Jan 062010

On Monday I posted the missing 8 months of sales data I’d been too busy most of this year to post. So, that’s done, bringing us up to the end of the year (save for a big chunk of sales reckoning from IPR — I don’t get confirmed, official reporting on that until the 15th of January, so expect a post on that when the time comes).

What’s to be said about it? Turns out I have a few short thoughts.

Milestones Galore! Wait — What?

Spirit of the Century hit the 4000 copies sold mark (digital and print combined) right around the end of the third quarter. Huge, huge news, there. SOTC launched its preorder in the third quarter of 2006, so that means it took us almost exactly three years to sell that amount.  SOTC’s first year total was 2168 , and second year total was 3815 … wait, that can’t be right … apparently I can’t add! Turns out that back in October of 2008, I added 3815 and 13 together and got … 3128. So I dropped 700 copies off the SOTC total and never noticed, and then kept propagating that error forward. BEHOLD! The 4000 mark was actually broken much earlier in the year. Whoops.

Let’s try that again. SOTC’s first year total was 2168, and its second year total was 3815 (about 1650 sold that year). Third year, 4722-ish (about 900 sold that year).  Sure, it trends downward, but we’re within sight of the 5000 mark (with the total up to this point of 4812 copies sold). I’d we’re likely to hit that somewhere this quarter. And again, no IPR data for 2009’s fourth quarter yet, so we’re likely a fair bit closer than 4812.

Other products hit some lovely totals as well: Our youngest product, Penny, broke 300 nicely. Don’t Rest Your Head broke 2400 and Don’t Lose Your Mind broke 700. Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies has been doing Chad proud, breaking 800 sales by this point, putting it within striking distance (with a little bit of reaching yet to go) of 1000 copies, a goal of ours.  Spirit of the Season sold out its last print run and is now solely virtual.

Opening Our Own Store: Good Idea!

If for some reason all this Evil Hat talk is making you think, “Hey, I should go pick up…”, don’t forget that Evil Hat’s webstore awaits you. We opened it late-ish in the third quarter, but the initial numbers — especially given that they’re all direct sales, which means that aside from paypal transactional fees the money’s almost entirely ours — were promising, and got way more promising in the fourth quarter.  Combined, the two quarters grossed us shy of $3900 in product sales (about $2600 of that was our fourth quarter).  We contracted with the same shipping agency that serves IPR to do this, which means that transferring stock between the Evil Hat store and IPR is easy, reasonably fluid, and incurs no extra shipping expense.  It does look like the webstore may be pulling a few PDF sales off of One Bookshelf (OBS) and some direct sales traffic off of IPR, but I suspect we’re also capturing a few extra sales direct at the site that we weren’t otherwise.

In the end, we’re optimizing the sales potential of the Evil Hat web presence as the point of entry, sending people preferentially to the webstore that gets us the highest percentage of the sale.  But that doesn’t mean that the webstore replaces the need for those other presences — they still act as potent points of entry in their own right. Speaking of which…

IPR Sales: Still a Good Idea!

IPR is definitely skewing more and more towards retail sales for us, while still making a significant number of direct-to-consumer sales. IPR used to trend more towards a 50/50 split between direct sales and retail sales, but in the most recent data from Q3, it was more like 75% retail or convention sales. Prior to that, the 50/50 split shows more with newer products, with older leaning more towards retail — so I suppose that the long tail of our longer-running products lives in game stores. I can’t say as I expected that, but I’m pretty excited to see it: it suggests that there are at least a few retail stores out there that aren’t afraid to bring in somewhat older games, at least experimentally.

I think the EHP webstore and OBS have largely eaten IPR’s lunch regarding PDF sales, however, as many PDF purchases are one-item, and the preferential funneling of the EHP store and the massive eyeball grab of OBS eats up the vast majority of those.  Back when IPR and OBS were the only places I was doing significant PDF business, IPR was hitting about 20% of the total. I think (though I have not calculated to prove) that that percentage has dropped off a bit.

But the IPR outlet to retail is a strong one that I’m not inclined to ignore. IPR’s brand has grown and gotten recognition with enough retailers to provide us with a lot of extra business. Yes, we’re not making more than a thinnish profit on each of those retailer sales, but we’re getting more eyeballs that will turn into future fans and purchasers, and I believe making sales we wouldn’t have in other channels. Worth the expense.  IPR also offers s an easy way to get our products showing at a few conventions across the year — especially GenCon, which is becoming increasingly onerous to personally attend on my part.

And in the end, the direct sales might be a smaller percentage, but they’re still offering people an option the EHP store can’t — the ability to buy other games from other publishers at the same time, together with Evil Hat’s stuff. The EHP store requires you to have a singular interest; I like serving folks with a diverse palate as well. 🙂

OBS Sales: Good!

I’ve said before that OBS (DriveThruRPG and RPGNow) is the big dog of PDF. They continue to be. Woof. We’re still making several hundred a month off of our small catalog there; yes, we’re giving them a 35% cut, but the sales volume supports me sucking that up.  And given that OBS’s exclusive deal only saves you 5%, making that a 30% cut, I’m confident that staying non-exclusive was the right move as well.

Lulu and e23: Anemic As Expected; YGN vanished

Lulu lets people buy the hardcover of SOTC, and seems to have a very small “walk-in” crowd. This, for no risk. Since that means free money, I’m happy to stay, even though Lulu long since dropped off my list for getting books printed (we print in quantities over 40-or-so copies, which is the point at which Lulu stops being cost effective if you’re preprinting stock, if not well before that point).

e23 was looking anemic (for us) before, so we haven’t been particularly motivated to list newer products there.  That’s fine — it’s another sort of walk-in opportunity for a handful of sales once every month or two.

Your Games Now has dropped off the list — we stopped having our products listed there when it went off the co-op model. The YGN folks are lovely people, but the sales volume was never more than a trickle, and often ran dry. Not worth the hassle of setting up a product.

Penny Dreadful?

I feel like Evil Hat could (and likely should) be doing more to get A Penny For My Thoughts more sales. Over 300 isn’t bad, especially given that the game is a little “weird” in terms of how to pitch it and who will be interested, mind you, and neither Paul nor I have had abundant primary-focus energy to put into the thing. But we’ve talked a lot about this and we’re fine with it playing out over a longer timeframe.  Penny made back its money, no problem, so more than anything it being a laid-back product suits us just fine given our mutual tendency to be involved in many often larger projects at the same time.

Invisible Experiment

There have actually been a few sales that I’m not reporting in the numbers, partly because I haven’t been tallying them and it’s a little bit of a pain in the ass to go and do that. A number of months back I started toying with distribution (gasp!) in the form of Esdevium. Esdevium is a distributor serving (I believe) primarily the EU — I was referred to them via Angus of Cubicle 7 (and formerly of Leisure Games).  It helped that several of the employees at Esdevium appear to be fans of Spirit of the Century.

Since IPR’s retail channel is global but best serves the USA, and Esdevium’s channel largely does not point at the USA, I thought this would be a safe way to experiment with the wild and wooly wildness of the dreaded “distro”. Turns out it’s not all bad, but the increased risk is definitely there: you’re sending out product before you get paid for it, something which is unique among my other sales vectors, the rest of whom get paid at the time of sale. That’s a little scary given the degree to which I’ve played it safe before.

Still, it looked like it worked: I’ve probably moved over a hundred SOTCs through them, and a not insignificant number copies of my other titles too, and that includes several reorders past the first biggest one. That said, I haven’t heard from them in recent months, so I think they sold through their initial burst of interest at those titles being suddenly available to the markets they touch.

Jury’s out as to whether or not I feel that distro is something I need to do to get out to the fans.  The combo I have going of EHP Webstore/IPR/OBS is situated right about where I want things, I think, in terms of eyeball reach vs. risk. But time will tell if I feel differently, especially as the Dresden Files RPG monolith moves closer to Origins (I’ve been doing a few days of layout on it at this point, even — the writing folks are taking it easy, because they’re done, making it an editors and layout guy thing now).

It’s Late As I’m Writing This

So I’m probably forgetting something, or missing some observation about the data. What questions do you have that I haven’t commented on? What do you see in the numbers that I haven’t?


  21 Responses to “Evil Hat Sales: 2009 Observations”

  1. IPR – I’ve definitely found, for print products, that retail sales are maybe half the total in the early stages and a much higher percentage as the product matures.

    Penny – can Paul think of ways to promote it to improv groups?

  2. Always fantastic to have these breakdowns, Fred. Let me see if I can pull together the OBE numbers for you as well, just for completion sake with the data you put out for the rest of the year.

    • Here you go, OBE Oct-Dec 2009:

      Gods of the Shroud – 5
      Hard Boiled Armies – 27
      Hard Boiled Cultures – 20
      Horrors of the Shroud: The Death-Mother – 5
      Poisoncraft 4E: The Syrallax – 4
      Poisoncraft: The Codex Venenorum – 4
      Races of the Shroud: The Half-Dead – 3
      Shroudborn Multiclass – 4
      Shrouded Agendas: The Purifiers – 3
      Shrouded Paths: The Unbroken – 2
      The Witch Doctor Player Class – 6

    • Wow, nice! Glad to see Cultures and Armies have continued to do well (for you, now) after the hand-off.

    • Yep, very much so. The freebies also get a lot of downloads. It’d be interesting to correlate freebie downloads to purchases of the same and/or other products.

  3. “Penny made back its money, no problem, so more than anything it being a laid-back product suits us just fine given our mutual tendency to be involved in many often larger projects at the same time.”

    That’s about right.

  4. I need to write and post the S7S review I promised, and I need to look at A Penny for my Thoughts.

    Re: IPR: I don’t know how it affected other customers, but when the shipping costs started being charged differently, it affected my buying habits. I used to target that $35 break point and tended to try small, unknown products to round up the numbers, which was fun. Nowadays, I tend to wait for purchases that are planned as I have less motivation for impulse buy when ordering online from IPR. All bets are off when I’m at F(L)GS, though.

    I also like to encourage my F(L)GS with my dollars, and to help make titles more visible throughout the gaming community by ordering them through the stores.

    For PDFs I now tend to go to IPR more than OBS. If a title is available in both places, I get it from IPR because I want to support this business. I hardly ever buy anything from Lulu anymore. And of course, my overall purchases have dropped with the crappy economy…

    • Yeah, I totally hear you with the shipping costs at IPR. The problem was that the free shipping threshold simply wasn’t sustainable as shipping costs rose and rose. What’s not immediately obvious is that the overall trend cover price on books was rising at the same time, at least modestly; so it was a double-hit: the amount of free shipping orders increased, but the numbers of products ordered weren’t increasing as much, so the shipping costs that were getting absorbed by the seller — and passed on to the publishers — was in danger of killing the value of IPR as a sales venue. In the end, we had to choose which non-ideal option to go with, and I think we made the right one. People can still get reduced shipping costs when buying in volume, and we don’t have to constantly change what the threshold is to keep up with how shipping costs and product prices rise.

  5. Your post got me to thinking about the OSR publishing niche, so I posted my sales/downloads and encouraged others to do the same. We have a few links/numbers in the thread – hopefully more to come. (I linked to your article as well, so hopefully we can get some interesting discussion going.)

  6. I do have to admit that getting PDFs from IPR is quite useful in order to bring the total of an order up to a level where shipping on the physical part of the order gains another $5 discount. <grin>

  7. I think the game-store long-tail might stem from: it’s a while before the part of the hobby that isn’t web-centric learns about these games! Eventually either the FLGS hear a critical mass of mentions from their web-savvy customers OR the less-plugged-in customers eventually discover SOTC or Dogs or BW at cons or from their more-plugged-in gaming buddies. Same result: it takes months to years for these games to get on the radar of FLGS staff; when it happens, the games are “new” to the FLGS and their meatspace-oriented customers.

    Re Penny and improv groups: my own director LOVES Penny and is scheming up a kind of Penny mini-con for sometime this spring.

    • Yeah, that’s my expectation as well. And moreover, it’s a model I think actually makes sense on both sides of the equation, even though it’s not going to be immediately obvious to every retailer. The critical mass helps retailers weed out the stuff that’s less likely to sell at their store, to focus on the “big web phenomena” that will move off their shelves. That manages risk for them, really, but some will flinch at “not getting access to the hot thing right away”.

      And on my end, at the time when the financial proposition of the product is at its most vulnerable (at the start — when costs aren’t recouped), the strategy focuses sales on methods which yield the larger amount of revenue for Evil Hat, which builds a more stable, successful product in the long run.

  8. I’m terrible with numbers, so I don’t see anything in there that you don’t. I do have a question: given the popularity of the Dresden Files as a property, will you be offering the game through the traditional distribution chain? I figure there has to be a huge pent-up demand for this product (or maybe I’m just generalizing my personal pent-up demand).

    • I’ve been chewing on this one a lot. I think the answer, early on, is “probably not”. It’s not that I don’t see the value of distro, it’s that I don’t think the purchasing cycles and timetables and bureaucracy-like elements of the system will serve us well at all.

      Consider: I run Jim Butcher’s official website. We’ve got a large number of eyeballs in addition for Spirit of the Century in the form of the purchasers represented by the above numbers. These are potent sales sources that we already have access to through IPR and now through the Evil Hat web store.

      If Evil Hat can achieve this kind of sales volume without engaging distro, then what major incentive do we have to go that route, especially given that it always means less money for us?

    • I can appreciate your desire to maximize your profits on the game. You all certainly deserve it for your Herculean effort!

      Looking at the Evil Hat site, I see that you are engaging retailers directly. I guess I have some minor concerns, speaking as a fan who wants to see this game both succeed on its own, and bring in new readers for Jim Butcher.

      For some retailers, if it’s not available through a distributor, it may as well not exist. The local stores in my small town barely carry anything beyond D&D and Rifts anymore. They say they will special order anything they don’t carry, but this just means that they’ll order through their distributor. Asking them to step outside of their comfortable procedures to stock a class of merchandise that doesn’t sell that well anyway…I just can’t see it happening in my area.

      I will happily order multiple copies of the DFRPG online, but I would prefer to buy it through a local retailer. I guess I fear the prospect of RPGs turning into a mail-order hobby.

      I miss the days when the proprietor of my favorite FLGS bragged that he sold an entire slatwall of White Wolf products every week…

    • I get that. If you’re looking to get the game into your local store, you should ride on them to sign up for an account with Indie Press Revolution. They sell to retail just fine, and in a distro-like way.

    • Now the question is: considering your ability to drive traffic to IPR and EHP webstores, will you be giving OBS 35% of DFRPG?

    • A good question and one I’m not 100% on yet. That said, I think OBS is very strong as an initial point of entry. My ability to drive traffic only applies to the folks I grab on initial entry, so, hm.

  9. Hey Ludo,

    If your FLGS needs help or advice about starting up a Retailer IPR account, have him drop me a line. I am always happy to help.

    • Thanks for the offer Chris. I was looking at IPR’s retailer list. It seems that the store I thought most likely to be into indie games (they publish their own line of indie comix) is already signed up. On the other hand, the last time I was in there it looked like they had eliminated their RPG section entirely!

      By the way, I was looking at your store’s website. You would appear to have one of the coolest game stores I have ever seen or heard of. I wish we weren’t separated by an entire continent and a national border…

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