Monday, 12 August 2019

A Lot of RPG Books Are Too Expensive

Not all are. But a lot of them. I won't name names; every reader will have their own ideas about which releases constitute good value for money and which do not. And it's not exactly a question of expensive=bad. Some expensive books are worth their price. But the number is fairly small.

How did the publishing model for RPG books, particularly OSR ones, become so skewed towards high-production values and hence high costs?

It seems to me that, probably entirely accidentally, the "indie"/OSR/kickstarter-publishing wing of the RPG world has moved towards a Games Workshop-based approach to pricing. This can be summarised as: make the costs so high that people will moan, gripe and complain, but not so high that they won't make the purchase.

I emphasise that this is probably entirely accidental. Nobody thinks that way by design. I think social pressure to make good-looking books may explain most of the development; modern geekdom is defined if nothing else than by acquisitiveness, and in particular acquisitiveness of items that are aesthetically pleasing in some sense. Pricey "event" books generate buzz and expenditure just like a Hollywood blockbuster does, and this creates a certain expectation, if not exactly demand, which publishers or creators feel obliged to meet in future.

I was until fairly recently ambivalent about this, leaning towards the positive, even. But as time goes on and I get older I increasingly feel as though all of this has negative effects: it prices kids out of the hobby unless they've got indulgent parents; it (relatedly) results in the hobby becoming more of an adult-oriented pursuit than it used to be; it produces an emphasis on style over substance; and it makes the hobby resemble less of a hobby and more of an industry or - perhaps a better metaphor - a system of devolved private patronage. I am particularly unsure whether this last development can be sustainable in the long term.

It is useless to complain about market preferences. All I can do to reverse them is to try to make products that are inexpensive and heavy on substance, and write blog posts like this. Consider half of that project completed.

77 comments:

  1. My moment of clarity involved simultaneously purchasing two Pathfinder books £20-30 that I realised had almost no meaningful content whatsoever. I didn't feel ripped off, they contained exactly what was promised, it just wasn't remotely necessary or stimulating. I've picked up a few HBs since, but mostly don't bother now.

    The "high" prices could also be partly due to the fact that part of the player base has a great deal of disposable income, and the hobby requires very little in the way of ongoing investment. It must be actually quite hard for a gaming co to come up with ways to separate a well-heeled, all-in RPG player from their $$$s. $$$s that the player is probably quite willing to spend. See luxury gaming tables, Monte Cook, etc etc.

    I can't think of another hobby where the gap between the necessary buy-in to not only start, but have basically the full experience (£0) is so distant from the £1,000s of books heaving on gamers' shelves. Maybe it's a mistake to lump the gaming hobby in with the collecting hobby?

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    1. In that sense it is a bit like most sports - you can play many of them for free, but it's also possible to invest thousands upon thousands of pounds into them if that's what you're into.

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  2. People overestimate the value of their own work.

    I give everything away on my blog because I'm just thrilled if someone gets inspired by my ideas.

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    1. Possibly they see financial success as the true measure of the value of their creative work. Or they are just greedy & hope to strike lucky. Given the mediocrity of much big brand RPG stuff, it's not surprising some believe their own so-so module or setting book might score big time.

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    2. And most big brand RPG stuff is unbelievably mediocre.

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  3. I know some people who gave up or didn't start with Warhammer simply because a genuinely playable army was too expensive. So yeah, concern about people being priced out of the hobby is valid. You could counter this by pointing out that in the RPG world there's plenty of great quality stuff at reasonable prices, but beginners only know big brands like D&D or maybe Pathfinder. And those have definitely adopted the classic GW approach. Ironically, GW itself has partly moved away from its own model, now also offering more affordable options.

    As for indie RPG publishers, they're following the model set in small scale independent book or music publishing, with expensive limited editions with high material production values for collectors being used to persuade potential customers their stuff is really worth buying and especially buying right now. Sadly, the packaging is sometimes a lot better than the content.

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    1. One of the main things stopping me getting back into Warhammer is that I can't really justify the expenditure to myself. When a squad or two of minis costs as much as a nice single malt...I'm going to go for the latter.

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    2. I tend to make just the opposite choice :-)

      Anyway, as a game Warhammer is still rubbish. Some of their side games (like Warcry) are a lot better, and fortunately also require a lot less miniatures.

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  4. I'm happy to pay more for my gaming products if it hopefully means creators are getting paid more. I don't have any clue if that is what is happening, though.

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  5. Essentially, if I produce one high-quality bound book per year and if it comes close to selling out over about two years, at an estimated run of about 2000 copies, I can live on that, just about, at minimum wage.

    If I do the same thing with a PDF/Drivethru print, I can't.

    Producing bound high-quality physical books is effectively (for me at least) a job, and producing the same content in a cheaper format (for me, effectively) isn't.

    So if I want to not go back to working in a call centre, I have to keep producing reasonably high-quality, or at least print-run, books.

    You are right that people don't really need the quality. One of the most popular and most useful things I've done is DCO and that quality on that is not great. And many of the criticisms are true, in some ways it gives people access to making rpgs as-a-job, but in others it prices people out of the market, convinces people they need stuff they don't actually need, makes the cost of producing high-status goods too high for sane or normal people to compete, and deludes people by disguising 'actual quality' underneath gloss. Sometimes layout is actual quality and sometimes it is gloss. Hard to tell at times.

    In my defence, PDFs of everything (Except FotVH) are available at low affordable prices are are generally just as useable as the real thing.

    I don't really, fully understand why and how the market shifts so much effort and attention towards this 'high status' stuff, in many ways Gus has half a point, stuff made between hobbyists is often more socially useful and meaningful, but the fact is that it does. In many ways I would like to make more democratic art. The fact that I produce stuff that a younger version of me might not be able to afford isn't especially pleasing to me. But I can't afford not to.

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    1. The market shifts towards the high end because the production costs for such items have gone down, while their perceived value among customers remains high. People are prepared to pay a lot more for a hardback than for a pdf, regardless of the quality of the content (which is not always easy to assess with a quick look). So it's simply more profitable. Also, we live in a very visual culture where nice packaging is often necessary to attract any attention at all.

      I guess what we really need are more discerning gamers better able to separate the gold from the dross when it comes to expensive RPG products.

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    2. What if you could produce, say, 3-4 DCO type books a year?

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    3. That might do it but I'm not sure I could. And the profot boost between PoD and Printed makes a huge difference.

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    4. I get that print runs are way more profitable than PoD.

      But I also wonder about DTRPG having a malign influence here. They take 30% of sales on PDFs. Payhip takes, I think, 3%. Squarespace takes even less if I recall correctly.

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  6. One of the reasons I was initially excited by the OSR was that all the content was free ;_;

    The old school scene is a market of its own now, and while it's great that people like Stuart can make a living off what they love (though I wish said living wasn't so precarious for them), I do feel that as a whole the scene has lost that vibe of (rightfully) giving the finger to the powers that be and their fancy bloated supplements and splatbooks.

    It's like a local food co-op banded together to take down the Wal-Mart being built in town, only to end up forming their own LLC and spreading a chain of "Organics-R-Us" stores around the country.

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    1. Maybe that's kind of inevitable?

      My sentiments are the same as yours. I don't begrudge the people I think are genuinely good making a living (e.g. Patrick Stuart, Kevin Crawford). It's that there's also this big spectrum of other people who seem to be on a bandwagon of some kind.

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  7. Possibly one needs to name names to make this point stick. I don’t believe that you were aiming at Mr. Stuart or, say, Kevin Crawford.

    The problem, I would suggest, is more profound than mere price point. These manufacturers are producing kitsch.

    SJB

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    1. I certainly name those two names as people who I am definitely NOT aiming at.

      I totally agree that many others are producing kitsch.

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  8. Tallying up the game books I actually use, the cost is either fair or minuscule after an initial buy-in. You can, of course, shell out a lot of money for Kickstarter addons, build a giant mini collection, or sink a lot of money into that Pathfinder shelf. But you can also grab a cheap copy of Labyrinth Lord or print one of the several free D&D variants and play to your heart's content for years at the cost of drinks, snacks and bus fare. Most people I play with spend close to zero on RPGs.

    Many of the good old-school adventures are also on the affordable side - if you looked at Bryce's top picks, you could easily build a good module library for a pittance. The options are out there - finding them may be the actual challenge.

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    1. I also spend close to zero on RPGs nowadays - just the odd thing here or there. Part of the reason for that is that I just don't think most books are worth it.

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    2. "I just don't think most books are worth it."
      Would that change if the book was listed at $10 or $20 instead of $40 or $50, though? I think that, psychologically, the barrier is "worth it" or not. I don't think there's a lot of demand curve at a price-point in between "nominal cost for downloading a PDF" and "yes, I will give this thing money because I think this thing is that good" quality hardback level.
      PAthfinder does enough volume that apparently it makes sense for them to re-release $40 hardbacks as (I think) $20 digest-sized editions. But they sell a LOT of books, compared to OSR creators.

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    3. I think there is some truth in that. But yes, there are certain books I have baulked at buying because they are in that upper bracket but which I may have been willing to buy for £10-20.

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  9. I'm on a limited budget these days (lots of family expenses) so the high production value books are way out of my reach, and worse, for some of them that I might be interested (RuneQuest Glorantha for one), the PDFs are still out of my reach (due to the high production quality...).

    I like USD 10 or less PDFs for all but a few things.

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  10. At the risk of pissing off a lot of people, I blame art. Glorious full color full page art all over the damn place in an rpg book. I have read that half or more of a kickstarter budget gets spent on art, and for me most rpg book art is nice but non-essential. I know a lot of people disagree with me. I buy most books for text, and a little art is fine, but most of the big publishers (WotC, Paizo, FFG) just have too damn much art!

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    1. I can understand your point, but suspect this is a very minority viewpoint. I'll admit I am hung up on future projects because I'm not willing to pay for the art to make it look good, and as a consumer I have been guilty of buying something because it looked good over something that didn't (but I am usually not that discriminate, in my defense).

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    2. I feel the same. One of my favorite examples of graphic design is still Classic Traveller. Small, digest-sized books, saddle-stitched, with barely any illustration at all.
      Yet I see awards for games that I suspect are being given for how they look, rather than how they play... people oohing and aahhhhing over eye-candy. So I can't see that changing.

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    3. Yep, the amount of full color and/or full page artwork is a large factor in the price of RPG books these days, and of course that factors into PDF prices also since the artist still needs to be fairly compensated.

      I'd actually be ok if "high production quality" mostly focused on physical quality (binding and paper), I appreciate good quality there if I'm buying a dead tree edition.

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    4. I also agree.

      I think some of the obsession with nice art can actually be traced back to the influence of Zak, who was always banging that drum for obvious reasons. I like a nice evocative cover but really the text is what I'm interested in.

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    5. I'm willing to pay for great art, but then it has to be really good. And not the often nicely done but ultimately ho-hum stuff you get so often. In those cases, I would prefer just plain text. But no publisher is willing to take that risk as having plenty of illustrations is now a basic requirement.

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    6. I think it started long before Zak (whose art is not everyone's taste). Art was something about a game/module that could be enjoyed right away... and whether the game was played or not.
      Similarly, word bloat in a lot of games has blown up page counts and seems mostly there to entertain people who are reading the books for entertainment with less mind toward actually playing them.

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    7. The art can also be a barrier for would be writers who have no (visual) artistic talent and lack the mean to hire a proper artist.

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    8. Yep, without a doubt - that's a very important point.

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  11. I am not a big fan of "production values" (thinking them more appropriate for a coffee table book than for an RPG book that will see heavy use if used as intended). That said, I think it important to remember that the 1st edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide cost $15 in 1979 (which comes to $52.92 in 2019 dollars).

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    1. When I think 'production values' my one desire is that the book itself be well-made. That it have a decent binding that doesn't self-destruct on the first reading.
      Old GW books are notorious for looking great and falling apart. Same with Mongoose and WOTC.
      You can have all the full glossy color you want... but if the book is built to fail I'm gonna regret paying a premium for it. Unlike stuff from say, LotFP, which can cost a bit more but are built fairly tough (and generally lack the full-page glossy color treatment, thankfully).

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    2. And those 1e AD&D books? Mine are still in great condition... the bindings on those are solid quality. Money well spent.

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    3. Ha! Yes, it's not as though TSR were ever a charity.

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  12. One more example of an original price and its 2019 price: Gary's module G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (8 pages and 2 dungeon levels) was released in 1978 for $4.49. In 2019 dollars that is $17.64

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    1. That means prices have gone down, right? Melan's zines cost less than that and have much higher page counts.

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    2. Those are "AAA" products for comparison, and it means that the cost of a D&D book today is actually cheaper these days if you get it through Amazon than the prices of old books adjusted for inflation.

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    3. It's interesting that even in the early-mid 90s, when I was buying games, that would have been expensive. I suppose it shows the importance of competition - in the late 70s TSR were basically the only game in town, more or less, and could charge high prices accordingly.

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    4. Most of those modules were practically loss leaders. The printing costs were almost the same between the mods and the hardcovers. But, sales dictated that you couldn't charge as much for the mods. This was one of the things that eventually brought TSR down. One of MANY things.

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  13. Okay guys. I have seen three or four topics like this in the last few months and said nothing, but I feel I gotta share. This is really "welcome to creativity in the 21st century."

    Most of my hobby activity is spent on music, and in the underground metal scene we've had this one figured out for a long time. Plenty of people I know release music only on bandcamp, or self-release it if labels aren't interested - although there is always another diehard starting up a new label looking for cool stuff to put out. Nobody makes any money (usually we get copies, so if you spent $0 to make your record, which is possible, you can turn a profit), but everyone I know is in 3 or 4 bands and they are all really good. While the big name jackoffs go into five- or six-figure debt to a major label (kill me), or do kickstarters to release another forgettable album, I can record my next one at home, pay a hungry kid $500 for cover art, and if it's good enough, be touring another continent next year.

    Of course, nobody would be so deranged as to address a financial problem by playing underground death metal. So we don't even worry about it. This frees us up to think about things that actually matter. Although of course it has its challenges, my last drummer went insane from working at Home Depot.

    Of course, we are still plagued by shitty bands that achieve popularity through talking shit in interviews and having the 'right' album artwork. But who cares if they sell 5 times more albums than I do? Nobody's making any money anyway, so it's impossible to actually 'sell out.'

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    1. That's a really good comparison, actually.

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    2. I agree and disagree. I think what you're saying is that money shouldn't matter. I agree with that. But the empirical reality is that in the world of RPGs, it apparently does.

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    3. I mean. I guess what I'm trying to say is that while money matters to a lot of people, there is room to operate - a surprising amount of freedom - if you set your course by other standards.

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  14. I guess I'm not as pessimistic about the situation you describe because I think it's a result of there being basically unlimited free or exceedingly cheap and very high quality content online (see, e.g., this blog).

    So if you're paying for an RPG product, you're not doing it because you're a young kid who's trying to scrape together enough material to be inspired. The free content will satisfy that need many times over. Instead, it's because you want to have a *nice thing*, or because you're an old school guy who wants a book at his table gosh darn it.

    In light of this, why does there need to be a big market of super cheap things for youngsters? The buyer is paying because he *wants* to spend a bit of cash and wants to have a cool thing in his hands, not because he really needs the product to play (like a kid buying the player's handbook in 1980), or because there's no other source of inspiring/useful content (like the guy buying Planescape modules and subscribing to Dungeon Magazine in 1995).

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    1. RE: free or exceedingly cheap and very high quality content online
      After the big Zak kerfuffle I did a deep dive into some of the classic (and now sadly mostly defunct) blogs for some OSR soul searching. Looking at the blogs year-by-year there's a point where "spitballing ideas" and game-ready content take a back seat to development and promotion of products, and post frequency slows down significantly. I bought a fair number of those products and they're excellent, but I can't help but lament that a big chunk of what would otherwise be free and inspiring content from that period is now either locked behind a thousand different $5 pdfs or was lost entirely to the ether once G+ shut down. I'd like to see a return to the hobbyist blog mentality, but I know its silly and likely futile coercing people to stop trying to earn money.

      I think you're right about the demographics for physical book sales though

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    2. I agree with anonymous in the sense that, while you are mostly right, Ivan, you have to think about opportunity cost. One of the reasons I quit G+ long before its demise was that I was so sick of all the shilling that went on there. Where once people were sharing cool stuff with each other, the G+ OSR scene had transmogrified into a never-ending stream of sales pitches. The production of free content was getting crowded out.

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    3. Expectations are a part of that. Free stuff did reasonably good in the late 2000s (mostly in the years immediately before the "OSR" became a codified thing), got crowded out by the hype around commercial releases, and it is basically ignored today. I realised this when I shared one of the best adventures I have ever written on my blog for free, and it sank like a stone. That era has mostly passed.

      On the other side of the coin, print still gets noticed, even if it is relatively inexpensive (which is my strategy - a hobbyist's luxury since I don't need to make a living on it). But it seems to me the real hype is around expensive and often overproduced Kickstarters. "Costlier = better" is the lizard brain response.

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    4. I guess I'm not sure I totally follow. Are any significant number of those blogs from the "golden age" gone?

      I haven't looked myself, so I'm asking honestly. But if they're still up, then there are thousands upon thousands of posts worth of great content sitting around online for anyone to look at. How is the opportunity cost of finding the good ones different now than it was 10 years ago?

      All it takes is finding one good blog (like this one), then starting at the beginning and following the links, then you have all the other blogs with all their reams and reams of content.

      (Also while teenagers may lack money, they usually have a surfeit of time. If anyone is well placed to sift through old content to find the good stuff, they are).

      It seems to me the only barrier is a psychological desire to have stuff that is brand new.

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    5. I meant opportunity cost in the sense that if everybody is trying to be the next big thing and become an OSR pro or whatever, that's less energy being spent on the free, hobby side of things.

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    6. Gotcha. I misunderstood. Thanks for clarifying.

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  15. I agree that there is a trend to make good-looking books that meet certain expectations. To take a Kickstarter project for an RPG book as an example, the preview for the RPG book in questions suggest to "Circle things, add NPC names, draw picture. Tear the binding apart and staple in new pages. This book is designed to be used. If you want a pretty object to put on your shelf, buy a second copy." Given the book is priced at 45 USD (without shipping) I'd be curious to know how many people will actually use the book as suggested or can afford to buy a second copy. Which is not to say that it won't provide value for money (indeed, I've backed at the PDF level and have bought other products from the author in question), just that there appears to be a disconnect between usability and cost.

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    1. Said book is also available as a PDF...

      … and the timing of Noism's post is... perhaps unfortunate. It's just a coincidence, or is it?

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    2. Must be a coincidence - I have no idea what product you're referring to.

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    3. That is a problem with your post - we don't know who you are talking about, so it could be *anyone*. By trying not to single anyone out, several authors wonder if they are the intended target. There is a term for it - "vaguebooking". I've seen it several times, and it's not helpful (although it's usually for things a lot worse than selling a book for too much money, so this is a pretty small case).

      The anonymous poster above makes clear reference to that product by Skerples.

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    4. Some would call it "vaguebooking" - maybe I'm old fashioned, but I would call it politeness!

      I don't follow Skerples' blog so I have no idea what the product in question is. This is the first I've heard of it.

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    5. It can certainly feel polite when doing it - and I say that because I've done it too. You are highlighting a real problem without targeting anyone specific, it feels like the polite thing to do.

      But it doesn't work on the internet! I realized this a few years ago in a somewhat similar situation, but instead of being something relatively benign, it was someone talking about sexual harassment. I was *certain* I knew who the poster was talking about... but no, it turned out to be someone else entirely. Had I not made some inquiries, I would have believed that person A was a serial sexual harasser, when it wasn't them all along.

      So again acknowledging that this is for far less a serious a problem, and also acknowledging that I am sure you did so with good intentions, this was not polite. Vaguebooking might feel polite, but instead it can lead several readers to think you are talking about person A, B, C, D etc, when in reality you only had E and J in mind all along.

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    6. I don't really agree it's the same thing - sexual harassment is a crime.

      The pricing of books, though, is an entirely subjective thing, so that if I think product X is overpriced, other people may legitimately disagree, or think that product Y is overpriced whereas I don't. If I single people or products out, all it does is generate argument about those specific people and products, which isn't fair on them and feels accusatory.

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    7. Just to add a data point -- it did not occur to me that noisms might here be referring to any specific product. I do not view commentary on general economic trends (even in a very niche industry) as "vaguebooking" at all because there is no reason to think it is directed at any specific person.

      I would view vaguebooking as posts that are deliberately vague *and seem to be begging for followup questions about who or what exactly is being referred to*.

      "Won't name names, but I can't believe that scumbag is doing another kickstarter after what he did last time."

      That sort of thing.

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    8. Your kickstarter example is certainly better than my sexual harassment one, which was perhaps *too* stark (but it was a real one).

      I think the reason why it feels a bit like vaguebooking to me (and the use of the word "feel" is deliberate here, this isn't a measurable thing) is because the number of authors who are publishing expensive indie RPG books is somewhat small, especially if we consider the narrower subset of the OSR/OSR-related authors. So the narrower the scope, the more pointed it feels

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  16. I think you assume there is a smooth curve running from "free" to "cheap" to "expensive". I don't really think there is--there are a couple of spikes at "free PDF", "nominal cost PDF ($1-10)" and "quality hardback" ($40-$60), with not much in between.

    Think of how much stuff is available on terms like "Buy the full copy with art, or download the no-art version for free." Since you can't copyright mechanics anyway, buying vs downloading an illegal PDF is a matter of honor.

    Another thing to mention: branding. If your ducks are really in a row, a recognizable art style tells people what your RPG product is about in ways that a one-sentence elevator pitch doesn't. Look at any LOTFP illustration, compared to a Silent Titans illustration. That tells a person a lot about what's in the text, much faster and on a different level than a brief description.

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    1. See above. I agree that it is not a smooth curve but I think you are going to a bit of an extreme. In my mind, £50 = what I would spend on a decent single malt or something of that nature. Not a book. £25 or below is a very different story. There IS something in between "nominal cost PDF" and "quality hardback".

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    2. I get what you're saying, and I do haunt the clearance rack at my FLGS for things I'm not willing to pay list price for (Pathfinder 2 playtest, for example).

      But making up numbers, let's say the cost-to-produce for the book is $15. Selling that book once for $30 gives you just as much profit as selling it 3 times for $20. I don't think there are 3x the sales at a lower price point.
      The creators are catering to loyal, free-spending audiences. "Yes, I want this Cowboys, Conjurers and Kamikazes game to exist, and I'll pay $50 to kickstart a book. Autographed copy and a screened t-shirt of the cover for $100? Sure, let me hint to my wife/husband and leave the tab open on his/her laptop for my birthday/Christmas/whatever. And then I'll share the kickstarter on Facebook because all my gamer friends need this game on our shelves."
      If you're only $10 interested, or $20 interested in this Cool New Thing, you're not the relevant market.

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    3. Economically, there is the LOTFP diehard fanboy model, and the download-my-cool-thing GLOG model.

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    4. I sort of feel like the people who are "only" $10 or $20 interested in this Cool New Thing are really the sane ones... Maybe I will get in trouble for saying that.

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    5. You're probably right, but tread lightly bringing "sanity" or too much economic rationality into the discussion. Because from a hardcore "is this a good use of time/money" perspective, you'll end up not elfgaming at all, and who wants that?

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    6. Well, I don't know about that - it beats watching TV.

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  17. A few points on the subject. I'll put these here, rather than the newer post. These are some of the factors that might go into pricing, that I haven't seen mentioned here.

    One reason for the price is, there's a market. Many people are willing, even want, to pay for a premium book. This isn't new, or just the RPG industry. When I was working for the Post Office 15 years ago, we would get pallets of leather bound outdoor catalogs. Yes, people would, and most likely still do, pay to get a premium version of a catalog that they could get for free, or just go online. Some people take pride in displaying their books, and having the premium version is part of that. This can be seen in the release of the new Pathfinder edition, where softcover, hardcover, and premium collectors versions are sold all at once.

    Related to that, is the "analog only" group. They only want the physical book, not a digital one. And, once again, they are willing to pay for it. This can factor into pricing, especially if there is only likely to be one print run.

    And, print run can also factor in. There's a scale that you have to look at, where print numbers and cost per book cross. If the print run isn't large enough, it can drive the cost per book up. But, if you want the book under a certain cost, then you have to pay up front to print more copies. So, if you can't afford that extra, well, up goes the retail at sale.

    It's been mentioned elsewhere that the art costs tend to be high. And yet, that art is put in for a hidden reason. Anti-Piracy. Notice that many companies put a parchment background, or something like it, in their books? They don't do it for looks. They do it because it makes the copy quality either bad, or expensive, for pirates. The same goes for much of the interior artwork. This is, of course, an outdated idea. Not that piracy is a problem, because it is. Rather, most of these anti-piracy strategies have been shown to cause piracy, by those customers who are hampered by them. Meanwhile, the pirates that wouldn't have payed, aren't slowed down a whit. We have known this for about 20 years, and yet...

    Related is the notion of making you buy both a print and digital copy, by making the digital cost too much to print at home. By putting pages of gorgeous artwork, that can't be skipped in the printing process, because the text is placed over or around it. And, many of these pieces can, singally, eat up text pages worth of ink or toner. Eventually, it pushed the home printing cost up to the point where you might as well buy the print copy, even at the inflated cost. This is also why so few companies provide "Printer Friendly" versions of their PDFs.

    Discounting. This may come as bit of a shock to those in Britain, but retailers in the US have the ability to discount their book prices. The same shock will hit us in the US to know that the used book market is expected to trade at full retail price. But, the point here is, the price has to be high enough for a discount to happen, and the retailer to still make a profit. Basically, adding an extra 10 or 20% to the retail price, so that it can be knocked off again later.

    Everyone else is doing it. If another similar book is selling at X price, then why not sell yours at that price as well? Sometimes, that's how market trends go. You match a price that's selling, whether up or down, because that seems to be how it's going. The same goes for form factor. Why are most RPG books so large, when a smaller factor might better serve? There are reasons the Pathfinder 1e has been selling in the smaller "digest" size. But, most books are still sold in the larger size. Because, that's how everyone else is doing it.

    Some of these reasons apply more to the bigger companies than littler ones, or vice versa. And, I'm sure there are reasons I haven't thought of, but have to do with printing costs, availability, etc. And, I didn't even touch on the distribution chain.

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    1. That is very interesting stuff. The "everyone else is doing it" point is important, in my view. We are talking about something which is structured more like an oligopoly than a genuine free market.

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  18. Yes, lavish $50 hardcovers are everywhere as of late. But within the last few years zines have become quite popular in the OSR scene--look around at mothership, ultans door, echoes from fomalhaut, as well as the recent infatuation with the pamphlet format in the general OSR scene. Zines are (except for some misguided outliers) cheap and have a remarkably low barrier to entry. Seems to me like physical rpg books that are "inexpensive and heavy on substance" exist in the zine format, and are simply developing concurrently with the 50-buck-hardback model.

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  19. I make everything free. Maybe I should PWYW so people think there is more value to what I make?

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  20. I have a proposal that might help a very little bit — we could have an annual prize for the best RPG product with modest production values. A little more here — https://mhuthulan.mediumquality.uk/2019/08/17/idea-a-prize-for-the-best-rpg-product-with-modest-production-values/

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