I’ve got something to show you.
These graphs run from August 2009 (when we opened the Evil Hat webstore) on forward to today. Think you can spot when we started selling the Dresden Files RPG?
That spike right there is a potent hit of cash, and it definitely had an overall elevating effect on the curve of sales afterwards, compared to the before-time. You can see a few other interesting upticks in the after-time, too. The curve upwards at the end of the DriveThruRPG graph is the effect of the February sale (as mentioned before, the effect of the sale is not as palpable over on the EHP webstore side of things, though there’s a slight bend in the line that’s fighting off a downward trend). That secondary jump in the EHP webstore’s graph around November 2010 is, I believe, due to the influx of Wizard Dice orders.
While the Dresden Files RPG is a huge hit for us, and probably even more disproportionately so due to the strength of Jim‘s creation, I don’t think that this sort of sales graph is all that unusual for companies out there. Sure, the peaks and valleys will look a bit different, and there’ll be a smoothing effect brought about by a catalog with more items in it, all contributing their own little drizzles of sales from month to month, but in general you’ll see the (well-received) products causing these nice spikes in the revenue stream, mostly concentrated right around the month of release and falling off pretty rapidly afterwards (our period of web-sale strength with DF ran April to July, largely; note that June was when the books started shipping and became more widely available through other channels).
As I look at these images, though, I imagine these look a lot like how a drug high can feel. An intense burst of oh yeah, exactly that is what I’m after at the moment of use, with the high fading off too soon, the later hits of the same drug not providing quite as much of a boost. And that makes me wonder if companies have reacted to that exactly like you might expect, chasing the elusive highs. Is it any wonder we ended up for a long time (and still, to an extent) with a supplement treadmill approach to publishing? Is it any surprise that there might be a vigorous pursuit of what’s new, what else ya got? Or that we’ll see sales crop up like clockwork, trying to squeeze some extra cash out of the pipe?
The real trick in the long haul is to remember the ways you can get your highs naturally. They might not have the intensity, but they’ll stick with you over a longer time period. This is where tending to the health of your long tail can pay off. Getting a spike like the Dresden Files gave us on April 2010 was definitely exciting. But after that excitement has worn off, it’s good to see the average elevation of the line staying a good bit higher than it did before. That’s why we, as a publishers, need to keep engaging our fans, whether it’s in blog posts, on twitter, at forums, or giving them something free every once in a while to show them we’re still thinking about them. That’s how you get healthy. It’s every bit the difference between a sprint and a marathon. That sprint is fast and exciting, but it’s over quick and you haven’t traveled all that far doing it. That marathon, on the other hand, is how you actually get places.