PDF's versus hard copies

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Inkpot
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PDF's versus hard copies

Post by Inkpot »

I have a question concerning the pricing of some (non-TLG) PDF's on sites like RPG Now and Drive-Thru RPG. I'm asking for the Troll's opinion on this as those who are actually in the business and as a company whom I've come to both trust and respect. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

In looking at various PDF's for sale on sites like Rpgnow and Drivethrurpg, I'm having a very difficult time swallowing the pricing. I'm seeing PDF versions of games being sold for $39.95 and sometimes even higher. It has always been my understanding that the biggest expenses in producing RPG's are printing, binding, and distribution. A PDF file reduces these costs to zero. And yet many PDF's are only a few dollars cheaper than the actual hard copy of the same game. What is the rationalization of this?

I understand that writers and artists need to be paid - and far be it from me to cheat them out of just compensation for their hard work - but how does one justify charging so heavily for a product in virtual format? Please understand that I have no difficulties with any TLG pricing, I just thought I'd ask you as a company I trust. Your thoughts?

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Re: PDF's versus hard copies

Post by gideon_thorne »

From what I understand as it was relayed too me, it has to do with competing with retailers.

I dont fully understand the logic myself, but the premise is to not 'undercut' the sale of a hard copy product in a retail shop.
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Post by serleran »

While I do not sell pdfs, yet, the information I have seen on such things are about one very simple, high ideal: supporting the brick-and-mortar business. Customers can already order their books online, but in doing so, they typically only save 10-20% (yes, sometimes its more, but we're dealing in averages here, not one-offs) which causes the B&M stores to take a hit, and why they do not carry specific brands (C&C is one of them, in many cases, because it is not an industry "giant" like WotC or White Wolf, or whatever else, who has an "established" base.) If, after this, a pdf, which is virtually cost-less (or not free, technically, greatly reduced in price to make) and then sold for its "cost" value, not only would online retailers, but B&M shops would take a major beating. So, those people who are supporting you, and the stores through which business flows (nothing, not even online discussions like these forums, can sell a product like the word-of-mouth, in-game demos) are feeling ripped because they could have just got the pdf for 60% less... well, you're cutting you're own throat. More so if you have a customer base who has a decided anti-pdf view. This means, from an economic PoV, you have to charge what the book goes for, at least initially... to keep people wanting the hardcopy. After six months, a year, whatever, the price on the pdfs jumps down, because demand goes down.

Some compaines do not wish to support the mom-and-pop B&M stores, and so, they release their pdfs at undercut prices. However, I am sure it affects total sales... but that's a whole other argument.

I'm probably not explaining it very well.. but that's what I've pieced together from discussions with other game companies on the same subject.

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Post by Inkpot »

Then I guess my next question is, "Why bother with PDF's at all"? The only reason I would ever buy a PDF would be the price (certainly not for ease of use!), and if the price is only a few bucks cheaper than the hard copy, what's the point?

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Post by gideon_thorne »

Inkpot wrote:
Then I guess my next question is, "Why bother with PDF's at all"? The only reason I would ever buy a PDF would be the price (certainly not for ease of use!), and if the price is only a few bucks cheaper than the hard copy, what's the point?

Ink

*chuckles* I hear you. I don't grasp the point personally. I like my print products I does.
However, I do know people who seem to like to have such electronic references for their laptop and suchlike. Portability more or less. How a $3000 lap top is more portable than a $20 book is beyond me, but hey, it takes all sorts to make up a world.
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Post by serleran »

For the end-user, any number of reasons, but only one (maybe two) for the business: profit. Because a pdf is typically much cheaper to produce than a book, any sales on that pdf are mostly about the $, which then allows them to continue to make more material. They also serve as a sort of advertisement, letting customers know a new product is available.

For example, let's say I sell a pdf for $3 to encourage people to download it, and then, if the person likes what they got, they might be more inclined to look at something else offered. Its a double-whammy, but all good for the me. If that initial item were something unavailable in another format, I've kept my support for the B&M shops, but have just sold two things instead of one, earning a little more than I'd have done otherwise.

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Post by BeZurKur »

Personally, I would love some kind of PDF dedicated machine that has the screen portrait and enough memory to "flip" through pages. No more rummaging through the basement to find an old copy of a game I think I still have. Think of what Ipods have done to how people listen and store their music. It would be great if we can do the same for our paper media.

Still, it seems the technology is not that affordable yet. Tablet PC's are over $1000 and weigh in at about the same as a regular laptop. Of couse, they are also more functional.

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Post by Inkpot »

I can see purchasing adventures in PDF format (which is what I do) just because I like to put them in my CK binder. The small number of pages makes printing relatively simple.

I can't even begin to fathom someone wanting a PDF of Yggsburgh.

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Post by johns »

I don't think there is a reason to buy a published book in PDF format other than getting a good deal. But, PDFs are great for out-of-print material (like the old TSR catalog) and the products of small (or one man) companies that will likely never be printed.

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Post by Treebore »

In my book there is no justification on not discounting pdf's at least 60% off of the retail.

As for the "hurts our print sales", bull! All evidence/market research shows that the only way pdf's hurt their sales is because of the "pirate" market. Legitimate sales are shown to have an "insignificant effect on print sales. In fact many people who buy the pdf also have the print version, so it actaully adds to their sales.

As for "saving" the brick stores, that is not our job. That is the job of the store owners. If they cannot survive in the free market economy then they are "supposed" to go the way of the dinosaur.

As for the "brick and mortar stores keep our hobby alive because that is where we meet all our fellow gamers." Bull again. In my 20+ years of gaming maybe 4 gamers were through my LGS, the rest were friends of friends or co-workers or my wife and kids. In the last 5 years I have found my gaming groups via the internet. I never even saw them at the LGS, even though we all shopped there.

As for C&C they are such a small impact company they won't save these stores one way or the other. So in my opinion they have no substantiated reason to sell pdf's for so much. In fact, they should be selling the pdf's themselves, through their own website, not through anyone else.

If they want I'll talk to my wife and see if she is willing to administer C&C's webstore on our business website since we are no longer in business. We just keep the dang thing because we have so much "personal" stuff uploaded to it. We use less than 2% of our sites capacity, and it has a lot of bandwidth.

But no, no one has a real reason to sell pdf's for so much. Just a lot of unproven excuses.

Can you tell that this is an "issue" with me?
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Post by moriarty777 »

Hmm... I feel I should add a couple of points of consideration here.

In reference to these B&M operations, when a store buys books from a distributer, they typically get it at around 40% off the cover price. This will usually vary 5% -- give or take. Depending on the distributer, you can (as a retailer) get a bigger break if you buy multiple copies of a book or a lot of stock from a particular company and so on. Ultimately, a book store makes its money by selling a lot of books or diversifying to other products where there can be a greater mark up.

Ironically, it's probably not the PDF "market" that threatens the livelyhood of these smaller bookstores. It's the much larger chains and huge online retailers because they also can afford to buy up larger amounts of stock at lower prices than the smaller retailer.

Now, I admit that I'm not sure what the pricing is like for gaming related books, but I can only assume it's comparable to what I've already mentioned. In terms of my experience base, I managed a store that sold many books a few years back and was also responsible for some of the ordering with some of our distributers.

But why a PDF? Simply convenience. I have some downtime here and there at work, and would rather carry a USB flashdrive with a copy of the PHB and M&T instead of my actual hardbacks. It's a lot lighter! Does this replace the hardbacks. Absolutely not. One day, technology permitting, it might -- save for the book lovers and collectors out there who prefer the tactile sensation of thumbing through a book. It all comes down to practicallity. Of course carrying one book isn't a chore, but what if you were a 3.5 fanboy who needed to carry 10 books?
As to pricing of the PDFs... I'm not sure what the business relationship between the various publishers and places like RPGNow! is like. It might be that the markup at RPGNow! is significantly higher than that of a physical book. Perhaps Serl is also right and publishers set the prices in order not to undercut the B&M retailers.

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Post by angelius »

PDFs will never replace that new book smell.

lol.

In all honesty, I think once people can replicate the quality of the industrial quality of printing at home (paper, ink etc) then PDFs is going to kill the B&Ms. Till then I dont see it really happening anytime soon. Maybe I speak for myself, but printing 200pages on my cheap printer is no fun, not to mention the binding. When that becomes easy for me...yeah then I can see the arguement.

ps. PDFs are great for out of print stuff tho.
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Post by Inkpot »

Treebore wrote:
In my book there is no justification on not discounting pdf's at least 60% off of the retail.

As for the "hurts our print sales", bull! All evidence/market research shows that the only way pdf's hurt their sales is because of the "pirate" market. Legitimate sales are shown to have an "insignificant effect on print sales. In fact many people who buy the pdf also have the print version, so it actaully adds to their sales.

As for "saving" the brick stores, that is not our job. That is the job of the store owners. If they cannot survive in the free market economy then they are "supposed" to go the way of the dinosaur.

As for the "brick and mortar stores keep our hobby alive because that is where we meet all our fellow gamers." Bull again. In my 20+ years of gaming maybe 4 gamers were through my LGS, the rest were friends of friends or co-workers or my wife and kids. In the last 5 years I have found my gaming groups via the internet. I never even saw them at the LGS, even though we all shopped there.

As for C&C they are such a small impact company they won't save these stores one way or the other. So in my opinion they have no substantiated reason to sell pdf's for so much. In fact, they should be selling the pdf's themselves, through their own website, not through anyone else.

If they want I'll talk to my wife and see if she is willing to administer C&C's webstore on our business website since we are no longer in business. We just keep the dang thing because we have so much "personal" stuff uploaded to it. We use less than 2% of our sites capacity, and it has a lot of bandwidth.

But no, no one has a real reason to sell pdf's for so much. Just a lot of unproven excuses.

Can you tell that this is an "issue" with me?

This is a very compelling argument, although I hasten to add that TLG's prices are *not* what I'm disputing. I've no problems with their pricing - hell, their prices beat out roughly 50% of other publishers. It's the $5-$10 difference between a virtual copy and a hard copy that makes my bullshit-o-meter go off. But again, I'm not in the biz, so I can't complain with any degree of authority.

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Post by Emryys »

I personally like PDF's of smaller items like modules. I find them extremely useful in preparing player handouts, etc... Just a little cut 'n' paste
Although maps are nice in quality hardcopy, there is so much that I can create if I have them in electronic format.

For Core books and significant supplements, I like hardcopy format. I would actually love to have copies in both formats for some items for the above noted purposes.

I would love to buy a HC of an item, then get a code or something to allow me to buy a pdf for $5-10 more... free is also good
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Post by miller6 »

I agree with Serleran's argument and would add that keeping pdf prices higher prevents market value erosion (preventing it being good for the companies, but not good for the consumer who could be seeing lower prices on pdfs).

Even with pdfs, the producers still have to cover their overhead (managerial, utilities, property and maintenance) and production (writer/editor) costs. That amount has to be covered by sales. With pdfs the profit margin is very high, but if demand doesn't increase, the costs can only lower by the cost of printing the book minus the cost of selling it online.

Off hand, I'd guess pdfs could be sold for half of what you pay for a book without taking a loss. (Admittedly, that's a guesstimate since I don't know the true figure). If that's reasonably accurate then a $20 dollar print could be sold as a $10 pdf, but not a $5 pdf. Keeping prices any higher than $10 for the pdf version of a $20 printed book is simply increasing profits by resisting price erosion.

If anything, it's safe to say that there's no advantage TLG can gain by lowering pdf prices. In fact, though as a consumer I'd love to see it, from a business standpoint I think it would hurt their company.

The best place to lower prices on pdfs is with mini-mods or products that are too short (in pages) for print anyway.

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Post by Rhuvein »

I think the TLG PDFs are reasonably priced and are perfect for some of the ancillary modules/adventures to the "A" series.

But, I don't think the OOP PDF mods are priced right at all, unless you're someone who won't buy via eBay or likes to print and write on them. Then OK.

But for users/CKs, PDF prices really suck, way too high. Seriously, if one is patient you can get any OOP print mod (except weird or rare mods) for a great price. I've mentioned this before, but I've picked up shrink-wrapped mods and boxed sets for good to cheap prices!!! 8)

Maybe, it's just me and I've been lucky but I see eBay as a fantastical resource.
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Post by PeelSeel2 »

For those of us who love our $3,000.00 laptops, etc. PDF's are the way to go. I could, but I would not like to, game without a laptop. Having the PDF's in easy 'reach' to be able to print stuff as I need it is a convenience that once your use to it, you don't want to be without it. When I am CK'ing it is far faster for me to look up a particular spell in a pdf or HTML format than in some clunky, old school, bound version of the same material
All jabbing aside, If I like what I see in PDF, I often go out and buy the print version. I have seen numbers suggesting that my buying pattern is the norm for PDF products. Goodman Games is great example of that. They sell a PDF and then sell the module on top of that. It also works the other way too. A lot of PDF junkies, having first brought the archaic material form, often go out and buy the PDF then. The only PDF I agonized over buying recently was the M&T. Steep price for a PDF.

The publishing industry is in a state of fast change. In the future it is going to be the norm for PDF, and (most) brick and mortar shops will go the way of the Soda Shops. Print will still exist for a very long time, but the methods of delivering to the market place will change drastically. It will be Amazonized. Their will also be Niche Market places. These are starting to evolve right now, and C&C and Goodman Games are sitting at the cusp of this new model, where they can start directly marketing to their fans. Goodman Games has instituted a subscription service to their publications. A Wonderful Idea. They can look at something they are going to put out and say 'Hey we already have 1000 copies of this sold'. Brilliant! Right now traditional channels still make up the bulk of their sales, I imagine. But as more people hear about their product and become fans of it, and buy directly from them, the fan channel could overtake the retail channel. And the thing about Fans, they can be the best marketing tool in the promotion shed.
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Post by miller6 »

My laptop would make a good place to set my books when I game.
Too many players. Not enough space at my end of the table. Need a bigger table. Need a bigger kitchen to fit the bigger table. Need a bigger house to fit the bigger kitchen.
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Post by Robocoastie »

Inkpot wrote:
Then I guess my next question is, "Why bother with PDF's at all"? The only reason I would ever buy a PDF would be the price (certainly not for ease of use!), and if the price is only a few bucks cheaper than the hard copy, what's the point?

Ink

Several reasons mainly being that our hobby is extremely niche, as a result at any one time its in danger of a product going out of print forever. PDF's ensure that doesn't happen for example if it wasn't for PDF's for example a person couldn't get original D&D out there, I wish they'd add Boot Hill to that list of PDF oop products to sell. Another reason is adventures - this is where the hobby/small print writer/publisher comes in, not since the original printing press has a person been able to create and market a book, the PDF lets that happen. And once again not everyone lives in the city where you can just walk to your local FLGS or Barnes & Noble and buy the thing.

But for massive core books like GURPS 4e ones that are now in PDF they've specifically said its to ensure the market still exists for the print copy. Personally I use both.

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Post by babbage »

Ooh, let me! Let me! Can I add my two-penneth? 8)

I don't publish, have never published and I am unlikely to publish. Doesn't stop me having an OPINION though.
It seems to me that the smaller (or more niche) the product, the closer the relationship between the hardcopy price and the PDF price. The larger (or less niche) the product, the further apart the relationship between the hardcopy price and the PDF price.

When we're talking about small or niche then most of us would use either the hardcopy or PDF equally. There isn't a great deal of difference between them, each has its faults, but also its merits.

However, when we're talking about large or less niche then the arguments are less clear. If it's large then buying the PDF and printing it out is not economical (mainly), but artificially so. The market has determined that they don't want us to hurt the sales of hardcopy material and so keeps it artificially high. It then becomes a question of 'do I think I'll that much /$ benefit [whatever the saving is] from the PDF'? Also, a large hardcopy product has a much bigger benefit to most people - the so-called tactile effect.

Until technology catches up (I am in the business and I can't see it happening for some considerable time yet - printed products have a lot of inertia) then the printed product is here to stay. Having said that, it isn't the PDF business that the 'bricks & mortar' business should be wary of - but the Amazons of this world.
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Post by angelius »

miller6 wrote:
My laptop would make a good place to set my books when I game.
Too many players. Not enough space at my end of the table. Need a bigger table. Need a bigger kitchen to fit the bigger table. Need a bigger house to fit the bigger kitchen.
Brian Miller

Build a bigger table!
All you need is some 3"x6" planks, and you can get foldable legs for $16 a set and presto...6"x6" table. Perfect size for a 8 player + 1 CK game.

Of course finding a place to put it might be a little hard. I just shove everything in the basement.
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Post by Inkpot »

Heh...I've played games in minivans driving down the road before. That's got to be worth some serious geek cred.
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Post by Treebore »

Inkpot wrote:
Heh...I've played games in minivans driving down the road before. That's got to be worth some serious geek cred.
Ink

My family and I have done a LOT of gaming travelling on those long road trips.
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Post by Breakdaddy »

Ive got tons of PDFs but find them a lot less useful than their dead tree counterparts. Printing these things on desktop print devices can get expensive as well, especially inkjet printers. Overall, my opinion is that I really dont care how much companies are charging for PDFs, because I prefer my print books anyhow.
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Post by Omote »

angelius wrote:
PDFs will never replace that new book smell.

lol.

I see I'm not the only one whole loves new book smell
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Post by Danger »

For me:

I do love books. Always have. Always will. But, books weigh a lot, and they take up space and that makes the Mrs. all sorts of anxious when it comes moving time. Also, I've got a 3 and 5 year old wheeling madly about the abode and I know its just a matter of time before one of 'em takes a marker to "the cool book with the dragon pictures!"

So, in addition to curbing my spending habits and focusing on a few games, I'm also picking up .pdf's of stuff; both in print and out-of-print items in order to still fuel the gaming interest, but keeping the clutter to a minimum.

Price, to me, is not that much of an issue in regards to .pdf's.

Printing the .pdf's isn't great fun, but I do it so infrequently as to be irrelevant to the greater goal of minimizing my gaming footprint in the house.

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Post by PeelSeel2 »

Danger, you have my vote for most disturbing avatar. That even beats Arioch.
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Post by jman5000 »

freshly printed ink from a print shop is worth 5.00 to me .. (saying that as having worked as a press operator apprentice in a past life, and just loving the smell of new ink).

that is partially a minor worry about TLG getting into their own printing with the printer they just bought. it wont smell the same...

cracking open the 2nd printing of the PhB recently - that's magic... cracking open my printed pdf which looks crappy - commodity. I take that stuff far less seriously than a flesh and blood book...

but I'm wierd.

Cheers,

J.

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