Monday, June 1, 2009

PDF books, or how to pay more for less

I guess by now everyone have noticed that the business of traditional gaming products on dead trees are not the place to make big bucks. Not that it ever was a money maker, but the hobby are transitioning to electronic sales for a reason. While I readily see the advantages from a producer perspective I am also kind of vary of this development, and not only for nostalgic reasons. Fairly recently I bought some pdfs and I'll tell you about my experiences and conclusions. How does pdf compare to physical game books? On DriveThruRPG they had a sale when it was time for "GM Day". Since I had just got hold of 7th Sea, I felt some stuff for Flashing Blades might give me inspiration. The adventures where fairly cheap and I bought all I could find, all four of them. They cost $2.10 USD and it felt like a decent deal. Now when I looked them up they were marked at $7 but striked through and reduced to $2.80 which gives me the suspicion that DriveThruRPG is one of those places which never sells their stock for what they claim is "full price". In total I paid $8.4 USD for the bunch. Since I prefer to have my gaming stuff on paper, which for me is easier to cram in a pocket, read without electricity and for making notices on, I decided to have them printed. But, just stealing the resources of my workplace wasn't what I had in mind. Yes, I said steal. How many of you dear readers have a deal with your boss about printing game stuff at work? Without paying? Didn't think so. At my local print shop (the good one, not the bad one where the cranky persons worked) they could make booklets of my pdfs, full letter size so I could read the slightly blurred text. They also gave me the option of getting cardstock for the covers and the front page illustration in colour. Now if this seem excessive let me remind you that this was done to compare a printed game book to a pdf. All in all I paid $32 USD for this. That makes it $10.1 USD per book. Now when I look at those books at, say Noble Knight Games, they will cost you roughly $5 USD. All four plus shipping to me here in Ontario adds up to $26.69 which means $6.67 USD per book. Since none of the books available at the Knight were mint I guess we could add a few bucks to that total to compensate. Still, cheaper than the pdf. Why is pdf sales such a big thing then? Well, it's not hard to see why. Printing costs, warehousing and costs for shipping from the printer is probably going to be a major (if not the major) cost in producing a game book. Imagine if you could get some other poor sucker to pay that cost! Frankly, that is what's key to pdf sales. I wonder how many gamers out there who actually go through the pain to get themselves good looking results, like I did? If the product is just black and white, maybe a plain print out on the office printer is "good enough", since it's "free". Once when I complained on the Kenzer message boards about the idiocy of publishing a 200+ page book only in pdf, someone told me they could get a hardcover printed from that at a local print shop, and without paying a pint of blood. I was damn tempted to take him up on the offer. Seriously, where do they have print shops that can do that? My conclusions from my experiences is that this pdf renaissance is fuelled by companies whose employees print stuff they are not supposed to at work. Otherwise I can hardly understand how it makes economic sense. Unless you have good equipment and pay good dollars you will have a sheaf of black and white papers (probably lesser quality paper than the generic game book, and maybe even not double sided) and not a game book. You just paid more money, for less. Congratulations!
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