Dec 212009

Today I want to talk about PDF pricing, after seeing my friend Matt react poorly to the pricing of the recently released Dr. Who RPG PDF. (Don’t take this post as an attempt to jump on Cubicle 7’s case. As I’ve said before, I like the guys at Cubicle 7, and there are things I like about another game of theirs — Starblazer Adventures — that I’ve talked about before on Deadly Fredly. Heck, I was almost a part of the Dr. Who RPG project, and helped with their initial pitch to the BBC, but ducked out early on due to other time demands. This is a convenient and recent example, is all.)

PDF pricing with this product in particular is an interestingly sticky one. The physical product is going to manifest as a boxed set, so the PDF can’t bring along any physical components for the ride (though the only hint as to what those comprise is listed as “tokens” on the PDF listing). So things are already a little off the usual track here. Based on the markdown indicated on DriveThru, I’d surmise that the boxed set comes in at $60, and the PDF is showing as $35. That’s about 58% of the physical price for the PDF. Looking at Cubicle 7’s other “straight up gaming book” products, since DWRPG is their only boxed set so far, it looks like they trend towards pricing their PDFs as 70% of the cover price, so one could surmise that the math here is $60 = $50 of books (there are three in the box looks like) + $10 components (the box itself, the tokens), and thus 70% of $50 = $35.

For Matt, $35 is an abnormally high price to pay for a PDF, at least in this case. It’s a price he is deciding not to pay, at least at this time. I think Matt’s perceptions here match my own as a consumer, so I want to dig into that, and then talk about how my perceptions as a consumer affect the pricing decisions I make as a publisher.

Fred PerceivesThis first graph is strictly Fred-as-consumer. Many PDFs out there are an alternative version of a product that also comes in physical form. I definitely pay attention to what the physical form of the product costs, and how that relates to the PDF. Ideally, I want to get the PDF and the physical product together at no or little mark-up over the cost of the physical product, but you already know that. But if I’m making the choice between physical and PDF (because the publisher hasn’t given me that high value bundled third option), I want the pricing to feel right to me. And try as I might, the 70%-of-physical pricing approach that several companies use never does unless they’ve managed to fold in some kind of ultrasexy must-haveness to the digital version.

I’m more likely to look for — and even expect, at this point, the 50% of cover approach. This is pretty common among the smaller end of the small press publishers, where Evil Hat and many others ala IPR hang. Unsurprisingly, this is exactly where Matt’s head is at, too. I never expect lower pricing than that — but when I find it, I sit up and take notice. Something unusual’s happening there, whether it’s as simple as a sale price or something more esoteric.

Cubicle 7 (again, great guys with great products) is not alone in the 70% approach. In fact, it’s something of a standard with what I think of as the upper echelon, bigger second tier publishers in the hobby. Consider that White Wolf does this (example: Geist, a PDF that’s $24.49 on a book that’s $34.99), and I’m pretty sure I remember that was the space that Wizards of the Coast put their stuff in when doing pricing. That brings us to the next graph, which doesn’t move the pointers around at all, just changes the labels:

Fred Sees WhereExceptions will always abound when someone (me) tries to make broad generalizations, so for the moment just look at this graphic as talking about trends I’ve picked up on rather than case by case specifics.

Because I’m coming to the publishing thing as a consumer first, I try to put prices on Evil Hat’s games that would appeal to me, that would result in a sale rather than a “hmm, I’ll think about it”. (This is true in my non-PDF considerations as well — there’s a reason Don’t Rest Your Head in book form costs $15 when many similarly-sized peers click in at $20.) I’ve tried my best to examine how I react to a price and unpack it for others to digest, so here goes.

A close to 50% PDF price feels like it makes sense, and it potently ties into the human tendency to look for easy shorthands. 50% is “half of” — that’s a dead simple concept. What’s 70%, though, in simple-speak, the language of the consumer’s gut? My answer is: “More than 2/3rds”, and the lizard brain wants to soak up that heat and just conclude “well, then it’s not much different than full price!” Patently false once the logic-monkey part of the brain kicks in, but the lizard brain spends all its time sitting on a heat rock, so it’s extra zippy and always gets to the juicy first impression ahead of the pack. “Half” is unambiguous, and when you’re talking about getting nothing physical for your dollars compared to something ambiguous, it feels deeply fair. “More than half” fails that gut feeling, and “less than half” makes the lizard do a little jig. It’s the tipping point as far as my instincts are concerned.

But for publishers who are currently at the 70% standard, that 50% can really look like crap. A 50% pricepoint vs. a 70% pricepoint represents a nearly 30% drop in revenue per sale. Turn that around and it suggests you’d need to pick up an additional sale at 50% for every 3 sales you’re already getting at 70%. That’s freaking hard, and I don’t honestly know if it’d happen if a company suddenly turned around and dropped all its prices down to the 50% mark. At the end of the day, a company that prices things at 70% is going to continue to price things there so long as they have customers who are willing to buy at that level. Sales you make as a publisher are easy to monitor. Sales you don’t make are nearly impossible to track. The incentive to change, then, is awfully low.

It’s also worth thinking about the realities that these bigger companies face versus the small guy. Whether we’re talking physical or virtual products, nearly everyone in game publishing is doing some amount of direct sales to customers. But with the physical products, the bigger guys are nearly always going through some sort of distribution service as well in order to make it out into the retail space. Those publishers are probably pulling in a gross of around 40% or less of the cover price of those physical books. Out of that 40% they need to cover the cost of production (talent, content, printing, shipping, overhead) as well as make a small profit in order to help their business continue to run and maybe even grow. Operating in this reality trains the mind to set the pricepoint on something as high as the market can reasonably bear so that the trickle of cash that makes it back to the publisher is enough to float the boat (assuming everyone involved down the line pays their damn bills).

So suppose that’s what you’ve been living with for a while, and now it comes time to price your PDFs. Your gut’s going to tell you that you should price things as high as the market can reasonably bear, and your expectations will be that a hefty chunk will go to operations that aren’t yours along the way. And guess what? You’re not exactly wrong. If you’re selling PDFs you absolutely need to be on OneBookshelf (RPGNow/DriveThruRPG); they easily own 80+% of the RPG PDF market. Even if you go exclusive with OBS for selling your PDFs you’re going to be giving them a 30% cut; it’s 35% to get nonexclusive sales there. PDFs are also a value play for many consumers, so you want to plan for the occasional sale — those value hunters are going to turn into impulse buyers when you drop the price for a limited time every few months. And you’re going to want to aim to get roughly the same cash you would from a print sale — or better than that, even, since a print sale also carries intrinsic value by reducing the amount of taxable inventory you have. 70% of the cover price, times the 60-70% of actual sales revenue you’re pulling in from OBS, gets you to 42-49%, which is within a few percentage points of the 40% you’d be making on that distribution print sale.

The rub, then, is that for all intents and purposes the 40% you’re getting of the print version’s cover price in a distribution print sale is the clearest expression you have as a publisher of what your product’s actual content is intrinsically worth. So if the 70% priced PDF sold through One Bookshelf gets you about the same amount of money, that makes “lizard brain” sense: whatever the form the product takes, you’re ending up paid a very similar amount for your gut-understood value of the thing.

Changing the middle-man variables is where this all breaks down, and unsurprisingly that’s where a lot of the guerilla publishing approaches of the smaller press guys show their effect. If you’re not in distribution, doing most of your sales direct to consumers, you’re getting a lot more money when you make a sale. The sales Evil Hat makes through the Evil Hat webstore leave us with close to 90% of the money paid. Selling PDFs through Lulu or IPR still leave us getting 80% of what’s paid; selling physical products leaves us with more like 70% on direct sales. I think when stuff like that happens for most of your sales (however meager), it breaks the “all the money I’m getting is for the intrinsic value of the content” assumption I was talking about above. If I’m getting 70 or 90% of the cover price on a print version of Spirit of the Century (cover price $30), I’m not going to find myself thinking, hey, I should be getting a net of $21 to $27 when I sell the PDF (i.e., a PDF price ranging from $27 to $30), because those numbers just don’t look right next to each other. So at that point I’m freed up to go and look at my PDF price with my consumer brain (at least that’s my current theory). And as I’ve already said, my inner consumer likes the simple concept of “half”, generalizing all other stuff outside of the “half” range as “holy crap cheap!” or “holy crap just crap!”

That’s not to say the 70% PDF pricepoint doesn’t continue to make sense for people who are doing both solid direct sales and lots of distribution/middle-man sales. The reality is that, as a business, you have to make decisions that maintain your cash influx at a certain minimum level, and when that’s a consideration you have to plan for the smallest possible amount of revenue gained from each individual sale, and you have to make sure that that smallest amount is at or above the minimum. But knowing that doesn’t keep me from being sad (from where I stand practically as a consumer and from where I stand philosophically as a publisher) when I see that pricing model.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this analysis other than to lay it out there and see what people think. When you’re firmly entrenched in one of the perspectives (consumer or publisher), it’s really difficult to remember/understand/sympathize/agree-with the price perspective of the other. At the end of the day, both perspectives make sense to me, but I’m more interested — as Evil Hat — in serving my consumer perspective first. Because I’m not just making sales to Evil Hat’s fans, I’m building relationships with them, and a fan is far more valuable to me in the long term than a few extra bucks. Fans watch your back and write your name across the sky. Customers just grab the bag and walk back out the door.

I’m also fascinated by experimental pricing stuff that completely nukes the percentage-ratio model. Look at John Wick’s stuff; in PDF form, he advances the simple notion that my games are worth five bucks, whether you’re talking about the multi-hundred page Houses of the Blooded or the dozen-or-so page Wilderness of Mirrors. And honestly, I think he’s on to something there. I’d happily spend $5 on each of those because the ideas inside both are pretty hot. Sure, I’m more likely to have a holy crap! reaction to the $5 price on the Houses PDF due to the sheer volume of stuff I get, but I’m not gonna complain about Wilderness either. So that’s something to think about, too.


  39 Responses to “PDF, Print, Pricing”

  1. Something unusual’s happening there, whether it’s as simple as a sale price or something more esoteric.

    This can’t be underestimated either to that same audience who reacts so strongly. I’ve seen lots of reaction along the lines of “But I could buy Pathfinder for $10 instead!” on books that are very reasonably priced for page counts.

    I think the main point is that publishers do usually set these prices for a reason- they’re not just setting them arbitrarily high to “rip you off.” At least some thought went into it.

  2. Thanks for the interesting and detailed analysis, but when comparing PDF to printed product shouldn’t you also factor cost of goods? If SoTC costs $6 to print (I have no idea what your actual number is) and you sell for 70% of $30 cover price ($21) you make $15, not $21. The other costs of creating the book (art costs, editing, etc) should probably get spread across both print and PDF, although I could see an argument that all that’s a sunk cost for the print version and the PDF should only factor in whatever incremental cost for creating the PDF.

    Then there’s the carrying cost of inventory (not a factor for Print on Demand or PDFs) – the money spent on a print run isn’t available for other uses until they’ve sold.

    • Yeah, I was focusing on gross revenues a lot because the cost of goods can slide around a ton. SOTC can cost between $6 and $10 to print depending on the printing solution selected. And if you look at unit cost for the guys pricing PDFs at 70%, then you’re looking at a situation where the contrast is even more stark. Most of the bigger companies with 70% PDF pricing are also printing books via offset rather than POD methods, getting a much lower unit cost.

  3. Excellent analysis, Fred. I’d notice also that it is the “larger” companies that are going for the higher-priced PDF scheme, with WotC having been the sole one to price their PDFs the same as their print books (at least on the newer stuff; the older editions products were all $5).

    As a consumer I am totally in the 50% range to consider buying a PDF over a book, and right-down absolutely if I’m buying it in conjunction with a print copy that wasn’t bundled (and oh, when will all companies just accept this is the right strategy and jump onboard?). I *understand* the 70% pricing scheme, but I’m never gonna support it because it doesn’t make sense to me as a consumer and I vote by not buying.

    Ultimately, though, it is a matter of perceived value, and at least I am still very much entrenched in the mentality that the physical product has more value over an electronic file, even if they contain the same information. When it comes to music I made the leap and buy now exclusively electronic, but with books that hasn’t happened.

  4. Current and recent pricing on Amazon, I think, throws an interesting wrinkle into this, as I can often get a White Wolf print hardcover with free shipping at about the same price as a pdf. The reptile brain practically recoils at not getting the physical copy for about the same price. And, even in the event I should pick it up at my FLGS instead, I generally as a consumer consider that extra value being a vote in the store rather than the format. Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space is currently listed at 37.77 if you don’t mind waiting for stock…

  5. Something else to consider: There is a fairly significant portion of the “alpha retailer” community in this industry who strongly view PDF sales as “stealing their business” — and have expressed that publishers who undercut them by selling “the same thing at half price” will not see continued presence in their stores.

    That affects PDF pricing for many large traditional publishing operations, who depend on distribution sales for the largest chunk of their income.

    • Good point. Chris Hanrahan (a retailer) and I have talked about this repeatedly on our podcast, That’s How We Roll (, and generally concluded that it’s a crap perspective, even if it’s one you may feel compelled to accommodate by pricing PDFs higher.

      Personally, I prefer doing something different to send the message that there’s no undercutting going on here:

      It’s not the easiest thing to publicize, but I’ve gotten plenty of customers contacting me directly to take advantage of the Evil Hat PDF guarantee, and several retailers who contact me on behalf of their customers. It’s produced a lot of happy fans, and some other publishers have taken to doing the same thing (Rogue Games being the one I’m thinking of right now).

      But that’s a “small guy” difference of perspective, again: I’d rather use a PDF to incentivize a print sale through a retailer, and make a fan out of that retailer, than get the money for the PDF. That’s an equal or better trade for me.

  6. As usual, you provide a clear and logical explanation of your reasoning and make good points. There is a certain logic from the bigger publishers’ perspective in selling the PDF at a higher cost, but I believe it does not take the purchasers‘ reality into account.

    (1) We don’t just look at percentage, we also look at absolute cost. I think $20 is a bit of a psychological break point for a lot of gamers; for my part, $35 is way out more than I’m willing to pay for any PDF. Keenan makes an excellent point about the Amazon factor playing a part in this comparison.

    (2) This is especially true when considering whether to print and bind the document, or to buy a print copy in addition to the PDF. The total cost of your game can skyrocket.

    (3) It’s also true when buying to check out a product, or to get spare copies for the players in addition to the GM’s print copy.

    (4) Many people will find it easier to justify PDF piracy on the grounds that the original price was gouging anyway.

    (5) As you have suggested in other posts, entry-level PDFs actually function as excellent advertisement for a print game and serve to recruit more buyers. In the last four years, approximately 85% of my RPG purchases were ones where I had had a chance to check out PDFs for cheap or even free and decided I liked the products enough to buy the print version as well. In many cases, I ended up buying subsequent games by the same author or publisher “sight unseen” because I had received such good value originally that it had built trust.

    • Yeah. Absolute cost is a more wiggly thing to grapple with, though; I’ve seen a wide range in what folks will claim is their cap, so it’s harder to plan for. And even at the 50% mark I’m approaching the point where some of my (future) products may go over $20 in PDF form, and I think they’ll be worth it when they do.

      I’m definitely sensitive to the “PDF turns into a print sale later” effect, which is another reason why I want to make sure my own PDFs are priced pretty affordably.

  7. As a consumer, I would never pay 70% of the paper cost. Maybe this is lizard-brain thinking: but it comes off as the paper cost being so high mainly because of the cost of materials, shipping, and all that fun crap, which simply don’t exist when you’re talking electrons and digital distribution, so what am I actually paying for?

    I personally won’t pay more than $20 for a PDF product (and even that’s stretching it): I don’t care what the paper product costs.

    • Actually, pre-production costs (writing, art, editing, license fees, etc.) are often as large (or even larger) than actual production costs (printing, etc.) in many cases.

    • Yeah, what GMSkarka says is worth keeping in mind. Those pre-production costs are often much less elastic than the actual production costs, too. Production costs can be shopped around a lot more easily, “minmaxed”, split into smaller chunks, etc.

    • Yes, quite true (though I also bet any of the three of us wouldn’t have much difficulty making arguments either way). But regardless of the actual costs to the company, speaking from a consumer POV, that isn’t the perception.

      That is: it FEELS like you’re paying for materials and shipping and warehousing and other costs that aren’t a factor electronically, whether or not you are. (At least that’s the way it feels to me, maybe I’m odd.) I do think “how it feels” (perceived value) is a pretty significant factor in pricing for consumers.

      So if some folks are getting value out of 70%-electronic, well, cool. I can’t see that for myself. I’m good with $5-$10 for a PDF, and once we start inching above that price-point, my fingers start pausing a longer-and-longer time before hitting “Buy” (if they ever do), because I start thinking “I could just order the physical product and get a better value.”

      In fact, I find it really interesting that consumers are willing to pay that much for a PDF (regarding the Doctor Who product). I’m wondering how much of that has to do with the currently limited availability of the game Stateside, and how much those PDF sales numbers will decrease after it is more widely available as a physical product here?* The two things may have nothing to do with each other, but I still wonder.

      (*For example, is there a culturally perceived value in reading/having/playing the game early?)

  8. Thanks again for the article which is an enlightening look into the business side of the RPG business. I remember speaking to Jerry Greyson at GenCon who felt that he needed to focus on the print aspect of the industry and only used the PDF sales from OBS as gravy cash that he didn’t rely upon. It was good advice at the time.

    I very much like the idea of the Print+PDF bundles that IPR offers and hope to begin taking advantage of more as time passes. My often typed complaint on PDFs is that they are a resource that cannot be legally traded for other PDFs or even print titles. While I am not condoning the idea of buying Print+PDF just to trade/sell the book and keep the PDF I am loathe to buy a PDF alone.

  9. Another thing to take into account as a data point:

    Even at the 35 dollar price point, C7 is still selling enough PDFs for the game to have reached #12 in the Top 100 at RPGNow:

    So apparently, there’s an argument there for “what the market will bear.”

    • Entirely true. It’s clear that the market will bear the cost of a 70% pricing strategy. It’d’ve been interesting to see if they could have hit, say, #1 by pricing it at $20, though, and what the volume difference would have been — but that’s hard to do with a given product once the product has “launched” at a higher price point. Every product is its own microcosm of pricing, and the trends you see on one product won’t necessarily bear on the trends that emerge with a new one.

  10. When WotC first started selling PDFs, they cost the exact same amount as their print products, which was just crazy. I remember one of the WotC guys lecturing a room full of OGL publishers at GTS about how we were all doing it wrong and should follow their lead. He asserted that the full price was what the content was worth, printed or electronic. Let’s just say we were not convinced by this argument.

  11. Hi,

    The Doctor Who PDF actually got to #5 at one point on RPGNow and #1 on DriveThru.

    Great article (as always) Fred!


  12. As a consumer, I like having the PDF of a product for two main reasons. First, to look up information when I’m at my computer (often) and don’t want to hunt down a book that’s potentially in another room. Second, I like to be able to copy snippets out for in-play reference that will help me avoid page flipping and multiple bookmarks. I love the Print+PDF options for this reason, even if it adds to the price. I’ve been known to buy PDFs for games I physically purchased just to get the ease of use I describe above (Usagi Yojimbo!) When purchasing a PDF for this supplemental use, I would want the price to be half the physical book cost or less. However, if I were purchasing the PDF to play from, I’d be happy paying closer to the physical form cost… maybe up to 80-85%, but would still not want to pay “full price” for a PDF. I’m very much in favor of a discounted or free PDF with physical book purchase.

    In the case of PDFs that are part of a box set, which seem popular right now, it depends on the contents. With Cubicle 7’s Doctor Who, all components save dice are available in the PDF download, and the main concern is that printing your own out may result in flimsy components. I personally plan on printing out character sheets and gadget sheets for actual play rather than using the ones in the box, except possibly for the sample characters. If I didn’t have the box set, I could easily play with just the PDF download.

    Another RPG box set example, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, is nearly useless when downloaded in PDF form, as many of the components (action cards, career cards, special dice, etc) are not available as a PDF download. This is partially reflected by the PDF pricing, which is around $25-$30 for all the books, about a quarter of the cost of the box set. This sounds cheap, but as mentioned above you’re not paying as much because you’re not getting as much – a good analogy would be buying a D&D 4E PHB for cheap that only has the rules and magic items, and none of the classes and powers. Sure, it can be handy, but it’s not the complete game.

    I’m not entirely sure where I was going now, but to sum up, I’m happy to pay more for a PDF that well represents the physical product, but if I already own the physical product I wouldn’t want to pay more than half the original price. I suppose I advocate tiered pricing for PDFs?

  13. I know I received a free copy of the Doctor Who PDF through RPGNow by using a coupon provided by Cubicle 7 to apologize for delayed delivery. I wonder how much of the sales figures are really represented by others provided that same coupon?

    • The complimentary copies don’t count towards sales figures or the chart positioning. Only actual sales count towards that (otherwise you could completely load the ranking system).

      Glad you’re enjoying the game!


  14. Thank you Angus, that’s very reassuring! Hopefully when the new Doctor shows up in 2010, I’ll have a new campaign going on as well 🙂

  15. Since I apparently instigated Fred’s thinking here, I feel obligated to weigh in.

    My POV is purely consumer, so take that into consideration. I am not “looking for games (PDF or print) to buy,” I am “weighing my options” or “wanting to maximize my buying dollar.” As such, my decisions are based on *value* (perceived or otherwise).

    So, what can I get for $35? (Assume I *want* all of these things.)
    – A print version of Diaspora. (Yes, I realize I’m not counting tax or shipping, but I’m in the ballpark here.)
    – A print+PDF version of Mouse Guard.
    – A used copy of Batman: Arkham Asylum.
    – (For a few bucks more) an on-sale copy of Dragon Age: Origins (the CRPG version).
    – a copy of the Dominion board game.
    – Many other high-production-value board games.

    Anyone looking to get my “gaming dollar” needs to factor those alternate possibilities into their pricing structure. I realize this may mean some of the bigger houses may not be able to offer PDFs and still maintain a profit, but I think the industry should use PDFs as loss leaders: get me in the door, and I may buy more – at least a print copy, if not other titles.

    • If you hunt around there are plenty of good value places out there for print editions of things. Amazon heavily discounts beyond the level brick & mortar stores can compete and the Who North America store was/is selling physical copies of Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space for only $36.95 (less than $2 more than the PDF is available for) whilst the RRP for that is $60.00.

      Many companies put up sneak peaks or previews of games to encourage people to have a look at the product (well, part of the product atleast) before buying which is a lot cheaper than buying a PDF (or anything) and so should help your gaming purse. If you then like what you see in the previews/sneak peaks you can have a hunt round for the cheapest available site/store to buy it from.

      I personally am happy to pay a little more to buy it from an actual brick & mortar store (as opposed to an online only discounter) because I strongly feel that people should support their FLGS if they have a good one like Endgame or Leisure Games.

  16. The WotC argument that “The price is for the content” turns around quite neatly, like this:

    A certain portion of the price is for the content (both the value of the content to the consumer, and the cost of putting the content together). The rest is the cost of putting it in a given format and distributing it in that format. So if you have bought the content once, I shouldn’t, logically, be charging you the “content” price a second time if you want it in a different format. I should just charge you the production + distribution portion of the price.

    Hasten to say, this is not an “entitlement” argument that is saying “all publishers should do this”. It’s something that I personally am planning to do with my next fiction project. If you buy it as an ebook, you get a coupon for the price you pay less the (average) ebook distribution cost, and you can use that coupon when buying a print edition, and vice versa. Same with the audiobook, if any. I think we’re in, or close to, a place where this can work technologically.

    You want to read it on your iPhone in odd moments, and listen to it in the car, and read it in the bath as well? OK, you pay something for each of those affordances. But you don’t pay three times for the same content.

    The Evil Hat PDF Guarantee seems to be coming from a similar place.

  17. There are three main reasons for me to buy a PDF

    (1) In my situation PDFs are invaluable advertising for me. In the absence of a FLGS they allow me to look at a product and decide whether I also want the physical product. This is particularly true in the so-called Indie market. Mostly this is because when you add in freight I either have the opportunity to pay 200% for a product sight unseen, or $250% of something I might actually use (instead of 100%/150%). Which makes me even more sensitive to price-point policy on PDF. Although the flip side of this is if I don’t like your PDF, you are only getting 50% of the price (which you probably wouldn’t have gotten any other way in this case). [@MikeRM – I wish more people would use your scheme for this very reason.]

    (2) I also pick up PDFs of games that I will never get around to play, if they are cheap enough (I’m definitely an aforementioned value shopper at OBS <grin>). This is a sale you (the game publisher) would have never gotten otherwise, and sometimes the product has been worth investing in a physical copy as well, or convinced me to keep an eye out on further products in that line.

    (3) And there are the rare games that I buy the PDF after I’ve bought the physical game because I can disassemble it into a coherent rules document for my own use. Often this is a necessity as, even with a searchable PDF, load times can be atrocious on an underpowered netbook. [Generally a side effect of drawing the PDF directly from the print copy rather then providing a specialised version.] But it’s also very useful if you mod the rules extensively (as I do), or the game is split over a large number of supplements and expansions (I did the same thing with a manual typewriter back in 1977 for A Certain Game™).

    One thing that strikes me looking at these reasons is I really don’t view the PDF as the product produced by the game company. At best it is a tool or adjunct to the product, and there is an innate sense that it should be priced accordingly. A PDF will never replace a book, simply because it is an electronic book, and suffers the disadvantages of both, with little corresponding advantage. I think that dedicated tool will be something designed exclusively for electronic media (hyperlinked, searchable, and innately expandable).

  18. I should add, of course, that for a fiction ebook, layout and art are usually not the factors that they are for a game PDF. If you buy an ebook of my novel from Smashwords (in any of multiple formats including PDF), you are getting just the words with, effectively, no designed layout, which makes considering it a “content only” purchase much more reasonable.

    On the other hand, as Reverance just said, game PDFs are often just the print file, which means they are not optimized for screen reading. You could argue that this actually makes them less valuable, in that the format you get them in is not well served by their design.

  19. Another question that has to be asked is what is the value of the product in question.

    For us gamers, the answer is obviously the content which is of value. This is really the reason most of us buy the games (although I have bought games for the mere fact that they are beautiful works of art in their own right, even if the content (in game terms) is pretty pathetic).

    But for non-gamers (such as my heirs and assigns), what is the actual value of the product. My physical games library they will be able to (easily I predict) unload on eBay, but what about the PDFs? What is the resale value of a PDF, especially one that has someone else’s name emblazoned on the bottom, and where having it in public might get one accused of supporting piracy?* And what would happen when they start selling them off? How will the publishers react when they start selling my PDFs? And isn’t the resale value of an object a good indication of it’s actual worth? Physical objects can increase in value. PDFs only lose value. [Sometimes I think pricing models more appropriate to computer games are better models for their value, although there is an innate double depreciation there).

    * And yes, one does get mildly gruntled when the name on the legally purchased PDF doesn’t match your name, even if no one has accused you of piracy (as yet). [=9)]

  20. I’m conflicted, really. I understand the argument in favor of charging what the market will bear, and and I certainly want to see the creators make money and be encouraged to make more gaming goodness.

    On the other hand… $35 for a pdf? I’m going to pass, for reasons that are mostly personal. I’d by buying Doctor Who mostly as a Who fanboy, rather than as a gamer (I don’t know anyone who’d want to play it, first off). I prefer my games with more hippie story game flavor and less crunch. All these things put the DW RPG on the “I’ll do without until I have $40 0r $60 I have absolutely nothing else to do with.”

    I guess it comes down to a personal cost/benefit. I could run Doctor Who using just my own internal fanboy encyclopedia and the FATE rules, so I’m less inclined to pay more for a product I don’t actually need.

    Which isn’t to say I won’t buy it. The price has just dropped it to the bottom of the list.

  21. Generally, if I want the game, I want it in both PDF and Print.

    If I only want the PDF, that means it is either only available as PDF, or the PDF was in the “impulse buy” range ($10 or less).

    The combination of “PDF now, print copy when it gets back from the printer and we ship it” is pretty much laser focused at my weakness for both the new and shiny and instant gratification.

    As a side note, however, “PDF now, print copy later” as a limited time offer means that I either pre-order, or I likely don’t buy the product at all. Because once the lizard brain knows that once upon a time you could get both for the same price, but now you can’t, the lizard brain gets cranky and goes back to sulk on the rock.

  22. “If you’re selling PDFs you absolutely need to be on OneBookshelf…”

    Unless your brand is strong enough to go solo, of course. I’m fairly certain keeping e23 as the exclusive source of GURPS PDFs has increased sales overall. A release that doesn’t have to compete with dozens of others for eyes is a release that’s going to be picked up more often on impulse.

  23. […] December, Fred Hicks posted “PDF, Print, Pricing,” in which he points to me as […]

  24. […] to people like Fred Hicks and Ed Healy, we have set our prices for the upcoming release of the Triune […]

  25. […] Game License has been replaced by economic recession, a move from print to online publishing of PDFs, and fragmentation of the […]

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