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Post Posted: Thu Mar 08, 2012 5:58 am 
 

In the interest of pooling all the sites expertise on self publishing and small press publishing, I think it would be useful to be able to focus the expertise in a single thread with a single purpose. To that end, I'll kick off this thread with the intent of exploring how and why small press ventures fail or succeed, what the milestones and puitfalls are, what products and production criteria work for people, and other such things.

I'm not a publisher, or a budding author. Just a reseller of the product that get put out on the market, but, in light of current discussions over on the JG forum, and with the experiences of recent years from some of our fellow members (Pacesetter, PPP, AGP, Black Balde, NTRPGCon to name but few), here are some of my initial questions....

1. Do most of these ventures struggle solely with the issue of achieving sales of the finished product? Do they manage 50 units before having problems? Or is it 100, 300, 500 units before they feel they've saturated their market? And what are the parameters for optimum printing? I remember AGP saying their optimum return was on a BW product of 16 pages.

2. NTRPGCon seem to have the digest sized printing down to a tee. At this size, are you able/willing to discuss cost per unit printed? And how mauch time is put into assembling and proofing each product prior to publishing it?

3. Black Blade seems to be in a hiatus. Why? Is there a lack of material being offered in the market for publishers to publish, or is there a lack of time and resource vs. perceived return for putting in the time and effort? I know there were discussions of reprints of Starstome, Castle of the Mad Archmage and the Seren Ironhand bookend modules. It appears as though there is an issue of a credible return for putting in the time and effort needed to take the material and create a publishable product from it.

4. What do FGG and GG have that make their product more viable than others on the market? How do they achieve the sales they do, and afford to pay for quality artwork and cartography? Is it purely a case of having thousands in the bank, or is there something they 'get' that the smaller presses don't understand yet? How do these companies' business models vary from those of other publishers? And why are their prodcts larger, better typeset, and better presented than the rest?

5. What size of production team does it take to put out a product? What are the dispensible skills and resources a small time publisher can do without, and what impact does omitting those resources have on the final product, its sales, and the publishers perception in the marketplace?

Thanks in advance to anyone who's gonna chime in and help me with my learning curve.


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Post Posted: Thu Mar 08, 2012 9:54 am 
 

Just want to chime in as a supporter of all those publishers mentioned above, I'm quite interested in this topic... I have a great deal of respect for those who've made the effort & taken the risk to bring product to market.  I'll continue to put my money behind those developing & publishing printed rpg materials.  From a 'fan' perspective, I'd love to hear responses to Ian's points above :)


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Post Posted: Thu Mar 08, 2012 10:19 am 
 

Ian,

In regards to question 5, "What size of production team is needed":  the answer is 1 if that person is a capable writer, artist, and has the required knowledge necessary to work the various software for publishing.  In my case, I was only able to do the writing.  I teamed up with the Burtwire Boys as publishers and grabbed Jason Braun as my artitst.  So for the "Kingslayers" it was a team of 4 - 5 if you count the printer.  In regards to what can be left out:  I have seen products with very little to no artwork but do not think this is viable.  Artwork sells.  There all sorts of "levels" of publishing software and if your publisher is very capable they can get a well designed product from the lower level software.  "Kingslayers" was published in pagemaker and Devon did a great job with it.

In regards to number of units before the market is saturated, I found that saturation happened right around 85 units sold.  Keep in mind that we did not market the mod beyond the Acaeum.

One thing that cannot be dispensed with is effort.  It takes a lot of work to produce a mediocre product, even more to produce a great product.

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Post Posted: Thu Mar 08, 2012 11:17 am 
 

4. What do FGG and GG have that make their product more viable than others on the market?

Money.


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Post Posted: Thu Mar 08, 2012 4:31 pm 
 

Kingofpain89 wrote:
4. What do FGG and GG have that make their product more viable than others on the market?

Money.

I think that's overly simplistic. I don't know. But investment capital can't be that difficult to coem by. Clearly there is a difference between what one can do with $5K vs. $20K,hat raises the questions of, what can you credibly do with $1000 or $5000 of capital? How much do quality BW doodles cost vs, half page and full page graphics from an accomplished artist? How much is 16 pages of BW saddle stitched printing? How much are 100 colour covers with maps printed on the inside?


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Post Posted: Thu Mar 08, 2012 9:24 pm 
 

whilst I can't help with any of the answers (waaaaay beyond my area of expertise) I must say that this is the sort of thing I love to see in the Acaeum - decently thought out questions in an area that interest most all of us here - bravo Ian, just what we needed.

(a mean person might say good editing and spell checking, but I know you just type these posts out as you think them Ian,without thought to such niceties :D  :wink: )


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Post Posted: Thu Mar 08, 2012 11:48 pm 
 

"Money" is never simplistic.

As a small Indie-publisher I can verify the following: when artists want $50 for 3 small B&W interior illustrations and/or $100=150 for a cover, you can pretty much figure I can't afford it. Printing for 8, 12, 16 page adventures generally runs  around $5-7 through Lulu. My bigger projects of 32+ page adventures have a print cost at the high end of that and sometimes more. Shipping rates used to be 3.99 but have gone up dramatically. If I just paid an artist $75 for work on a project, then the unit cost has to be printing+shipping+artist's fee to break even. But since I do not know how many will sell, I am missing one "absolute" interger in the overall formula. If I were to tack-on $2 to every unit just to pay off the artist, I would have to move 32 units at least of that item. While I have some adventures that have well exceeded that, it has taken 1-3 years to do so; while the vast majority (about 90%) of products (of mine) sell less than 20.

Now, consider the above...there is not one mention of 1 penny profit going into my pocket for the hours, days and weeks spent creating the item.

Pdfs will generate dramatically more income than print....but print is what this hobby (and collecting) is all about--or should be.


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Post Posted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 10:18 am 
 

With the Internet, Kickstarter, and Print on Demand the main limitation is how much time are you willing to put in. Even if you don't have capital you can bootstrap your way to the level where projects require print runs and distribution. But it takes time, passion, hard work, being honest with yourself, and playing nice with others.

And your stuff need to be good.

Now "good" is a highly subjective term. The one thing the internet does well for the market is allow niches to develop. So while what you write may be terrible in terms of appealing to a broad spectrum of tabletop gamers it may be highly effective in developing a niche audience. Part of being honest with yourself is understanding what people like and don't like about what you create. The problems comes when a author/publisher fails to admit that their product doesn't have the appeal they think it does.

Plus there is an element of luck involved due to changing tastes among tabletop gamers.

The bottom line is that today it is straightforward for a person with zero capital and an idea get going in publishing. And to hold at whatever level they desire to deal with.

  

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Post Posted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 11:08 am 
 

1. Do most of these ventures struggle solely with the issue of achieving sales of the finished product? Do they manage 50 units before having problems? Or is it 100, 300, 500 units before they feel they've saturated their market? And what are the parameters for optimum printing? I remember AGP saying their optimum return was on a BW product of 16 pages.

I am not sure about a saturation point overall, but certain products sell better than others. For example my T1 still outsells all other in print modules (except new releases in their first month). Without pulling out my spreadsheet, I think it is just over 300 copies sold to date. Most of the other modules I have done are less than 200 copies.

2. NTRPGCon seem to have the digest sized printing down to a tee. At this size, are you able/willing to discuss cost per unit printed? And how mauch time is put into assembling and proofing each product prior to publishing it?

The problem with the NTX digest modules is that they are pure collector items, for the most part. Their target buyer is most often the collector. Nothing negative about that, but they are not what I would consider a more mass-market product, if that can really be said about any OSR stuff.

4. What do FGG and GG have that make their product more viable than others on the market? How do they achieve the sales they do, and afford to pay for quality artwork and cartography? Is it purely a case of having thousands in the bank, or is there something they 'get' that the smaller presses don't understand yet? How do these companies' business models vary from those of other publishers? And why are their prodcts larger, better typeset, and better presented than the rest?

Yes, it is money. Also, I think many of their products cross platforms so this helps drive their sales. They are also well-established and the products are solid. But it can't be stated loud enough that good art costs money - big money in relation to OSR sales numbers. Getting an established (named artist) to do a cover is typically going to cost you several hundred dollars (and usually more). If you drop $800 or so on art, you are way behind the profit curve unless you can sell about 200 copies minimum to break even. Assuming you are selling a $10 book at about 32 pages.

5. What size of production team does it take to put out a product? What are the dispensible skills and resources a small time publisher can do without, and what impact does omitting those resources have on the final product, its sales, and the publishers perception in the marketplace?

Well, you can have people do all kinds of work for you. Layout, design, art, mailing, etc. All of that stuff costs money. That word again. With work and time, you can do much of the production on your own. But unless you have no life (and no full time job), you have to make time to get this stuff done. Definately can be done, and is in many cases, but it is not easy.

I can much more to this and I will when I get some freaking time...

By the way, there is a great deal more to publishing this stuff than just writing and designing. You need to set up your business, buy equipment, maintain equipment, run inventory, track everything, market your products, actually sell your products, on an on. More on this later.


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Last edited by bbarsh on Fri Mar 09, 2012 11:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Post Posted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 11:12 am 
 

Thork N Hammer wrote:the vast majority (about 90%) of products (of mine) sell less than 20.

Pdfs will generate dramatically more income than print....but print is what this hobby (and collecting) is all about--or should be.


As a point of comparison, how many pdfs do you sell of a book that moves only 20 print copies?  It would be interesting to see if there is any trending - people always buy pdfs because they're cheaper, or print sales increase on newer products as you build a fan base, or well, whatever could be learned.


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Post Posted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 12:19 pm 
 

TheHistorian wrote:
Thork N Hammer wrote:the vast majority (about 90%) of products (of mine) sell less than 20.

Pdfs will generate dramatically more income than print....but print is what this hobby (and collecting) is all about--or should be.


As a point of comparison, how many pdfs do you sell of a book that moves only 20 print copies?  It would be interesting to see if there is any trending - people always buy pdfs because they're cheaper, or print sales increase on newer products as you build a fan base, or well, whatever could be learned.


Without pulling my Lulu files, i can generally say that, "it varies". Sorry  :oops:

But its true. Some adventures sell pdfs 2-3-4to1 than the print; others, depending on obvious art&graphics, prints move more.

DISCOUNT coupons always seem to help people justify buying the prints.


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Post Posted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 1:45 pm 
 

Thork N Hammer wrote:
TheHistorian wrote:
As a point of comparison, how many pdfs do you sell of a book that moves only 20 print copies?  It would be interesting to see if there is any trending - people always buy pdfs because they're cheaper, or print sales increase on newer products as you build a fan base, or well, whatever could be learned.


Without pulling my Lulu files, i can generally say that, "it varies". Sorry  :oops:

But its true. Some adventures sell pdfs 2-3-4to1 than the print; others, depending on obvious art&graphics, prints move more.

DISCOUNT coupons always seem to help people justify buying the prints.

It's interesting how the mentality differs between someone who strictly buys games to play and someone who buys them to collect and not necessarily play.  I want the printed material.  I have purchased only a handful of pdf's and then only when it is the only option available (like I did with your Beneath the Barrier Peaks offering).  And when it comes to Lulu, I never purchase something without the availability of a discount coupon.  They come up so often its insane not to wait to use one.  And if I am on the fence about a product, its is almost always the cover art that sways my decision.  If its good I'll usually buy it.  If the item has less than decent artwork I will usually only buy if I am convinced the item is of good quality (word of mouth, reviews, etc.).


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Post Posted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 2:38 pm 
 

Kingofpain89 wrote:
Thork N Hammer wrote:
Without pulling my Lulu files, i can generally say that, "it varies". Sorry  :oops:

But its true. Some adventures sell pdfs 2-3-4to1 than the print; others, depending on obvious art&graphics, prints move more.

DISCOUNT coupons always seem to help people justify buying the prints.

It's interesting how the mentality differs between someone who strictly buys games to play and someone who buys them to collect and not necessarily play.  I want the printed material.  I have purchased only a handful of pdf's and then only when it is the only option available (like I did with your Beneath the Barrier Peaks offering).  And when it comes to Lulu, I never purchase something without the availability of a discount coupon.  They come up so often its insane not to wait to use one.  And if I am on the fence about a product, its is almost always the cover art that sways my decision.  If its good I'll usually buy it.  If the item has less than decent artwork I will usually only buy if I am convinced the item is of good quality (word of mouth, reviews, etc.).


What he said!!!

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Post Posted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 4:04 pm 
 

Thork N Hammer wrote:DISCOUNT coupons always seem to help people justify buying the prints.


Slight tangent: when lulu offers a discount, does that come out of their profit, or does an author's share of the purchase price drop as well?


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Post Posted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 4:28 pm 
 

TheHistorian wrote:
Thork N Hammer wrote:DISCOUNT coupons always seem to help people justify buying the prints.


Slight tangent: when lulu offers a discount, does that come out of their profit, or does an author's share of the purchase price drop as well?

There are 2 types I am aware of. The Lulu discount and the author's discount; neither affects the other as I understand it.


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Post Posted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 5:40 pm 
 

I think this is an interesting topic.  I have the rights to print up a few small press rarities but haven't found the time to get them all together or figure out exactly how I want to present them.  A couple options:

1) simply scan and print them
2) re-typeset them

I want to figure it out before I take apart a book that I paid a couple hundred bucks for.  The other problem is price - many of them are lots of pages so price to print will most likely be a bit higher.

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Post Posted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 10:51 pm 
 

About printing (costs)--

While POD is likely not everyone's first choice of preference (either the consumer or provider) the difficulty in getting a print company to become affordable, one has to print a large bulk lot to keep unit cost down, so unit cost to customers is less than POD.

I know that Guy Fullerton has a working relationship with a local printer. Whether that affords him special considerations, I do not know. But he usually orders print runs of 50 thereabouts. From what he's told me(and I hope he sees this and pipes in) his unit cost is not all that high--less than Lulu. Which, to me, suggests some kind or "working deal" with the printer. But Guy's business is beyond d&d adventures, so that might have some bearing as well. I simply do not know.

For me, there is no local printer (not even office depot) that I can afford. Well, I suppose I could if I had some initial investment to back up the printing until sales replaced my expenditures. But that isn't my particular case.


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Post Posted: Fri Mar 09, 2012 11:37 pm 
 

Thork, have you considered going with Kickstarter for your future print runs? This will mean you will meet demand precisely, and it might afford you to offer a better product on the backside. A lot of people make the product and then use Kickstarter to fund the print run. Once you get a name, though, you might be able to use KS to get better art and such, especially with the use of bonus rewards.


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Post Posted: Sat Mar 10, 2012 8:34 am 
 

bbarsh wrote:
2. NTRPGCon seem to have the digest sized printing down to a tee. At this size, are you able/willing to discuss cost per unit printed? And how mauch time is put into assembling and proofing each product prior to publishing it?

The problem with the NTX digest modules is that they are pure collector items, for the most part. Their target buyer is most often the collector. Nothing negative about that, but they are not what I would consider a more mass-market product, if that can really be said about any OSR stuff.

Sure, but you could publish modules in this format. I suppose people really want to buy 'traditional' card cover and 16 page BW modules, because those are in keeping with the old school feel of the hobby. This is where finding a publisher wh can bang out products on newspring might be beneficial to a small press publisher, because it is in keeping, and an author/publisher could build a congruent product, or even a range, based around a particular niche printing style.

bbarsh wrote:
4. What do FGG and GG have that make their product more viable than others on the market? How do they achieve the sales they do, and afford to pay for quality artwork and cartography? Is it purely a case of having thousands in the bank, or is there something they 'get' that the smaller presses don't understand yet? How do these companies' business models vary from those of other publishers? And why are their prodcts larger, better typeset, and better presented than the rest?

Yes, it is money. Also, I think many of their products cross platforms so this helps drive their sales. They are also well-established and the products are solid. But it can't be stated loud enough that good art costs money - big money in relation to OSR sales numbers. Getting an established (named artist) to do a cover is typically going to cost you several hundred dollars (and usually more). If you drop $800 or so on art, you are way behind the profit curve unless you can sell about 200 copies minimum to break even. Assuming you are selling a $10 book at about 32 pages.

So if you had financing in place, you knock out your first product, print 300 copies, sell 120 and keep the balance in backstock whilst you knock out the next. That tells me that you could probably feasibly establish a decent product line with quality artwork on a one product every four to six months with about $1000-1500 capital and a further need for a $500-$800 to bump the second product along assuming slow sales of the first. Backstock presumably will sell as new products are released and a publisher becomes better known.


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Post Posted: Sat Mar 10, 2012 10:40 pm 
 

mbassoc2003 wrote:
bbarsh wrote:The problem with the NTX digest modules is that they are pure collector items, for the most part. Their target buyer is most often the collector. Nothing negative about that, but they are not what I would consider a more mass-market product, if that can really be said about any OSR stuff.

Sure, but you could publish modules in this format. I suppose people really want to buy 'traditional' card cover and 16 page BW modules, because those are in keeping with the old school feel of the hobby. This is where finding a publisher wh can bang out products on newspring might be beneficial to a small press publisher, because it is in keeping, and an author/publisher could build a congruent product, or even a range, based around a particular niche printing style.

bbarsh wrote:Yes, it is money. Also, I think many of their products cross platforms so this helps drive their sales. They are also well-established and the products are solid. But it can't be stated loud enough that good art costs money - big money in relation to OSR sales numbers. Getting an established (named artist) to do a cover is typically going to cost you several hundred dollars (and usually more). If you drop $800 or so on art, you are way behind the profit curve unless you can sell about 200 copies minimum to break even. Assuming you are selling a $10 book at about 32 pages.

So if you had financing in place, you knock out your first product, print 300 copies, sell 120 and keep the balance in backstock whilst you knock out the next. That tells me that you could probably feasibly establish a decent product line with quality artwork on a one product every four to six months with about $1000-1500 capital and a further need for a $500-$800 to bump the second product along assuming slow sales of the first. Backstock presumably will sell as new products are released and a publisher becomes better known.


If you print up 300 copies and use a pro illustrator at a bargain price of $800 for cover and interior art, and then sell 120 copies, you will still be in the red. Also, you are leaving out other overhead costs. This is assuming a $10 product. I think this why you see more products in the higher price range. The print production cost to do 64 pages versus 32 pages is not double, for instance. It might cost 30% more to double the print size. Yes, you need to bu more art, but interior stuff is cheaper than the cover art; you only take the big hit on the cover so page count is not a factor there.
You really need to sell about 60% of your print run before a profit is realized; again, I am not applying other various over head expenditures.
Bottom line is that expensive art requires a high sales volume relative to your print run.


And I could've bought these damn modules off the 1$ rack!!!

New modules for your Old School game http://pacesettergames.com/

Everything Pacesetter at http://pacesettergames.blog.com/

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