Publishing Economics
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Post Posted: Mon Oct 06, 2008 4:44 pm 
 

Okay. I admit it. This should have been in the General section. But seing as we have our very own publisher on board here in the JG Subweb, I figured I should pose these questions/muings here.....

I am trying to figure out just how economic it really is to take a product to print. It seem to me that the likes of Goodman Games and Troll Lord Games need to shift a hell of a lot of product to make a viable business. So they have to run as full time companies dedicated to the market. That's too much big bisiness for my liking.

So I now look at the possibility of small press works, and I'm trying to figure out how the numbers stack up. You need a writer, someone to proof read and criticise or playtest depending on the product, and an artist. And probably someone to assemble the final proofs for the printer. And at the very least, the artist you need to pay up front, along with the printer.

So how in hell to you make any money? If you print say 32 pages of product, and you plan on selling the product at $12 a shot, I can't see where the money is in it. It seems like economic suicide.

Now TLG and GG have proven that RPG publishing does work, but they need to churn out large quantities of materials and emply a dedicated staff, so how do small press products balance the books?

And lastly, does anyone know how I go about getting something printed in newspaper format?


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Post Posted: Mon Oct 06, 2008 6:25 pm 
 

Chinese wage-slave labor has kept a number of print publications alive in the last 10 years. I know that Kenzer was debating the move 5 or 6 years ago.

But I have never heard that gaming was a way to make much money. Labor of love, but economic suicide, at least for the print market.

Do TLG and Goodman make much of a profit?

  

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Post Posted: Mon Oct 06, 2008 7:02 pm 
 

As someone directly involved with one of the mentioned small presses, I can say this much -- there is not a lot of money in it: at least, not from the author side of things. Some products pay better, but it really depends on the contract. One way TLG keeps prices down, and profits up is by having their own printer / binder -- they used to go through someone else, but took the hit and bought their own machine to do it, and that has been a very good thing. Also, recent events has caused a spark and TLG products have, from what I can gather (no official status on this, so don't quote me), seen marked increase in presence and desire. Certainly having a dedicated "staff" helps, but the strongest factor is name recognition -- this is why TLG goes to every convention they can, as it gets them out with the audience and lets them meet, greet, and sell directly to customers, many of whom haven't even heard the name Troll Lord Games. Also, again from anecdotal evidence, new products tend to sell well for TLG, and then have a longer trickle effect, especially things like Monsters and Treasure which is not geared toward the "average C&C player" but the C&C "Castle Keeper" so sales for that book seemingly are more along the lines of 4 PHBs to 1 M&T.

But, that's all just from what I pick up in the discussions. They've been around since right around 2000, and they survived the d20 burst. So, I'd say they're going to be around quite a while longer.


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Post Posted: Mon Oct 06, 2008 7:35 pm 
 

Hi Serle!
I seem to recall some mention that TLG was also doing occasional small run print jobs for other game companies as a sideline. Was that just a rumor?


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Post Posted: Mon Oct 06, 2008 8:25 pm 
 

Not a rumor. They had done things like that, such as the Necromancer modules printed by TLG (L-series and Mother of All Encounter Tables) and also the Trigee materials (Lejendary Adventure / Gygaxian Fantasy World series) and so forth. They also, aside from TLG itself, have done a couple of board games (Planet Busters from Tom Wham) and other, non-roleplaying stuff under the Chenault and Grey Publishing company (which is the parent of TLG, by the way.)


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Post Posted: Mon Oct 06, 2008 8:47 pm 
 

Do you know if they printed Murder of Crows by Super Genius Games? I seem to recall seeing mention of it in a blog or news release somewhere.


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Post Posted: Mon Oct 06, 2008 9:08 pm 
 

Steve said it here, if you scroll to the August 21st entry.


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Post Posted: Mon Oct 06, 2008 9:33 pm 
 

serleran wrote:Steve said it here, if you scroll to the August 21st entry.


Thanks! Damn that was bugging me. I remembered seeing something about it but could not remember where.  :lol:


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Post Posted: Tue Oct 07, 2008 12:31 am 
 

So how in hell to you make any money? ... how do small press products balance the books?


Generally... you don't, I've found. Now, if I had been able to get products out on a regular basis, I might have been in better shape, though more likely I would simply be stuck with more inventory. Even going with small print runs through digital printing rather than true press I have to have a level of stock at any one time just to fulfill orders in a timely basis. So there is some inventory soaking up cash, especially the 17" x 22" maps, which could not be done on small digital presses but had to go through a standard press (1,000 units+ just to reach a cost-effective per unit rate).

Having studied the industry for the last 15 years from every angle, I thought I had a handle on what it would take to make a one-man shop work. Maybe I did, but then when WotC went and announced 4E at Gen Con, it threw the entire model out the window, just as I'd finally stepped up to the plate (well, was shoved onto it by being let go from my day job). Prior to 4E being announced, even with the decline in RPG sales overall since the d20 Glut and Crash, I think it was doable, as in, could be a full-time concern for an individual just starting out. Now I'm not so sure.

As to Goodman, Joe has a day job (a really good one, too), as do all the designers working for him. Steve and Mark are the only full-time guys at Troll Lord Games, and Steve's wife has a good job to pay the bills (behind every full-time game designer/publisher is a good woman with a good job it seems). Same for the guys at Kenzer except for Jolly and Mark, who are the only full-time guys. And so forth.

My only problem is where I live there are no jobs to be found, at least for a 39-year old who has only worked in the game and publishing industry for the last 15 years! Heck, I can't even get a job flipping burgers; they only want dumb kids doing that these days, not "old" men "set in their ways" or "out to steal the manager's job." As moving isn't an option, and sales have been less than satisfactory, I turned to the old standby: sell the game collection to keep going. Unfortunately, I'm at the point where I've run out of collection, just as the economy is taking a nosedive (the mother of all nosedives, as the case is). At least I no longer have to pay for the storage unit where I kept it...  :?

Seriously... make money in this industry? You don't. You can always go the old-fashion route and start with a large fortune to make a small fortune... Even then, you can at best hope to break even, and if you don't have a day job, well, learn to live with less. A lot less...

And lastly, does anyone know how I go about getting something printed in newspaper format?


Well, in the US you usually can find a printer in most large towns and cities that handle the local "Buyer's Guide" shopping rag on web press; that's the place to go, really, but you ahve to print in the thousands or tens of thousands to get a good per unit rate. I don't think there are enough fans of the old JG Journal style still around to make that even remotely viable. I've seem folks try that again and again, and invariably they end up having to give it away, because anything printed on newsprint is percived as being worthless...


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Post Posted: Tue Oct 07, 2008 12:52 am 
 

too much honesty for one reply?? appreciate that + good luck james

  


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Post Posted: Tue Oct 07, 2008 5:23 am 
 

What if you print the 'meat' of the product cheaply in black and white, and put the expensive-to-print stuff (glossy colour maps) on the 'net for free?

  

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Post Posted: Tue Oct 07, 2008 1:21 pm 
 

Well I hope things look up for you, James.  You can always move to Texas, one of the few states not being absolutely hammered by the economy (at least yet); I think having no state income tax helps us in times like this as a lot of businesses have relocated here recently for the tax benefits.  And you could always teach; They are finally paying teachers a decent wage here. My brother substitute teaches and has a job every day of the week if he wants it; he's finally finishing his degree so he can be paid the big bucks.

You job woes remind me of the time I was laid off at the bank I worked at during the last crash and burn, in the late 80s. I got so desparate I applied at a local Blockbuster.  Apparantly, I was far, far too overqualified with my resume and college degree, not to mention my love of classic film, and during the interview I could see panic in the manager's eyes (Oh shit! This guy not only is more qualified than I, he knows a helluva lot more about movies than I do!!!).  The job instead went to my youngest brother's girlfriend, who was still in high school at the time, and had never worked a job before.  I kid you not.  Just hang in there man!

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Post Posted: Tue Oct 07, 2008 2:00 pm 
 

Okay. So you print the product in black & white on high quality paper. You need to print in greyscale to deal with illustrations. I can see that the wraparound card cover in full colour is a viable economic option if you think you can shift 500 units plus.

So, how much does an illustrator cost to do the interior artworks in B&W? And how much is a colour cover likely to cost?

So the newsprint thing doesn't sell these days? Is that a perception of quality thing only?


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Post Posted: Fri Oct 10, 2008 2:19 am 
 

Besides the writer, proofreader or editor, artists and playtesters, you'll also need to consider a layout person or graphics art person to take the raw manuscript and pieces of art and get it all formatted to look nice for the printer.  If you have any diagrams or maps, you'll also need to consider an artist or cartographer for those elements of the product you're considering.  And just like you and me, all of these folks like to get paid for the work they do (except for the playtesters - they're not usually paid, in my limited experience).

Economic suicide indeed.   :(  

Mbassoc - Drop me a PM at your convenience.  I may be able to help you fill in some of the blanks of your small press publishing equation since I've been doing similar research myself.  

James, I'm sorry things haven't worked out better for you man.  I think I'm doing my part supporting AGP - if I'm not, please let me know!   :)



  


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Post Posted: Fri Oct 10, 2008 6:20 am 
 

tacojohn4547 wrote:James, I'm sorry things haven't worked out better for you man.  I think I'm doing my part supporting AGP - if I'm not, please let me know!   :)


My friend, you have gone above and beyond in all regards. If it weren't for awesome guys like you, I woulda thrown in the towel long ago...


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Post Posted: Fri Oct 10, 2008 8:32 am 
 

While not an expert as James, one point I found from my research is that a lot depends whether you want to go through the distribution channel. If you don't then you can start looking at places like lulu and other Print on the Demand. If you don't then you are to need look at getting print runs done.

The biggest problem I am running  into with going the POD route is finding an reasonable place to do large format maps and graphics.

Another downside of doing print on demand is that you will have to do a lot more marketing to get your project selling.

  


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Post Posted: Fri Oct 10, 2008 11:06 am 
 

robertsconley wrote:While not an expert as James, one point I found from my research is that a lot depends whether you want to go through the distribution channel. If you don't then you can start looking at places like lulu and other Print on the Demand. If you don't then you are to need look at getting print runs done.


Perzactilly. POD + Direct Sales to Consumer can net you a far greater percentage than going through Distribution, but at the cost of a smaller market overall. It just depends on the potential market through Dist versus Direct and the costs associated with those.

Typical costs today for printing are 1/5 MSRP (or rather I should say, because of the gaming market today, you can only ask 5x your print costs rather than the old industry standard of 10x print costs). So your costs are about 20% of MSRP to begin with.

Then, if you go through Distribution, and somehow are lucky enough to get into Distribution direct, you are giving them 60% of your MSRP, i.e., you sell to the Distributor at 40% of your MSRP. So your Gross Margin on a product if going direct to Dist is 20% MSRP. However, Distributors these days refuse to touch small Publishers directly, so you need to go through a Consolidator, which is a sub-Distributor that buys from small Publishers and sells to the big Distributors. A Consolidator usually takes a 10% MSRP cut, so that leaves you with all of 10% of your MSRP to pay for writing, editing, art, graphic design, marketing, and sales.

So for example, if you were to publish a product that cost you $2 (a good price for a 32-page color-cover module these days) for printing and shipping from the printer, your MSRP would likely be $10 (much more than that and the market shrinks quickly, as gamers are notoriously cheap). You would sell copies of this product to your consolidator at 30% of MSRP, meaning you would get $1 after your printing and shipping costs. If you sold 500 units (an uinheard of high number for a small Publisher these days) you would have a Gross Margin of $500. And you ahve to pay everything else with that $500...

32 pages is ~25,000 words. At a penny per word (i.e., "dogshit" payments) your writer gets $250... you are down to $250.

An editor would get about half that, $125... you are down to $125.

Your cover artist would need $100 (again, his art is more an "act of love" for your project at that than business)... you are down to $25.

Somehow you buy five pieces of 1/4 page art for $25... you are at zero dollars.

You have no money for sales or marketing, and no profit... or you are now in the red if you buy even a single ad on ENWorld or elsewhere.

Going direct to consumer, however, you get the whole MSRP to yourself. So in the case of the above product, you would make $4,000. But again, that's with sales of 500 units. And my sales do not even approach that level on my best-selling product!

The biggest problem I am running  into with going the POD route is finding an reasonable place to do large format maps and graphics.


Indeed, that is my biggest problem too. I had to buy 1,000 units of the Southern Reaches map to get an affordable unit cost, but that was a BIG investment up front. I'll have enough copies of tha tmap to last me till Doomsday (which, looking at the markets, might not be too far off...)

Large scale printers just have not made the jump to small-scale digital prit POD affordability. Another 5 to 10 years, maybe...

Another downside of doing print on demand is that you will have to do a lot more marketing to get your project selling.


Indeed, and there are ever shrinking places to do that marketing. No more print magazines, and web sites are even starting to get expensive and are of questionable value. I bought 200,000 impressions at a major website and only got 400 click-thrus and two (yes, TWO) confirmed sales from that advertising.

Confirms that the best and only real marketing anymore in this industry is word-of-mouth, and the ebst place to get that going is by going to conventions and running your games and selling them at tables at the shows. The problem there with being a one-man show is that you can't run demos and sell at the same time, as I found much to my chagrin this last Gen Con...  :cry:


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Post Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 11:27 am 
 

I can verify that what's been said is true. Our success at JG may have simply been we were first. Not to minimize what talents we brought to project but God provided the timing and all the circumstances and talent development besides. Our unique supply created demand that even TSR didn't recognize (sort of in line with Say's Law).

And despite our initial success, I did not quit my job right away. Bob was already unemployed and needed it to be very real success asap. And wargaming graphics standard was very basic back then so we needn't invest in anything more than a handmade light table... $200 total was the investment needed to start this business. But one could not reasonably expect that then and now multiply by a fact of 10 or 100.

Re all the talent you'd need to hire. The only way that I can personally see that this can work is if 2 people get together to donate their labor (a form of partnership investment which could be tracked to determine ownership share) and complement each really well: an author who happens to be draftsmen and a graphic layout person who is very comfortable with the business side. That's Bob & me respectively.

Marc Summerlott (Marcham the Elf warrior & author of Thieves of Badabaskor) wanted to be part of the partnership but had personal issues that held him back. The dynamic would have been completely different but might have worked because we already had high trust relationships built. He could have provided more authorship (never my strong suit except for mechanical play aids like Judges Shield as opposed to scenario/world creation) and he had a background in printing/layout. Sort of expandingt the output of both Bob & I. I cannot vouch for the dynamic of 3 people vs. 2 though... after JG I was in the travel business with 2 family members and it was not very good.

But if you are not plowing new ground, not first to market, then at best this may be a sideline to whatever you already do--i.e. a hobby. And with plowing new ground you may find that you hit a big boulder and it fails. It's a sobering fact that most new businesses DO fail.

I've kept up on printing technology over the years so I could publish my own little projects (my D-Day campaign maps on www.cafepress.com/judgesguild outsell the JG stuff... but then they are unique) and to give input to Bob for his small scale publishing of JG materials.

Finally, even if one has real-world publishing experience, skills and access to technology with self-publishing & 30 years you can end up with a miserably small Booty List of personal wargaming products where I did every part of the product (except 1 piece of cover art on 2):

1. Treasury of Archaic Names 1979
2. Series of 10 D-Day campaign maps each from 12x18" to 23x35" in 3 hex scales & subset of same 3 maps covering just the beaches in a 4th hex scale 2004
3. Judges Guild's Bob & Bill, A Cautionary Tale 2008
4. Great Battles of the Civil War projected 2009 exactly 30 years late
5. Expanded Judges Guild's Bob & Bill, A Cautionary Tale projected 2009*

(plus non-gamer books & booklets)
6. Travel Catalogs #1-36 1991-2006 16-64 page 2 or 4 color travel brochures
7. Miscellaneous dozen(s?) other booklets and a charity calendar printed at Stevens who did most of our JG stuff
8. Owen Tuttle 2005 my family picture book http://www.cafepress.com/billowen
9. From Tot to Trooper 2006 a WWII Vet memoir http://www.rupertbook.com/

And this does not count several projects where I helped Bob & others to do artwork for their game components as boringly detailed at http://www.g-design.us/jg

So the bulk of my publishing after JG has been for my travel agency work and building on what I learned while at JG.

For the relatively small income from these adhoc products and the too-solitary pursuit that self-publishing can be, it's not been worth it. Really just Vanity Publishing. However, for me only perhaps, the modest reward has been in my publishing skill development and more lately & more greatly rewarding being exposed to nice gamers around the world that I would not have otherwise known.

PS I suggest 2 things you could practically do: buy everything that James Mishler has (to encourage him to continue) and submit your product to him for analysis.

*A favor to ask, if you bought unique or ancient stuff from me on eBay, would you consider scanning (or photoing if large) it and sending to me at [email protected]? I will be putting a "coffee table" book of about 80 pages asap. The resolution needs to be 240 dots or greater. Thanks!


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Post Posted: Sun Jan 02, 2011 11:15 pm 
 

I stumbled upon this post and realized that of the 9 products I noted, 2 were actually vaporware... and still not yet finished. And 1 I'm officially giving up on (the Civil War ruleset).

The coffee table expansion of my JG history 'cautionary tale' has been stalled for some time. If you want a progress report, I do think about it occasionally so it's at a 30% chance of being finished in 9 months.


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Post Posted: Tue Dec 20, 2011 12:12 am 
 

Expanded coffee table edition of the jg history was finally done in November 2011 so what I am promised is published.

ps note that i rolled a 4


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Last edited by Bill Owen on Tue Dec 20, 2011 9:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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