Knight, then downloaded the free pdf to look at while I was waiting for the box set to arrive.

    I think if print copies entitled you to a free or virtually free pdf, I would print out things I was actively using to write nores on etc. (though to be honest it's almost as easy for me to do that with a print version and a photocopier).

  8. Whatever you do about PDFs, don't do this:

    Someone pointed that out on RPGnet. Up until a couple hours ago, the discounted price was $4.76; apparently, they've dropped it to a dollar because of the extended sarcastic commentary on the forums. And it's STILL not a good deal.

  9. Selling a PDF of graph paper! Hah hah hah! It's like a fucking Andy Warhol art wankfest movie! Makes me want to sell a pdf of lined notebook paper torn from one of my high school spiral notebooks as a 'classic old school character sheet' since that was what we used back in the day.

  10. Add: I don't like pdfs and buy a real paper copy whenever I can. I think it would be fine to offer it to the folks who want it, but the whole thing of selling a pdf for 50% or more of the MSRP of the paper copy seems dumb and cheesy.

  11. I got the ICONS pdf when it was on sale for a buck. I read it, we tried it out. It worked great for us; I bought a hard copy from Amazon for ~ 19 USD. None of that would have happened if the pdf had not been cheap.

  12. 'Eclipse Phase has done almost 6000 physical sales in a year and a half? And another 1400 in PDF':
    And this is considered GOOD sales? Wow. But the book is rather on the pricy side. Maybe a lower buy-in might've done better. But maybe that's what the PDF was supposed to be? A bit low, considering the physical book's cost.

    @Tim Brannan:
    Answer is clear:
    Amazon has been pushing e-readers aggressively for years, and keeping the prices low on the units and the e-books. Prices will go up if e-readers become the norm for distribution.(Transition from video game cartrdges to DVDs anyone? :-))

    SOME people(for reasons ranging from tech-worship[me formerly, I'm sad to say :-(] to belief that prices will be low all the time on the files) and pretty much all companies(who always want to cut cost, regardless of the wisdom of doing so) want PDFs more and more, I'd say. I've transitioned away from them, and only use them when there's no physical copy available. Like with the Mazes and Minotaurs situation, due to the creator's idiosyncrasy on the issue.(Though YOU can print it yourself if you want, as long as it's not for sale.) However, I appreciate a preview PDF of a product not (yet?) in stores, it can entice me to buy. But, that's only 'cuz I can't physically peruse it.

    PDF pricing:
    Technically, you're supposed to pay MORE for convenience. But PDF is being pushed as a low-cost alternative(for companies mainly, and for customers it has been so far.)

  13. >>'Eclipse Phase has done almost 6000 physical sales in a year and a half? And another 1400 in PDF':
    And this is considered GOOD sales?

    It's considered almost miraculous in the current climate, but I think people underestimate the current RPG scene because generally only the smaller publishers ever give hard numbers.