To jump into PDF sales or not?

edited April 2010 in Story Games
So I've been contemplating selling Thou Art But A Warrior as a PDF for a while now. I even got Vincent to set me up for the Unstore and then had second thoughts so never did anything about it. Lately I've started thinking about it again. There are some compelling reasons: the subject matter makes it more interesting to people in Europe, it appears. (I discovered this when I was going through my IPR sales report and discovered that I was selling lots of copies to a European retailer). I know that shipping is an irritant for people in Europe wanting to buy North American games. I've even had a few requests from people in Italy and Spain to offer the game for sale as a PDF. So, this might be a good thing.

On the other hand, I know that once I sell the first PDF, it's only a matter of time before it pops up on a file sharing site somewhere. And I just do not have time to keep an eye on file sharing sites. No way. This bothers me, for obvious reasons.

Then I waffle about the lost money issue. On the one hand, the book costs $12, so it's not like I'm out tons of money. But then I think about how the book is ONLY TWELVE DOLLARS and I really want to do what I can to prevent piracy. I mean, come on, I've spent more going to see movies that turned out to suck. The idea of someone pirating my cheap little game makes me mad.

Eventually I wind up paralyzed with indecision and wind up forgetting about it for another few months. So here's the thing, can anyone offer any rational and informed commentary about how availability of PDFs affects sales of games? (I'm not interested in big philosophical arguments about how file sharing will destroy art all together or how self-publishing and file sharing will revolutionize the world and turn everyone into content producers. I've heard the arguments a million times, so please keep your big philosophy out of this thread. If you'd like, feel free to start a new one)

Comments

  • Just a passing thought: Doesn't matter how cheap the book is the postage can be a deal breaker, or even the contrary...the cheaper the book (or any other product) is, the more annoying the postage. I wanted to buy something from FFG a while ago that would have cost me a measly 8$...until I realized the postage and handling was 35$...so I would be paying 43$ for an 8$ product. No thanks.

    On the subject: I'm not an active publisher/author yet, so I have no idea, but I know some people (like Fred) have been writing very positively about the pdf format's effect on the industry. In fact, I think many consider it to be the future. The dead wood format is turning into a collector's item, a "special edition" kind of thing (same as with music and CDs), the electronic version being the main thing...but I'm already diverging into the "no go" zone here.
  • I've always either released the PDF and the physical book at the same time (Timestream) or had the PDF available before the physical book (Annalise), and it's not like I don't sell physical books. Which is to say: some people buy physical books, some people buy PDFs, some buy both. Since the margin on the PDF is so much more, I really don't sweat it. It's not like nobody is buying my physical books. And since it sounds like a lot of your motivation is to make the game accessible to those who wouldn't be able to pay you anyway because of the shipping costs, it seems like any PDF sales are a net gain to me.

    I don't pay any attention to filesharing (literally, I don't participate or track or do anything). So I don't think I can address your concerns there.
  • Correction: once you sold the first book it was only a matter of time. Maybe a longer time, is all.

    Sad but true.
  • From a sales point of view, ndp is right on: some people buy PDFs, some people buy dead trees, some people buy both, and some people don't care. Nobody's releasing hard numbers that I know of, but Steve Jackson Games indicated a couple years ago that releasing their major GURPS supplements as PDFs did not have any noticeable effect on physical book sales. I don't think I've run into anyone who actually claims the contrary.

    And from a practical point of view: if your game is popular enough among a certain demographic, it *will* get pirated, even if you don't release it in digital format. You can find copies of Nobilis and the entire set of official D&D 3/3.5 books on file sharing sites. You aren't materially preventing piracy by only releasing it in dead-tree format.
  • edited April 2010
    People will pirate it. People who wouldn't even read it will pirate it. That's not important.

    What's important (monetarily) is whether someone who would have bought it, pirates it. That's all.

    And the flipside of that is whether someone who would not have played it, does play it because they pirated it. Is that a lose or a win?

    EDIT hey, is that bordering on big philosophy? If so, ignore. I've been selling PDFs, not print, for five years so I don't have a perspective on how PDF sales damage my print sales, just that if my stuff is good, more people reading my stuff (in any form) leads to more sales in the long run.
  • I would love to do the big philosophy thing. I'll try not to, but my strategy in this thing simply won't make sense without some explanation for why I do what I do.

    I sell pdfs because I don't care about the file sharing thing. This is necessarily a bit big-philosophical, but the fact is that the philosophical angle is the one that allows me to make my peace with the file sharing: I'm convinced that we are basically the last generation to recognize a commercial copyright in anything that is de facto impossible to protect in the Internet. The only future I can see where this would not be true is basically so negative culturally that I wouldn't even want it, so better if I encourage a positive future than try to repress it. Even today worrying about file sharing and fighting it is turning ineffective, so better to try to jump ahead of the curve and figure out some alternative basis for your art.

    The above is general. However, I think that you and I share an important additional consideration: our works are small press and mostly of interest for a narrow band of rpg hobbyists that often have a strong attachment to the rpg subculture from which our work originates. A consequence of this is that I do not actually believe that anybody would be that interested in pirating Thou Art But a Warrior in any significant numbers; it's not a game that interests teenagers, it already requires Polaris, the target audience consists of adults, your total audience to date is no more than a few hundred people... why would you worry about file sharing with an extremely specific product like that? I sometimes have trouble finding novels with hundreds of thousands of readers in the Internet, so something like an indie roleplaying game will necessarily be in the margin of the margin of the margin of the piracy culture, dominated by Hollywood movies, mainstream music and AAA video games as it is.

    Seguing into facts, my experience with the Solar System is that roughly half of the sales are for the pdf version, despite the game being available for free much, much more prominently than TABAW could ever be in piracy sources. I link to the free version at my website, and still people seem to buy the pdf. I don't know how many do not buy the game because it's available for free, of course; my impression from talking with people at conventions is that the stingy teenage geeks who can't put $5 into a roleplaying game really can't or won't - they wouldn't be buying the game anyway, so what do I care if they use the free version.

    Furthermore, to say something that might actually be useful: before I put out the pdf version of Solar System many people asked me to do so because they wouldn't like to buy a paper version. Once I did as I was asked, I got a moderate sales spike, after which things quickly balanced to the current situation: at the moment I sell more paper than pdf, but both sell some over time. In comparison, I've been delayed severely in getting a pdf version of the World of Near out, which means that people tell me that they won't buy the paper version because they're waiting for the pdf. My impression of all this is that there exists a genuine fraction of the audience for which the pdf thing is a deal-breaker despite my having functional delivery in both USA and Europe for the paper versions of these products. It's difficult to say with small numbers like this how large such a fraction is, but I'm pretty convinced from the totality of my experiences that we're talking of a 20-30% of the paying audience; that is, while I've currently sold roughly 50% of the total amount of Solar System sales in pdf version, my estimate is that perhaps 20-30% of those would've ultimately perhaps maybe paid for the paper edition if I didn't have the pdf available. The rest are pure loss - I'd rather like to get that pdf of the World of Near finished so I could capitalize on that 20% of the audience who would presumably buy the game once it's available as pdf.

    My own long-term plan insofar as the commercial future is concerned is to sell material components or services, not texts. In this regard both Zombie Cinema and Solar System are something I'm happy with, ultimately; I did not execute it with Solar System, but if I feel like making more money off it at some point, I'll start a pay-site of some sort and start publishing material for the game there. PDFs are piracy-prone, there's no getting around that, but you certainly can sell your game design in forms that are not so affected by piracy.

    Considering the financial side of things purely - which I essentially do when all's said and done - I guess that the pros and cons of pdf sales depend on the attractiveness of your product in the pirate segment vs. customer morals in your target segment vs. the reasonability of your commercial offer vs. your need for the extra marketing that piracy provides. Personally I have no doubt whatsoever that this equation will be beneficial to almost any independent small press publisher, simply because our product is of a type that is unattractive to pirate; somebody might, but to me it seems obvious that the type of person who would pirate an indie roleplaying game is unlikely to play it as well due to the culture of superficial consumption involved in piracy. A game that requires social networking, preparation and long-term creative commitment doesn't seem to me like the type of product that would interest active pirates. Insofar as they keep the stolen pdf on their hard-drives, what do you care? It's not like you're losing money when a non-roleplayer keeps your game as swag. Furthermore, if there were a large contingent of pirates who wanted to have this game, it'd surely already be available; scanning books is not that difficult.

    Hmm... that came out with quite a bit of big philosophy. My apologies, but it's all relevant to why I make the choice I do regarding pdf sales at the moment.
  • edited April 2010
    When I write a rulebook for a Larp that I'm running, and release the PDF for free, the PDF raises demand for the hard copy among players, by something on the vague order of half again as much.

    However, this is a release to people already playing a game off scratch notes, with the 'storefront' at events, and I usually only charge "cost of printing and handling" for the hard copies. So the correspondence may be weak.
  • edited April 2010
    Do it, Anna.

    It will get pirated, but you'll sell more copies, so it balances out. Here's the good side of piracy, by the way: recently, I found Play Unsafe on the web in Czech. It was beautiful. The guy had laid it out much better than me.

    You're not losing sales by selling PDFs at $6 (say). You're gaining sales, because there are people who will buy your PDF for $6, but wouldn't buy the book for $12.

    Graham
  • Fred Hicks has been releasing hard numbers forever: he sells pdfs, he sells books (a sizeable amount of them).

    His take is more or less that pirated pdfs are practically free advertising, to put it very succintly.

    Check Fred's blog (and Rob Donoghue's) for much more numbers and thought about pdfs and piracy.
  • Posted By: wundergeekThis bothers me, for obvious reasons.
    You shouldn't let it bother you. From an ethical lens, the people who copy the pdf and distribute to others who don't pay for it are doing wrong. Personally, I can totally understand how that would upset a creator. But from a commercial perspective, the good far outweighs the bad. The question should be, will you sell more games now by releasing your game in pdf. The answer is quite probably yes. The corollary question is will you potentially sell fewer hardcopy versions of your game if a PDF version is out in the wild. The answer is quite probably no.

    Just for one data point (and there are many, see Diaspora, all of Evil Hat's games), I point you to a recent interview with Paizo's Erik Mona and his response to a question about the relatively cheap PDF of Pathfinder they released:
    -The Pathfinder RPG pdf is priced at $9.99. Have you seen a pretty positive reaction in regards to online pdf sales, and has there been any pushback from brick-and-mortar stores?

    Reaction from the gamer community has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, just a few hours ago I read a post on EN World that said, basically, "I'm playing a different game, I'm not in the market for Pathfinder, but who can pass up a $10 PDF?" There are a LOT of people like that out there, and a lot of them have gone on to really like the system and pick up the $50 hardcover book.

    We got some push-back from retailers on the pricing issue, but then we also got push-back (more, actually) for the free Alpha and Beta playtest documents, which proved to be a huge driver of sales of the final book. Retailers in our business are very uneasy about PDFs and other electronic formats because there isn't yet a great way for them to safely deliver that content to their own customers in their stores. A lot of them feel like a PDF sold by a publisher is a print sale lost at the retail store. I fundamentally disagree with that. I think our low-cost Core Rules PDF has generated a tremendous number of brick-and-mortar hard copy sales, often to people who would have laughed had you told them six months ago that they'd be buying a $50 hardcover Pathfinder book. The audience for this game continues to grow, and introductory-priced PDFs of the core rules are a big part of the reason why. More players in general means a better customer network, which should translate into more (and easier) retail sales. The hobby stores that have stocked the Pathfinder Core Rulebook have done very, very well with the book.
  • Posted By: Graham
    You're not losing sales by selling PDFs at $6 (say). You're gaining sales, because there are people who will buy your PDF for $6, but wouldn't buy the book for $12.
    You are also potentially gaining hardcopy sales. I know that if I really like a game that I own in PDF, there is a strong chance I'll pick up a hardcopy version, especially if it's one of these nicely laid-out, digest-sized indie games that goes for under $20. Us nerds like to own real stuff.

    Although this is happening less and less because so many publishers are now selling PDF and print bundles and I tend to take advantage of those.
  • Posted By: Eero TuovinenMy impression of all this is that there exists a genuine fraction of the audience for which the pdf thing is a deal-breaker despite my having functional delivery in both USA and Europe for the paper versions of these products. It's difficult to say with small numbers like this how large such a fraction is, but I'm pretty convinced from the totality of my experiences that we're talking of a 20-30% of the paying audience; that is, while I've currently sold roughly 50% of the total amount of Solar System sales in pdf version, my estimate is that perhaps 20-30% of those would've ultimately perhaps maybe paid for the paper edition if I didn't have the pdf available. The rest are pure loss - I'd rather like to get that pdf of the World of Near finished so I could capitalize on that 20% of the audience who would presumably buy the game once it's available as pdf.
    And I suspect that the number of PDF-only customers is going to increase with the success of the iPad and the massive adoption of computer-phones. I already know two gamers who almost never buy print versions of games now. They don't have the space, they travel a lot and they are comfortable reading PDF's on some kind of electronic reader. We're in an interesting technological transition period now and when it gets ironed out, producers are probably going to want electronic versions of all their products.
  • edited April 2010
    Anna,

    A third option is to offer a free, unformatted non-illustrated version of your rules either as a pdf or as a native part of your company's/product's website. It would decrease the rush to pirate your material and help you retain and engage those threshold consumers by providing a forum for their questions and links to peripherals. Anyone that hangs around that long will definitely be interested in a greater level of commitment and it helps you build and retain community.

    Digital readers will change the gaming landscape in the next few years to where the pdf (or similar proprietary file format) will be the primary way of rules consumption and media interaction.

    (semi cross-posted with Walkerp)
  • Posted By: walkerp
    And I suspect that the number of PDF-only customers is going to increase with the success of the iPad and the massive adoption of computer-phones. I already know two gamers who almost never buy print versions of games now. They don't have the space, they travel a lot and they are comfortable reading PDF's on some kind of electronic reader. We're in an interesting technological transition period now and when it gets ironed out, producers are probably going to want electronic versions of all their products.
    Agreed! The trend is definitely towards wider acceptance of electronic forms in the mid-term of several years. By 2020, if I'm allowed to talk out of my hat, I expect digital commerce to dominate in the book industry. In the technophilic gamer market this might happen much sooner, within five years. (I also personally expect piracy to dominate both sorts of commerce, but that's besides the point a bit.)

    Of course that doesn't have to mean that a publisher today decides to go digital; it's a quick shift to make, with all sorts of transitional measures like POD publishing available - no big risks nor long advance planning required, really. The only genuine problem for the small publisher is that we need to stay aware of the rough amounts of commerce that we're passing by when not doing digital or paper publication; at the moment you lose more audience by not having paper than you do by not having digital, is my sense of the situation, but this will change soon enough. Probably there are already specific products out there that actually have a naturally dominant digital audience. A publisher might see his fortunes wilt without realizing where all the commerce has gone if he's staying blind to the growing digital market; at least have enough sense to be able to estimate how much of your potential sales you're sacrificing by not offering digital formats, is my suggestion.
  • One of the gamers/e-book buyers WalkerP is talking about is me. I prefer PDF's to print for all kinds of reasons. I'm not going to list them because that's not what this thread about and I am not conceited enough to think that my reasons should be your reasons. I do want to add notes, however, on my own PDF acquisition behavior. They might help you make a decision.

    One. It's actually easier to buy than to steal. Especially when it comes to things like indie-games. It's not like thousands of users would be putting this up on Bittorrent. More likely, you would be talking about gamers sharing directly with other gamers. I know this because I have searched for indie games PDF's through Bittorrent (see point Three below).

    Two. I buy PDF's I want to keep/use. (Note the distinction.) Generally the cost is reasonable and I feel like the author is getting more of the money than she would if I bought the print edition anyway. (Maybe that's true and maybe it's not; ask someone else.) For what it's worth, I think people are less likely to justify ripping off a book from a "person" (indie or small press or whatever). It's much easier for those who steal to vilify companies than people.

    Three. I sometimes "borrow" or "steal" PDF's and use them the same way I would browse a book on a store shelf. Frankly, for those of us not living in a hot bed of Indie gamers, the only way to get an advanced look at an RPG without paying for the privilege is to obtain a PDF illegally. Early on I bought a few games by mail sight-unseen and, as you might expect, I sometimes regretted it. Now I try to get a look at the book ahead of time by means fair or foul. If I like the game, I buy it. If I don't, I delete the file. I hold myself ethically responsible and you will just have to trust me on that. I suppose I have bought quite a few books in the last few years after listening to podcasts and reading AP threads too. So that's one way to encourage impulse buys.

    The final point is, I love Polaris and I'm kind of interested in your game, but I'm not interested enough to gamble on the cover price plus shipping. At the very least you (all of you who design) should consider putting up sample PDF's (partial) for potential buyers like me.

    Oh, and watermarking copies helps. If you have the time to embed someone's name a the bottom of their book (Paizo calls it "personalizing"), I think that discourages thieves. It's not a perfect solution because PDF's can be hacked, but I think it helps. I prefer my own PDF's to be watermarked. That way if I print them and take them to a Con, I can "prove" my copy isn't stolen by pointing to the bottom of the page. Otherwise I always feel like everyone suspects me of having stolen the PDF :-)
  • Yeah, I'm on the side of releasing it as PDF because you'll make more sales and probably won't lose any.

    Beast Hunters was up on filesharing sites a while ago, but that had no measurable impact on sales. Really, people who pirate something as cheap as an indie RPG pdf wouldn't have bought it in the first place.
  • I would suggest looking at non-PDF versions too. PDF is okay for printing, and it looks the same on a lot of screens, but other formats also have advantages.

    I love e-stuff.
  • Posted By: docholadayI love Polaris and I'm kind of interested in your game, but I'm not interested enough to gamble on the cover price plus shipping.
    Seconded!
  • I don't have any data on sales impact, but as far as downloads go...
    On Demonoid (as far as I can tell, the only place it's available - though I'm not a member of any really exclusive ebook trackers) - Polaris has 449 downloads.
    The most downloaded indie game I can see on there is My Life with Master, with 668 downloads.

    There are very few comments on each. Dogs in the Vineyard (626 downloads) has the most interesting ones:
    You should seriously buy this. It doesn't cost much and you can buy it DIRECTLY FROM THE AUTHOR. A lot of people who download MP3's say they would willingly hand a few dollars to the actual artist- in this case, you actually can.

    The PDF is only $14.

    http://www.lumpley.com/games/
    thanks. never heard of this. ill check it out
    I've only heard the name of this, but I've heard it passed around a LOT. So, I'm curious! I'd also like to strongly echo what Sacredchao commented. Put your money where your mouth is. Unless you're Wizards of the Coast or White Wolf, the tabletop RPG "industry" is so tiny you can barely scrape by. Anybody who takes the risk to make games for us anyway needs, and deserves, the support. Well, unless it's the guy who wrote FATAL.
    Plus, Vincent Baker is a totally awesome guy. You might check out another of his games, In a Wicked Age, which has already been posted, and also deserves some money. :)

    On that note, anybody got a hold of Mechaton, the game of GIANT FIGHTY ROBOTS, also by Vincent Baker?

    Most of the comments for other games are generic 'thanks' messages, but there's always some similar stuff. Bliss Stage (492 downloads) has three people with 'cool sales pitch, I'll check it out' type responses. I think these are really indicative of a lot of the pirate mindset - 'I've never heard of this but it's here and free right now so I'll take a look', which surely must be better for everyone involved than 'I've never heard of this before and if I have it costs money so I'm going to stick with what I know'.

    Anyway, hopefully that's in any way useful and my big philosophy hasn't shone through too much.
  • We held on to Diaspora for about seven months before releasing the PDF. Now, obviously, I can't say anything about how things would have been different if we'd made different decisions, but by the first week of April PDF sales made up 20% of our total sales. That's a pretty big deal -- we'd slowed down to a sale or two a day and then BOOM sold a couple of hundred in a couple of weeks.

    Now things have slacked off, but the PDF is still a better seller and more flexible (I was able to do a bundle with Fred Hicks and sell Diaspora and SoTC together for under $20 for example). I can't say I regret any of it, including the timing -- I think holding out until hardcover sales slacked was a good idea. But that's just a gut feeling -- as I said, I can't predict alternate futures.

    It was up as a torrent in the first couple of days, which I dislike but knew was part of the deal. Mostly I dislike that someone in what I thought was a tight crowd of like-minded individuals turned on me. The actual copying of the file I don't care much about because I don't really think that I lost any sales as a result.

    So my advice to you is to go for it. It's a powerful tool that outweighs the issue of illegal copying.
  • Really interesting stuff, Aik. Thanks for posting that.
  • Hey Anna:

    There's a lot of copies of Maid floating around the net, and certainly more downloaded copies than bought copies. There's little to be done about that.

    But we sell the thing cheap. And in the PDF, we have a pulled-out color box that says the following:

    "A Word On PDF Piracy

    If you downloaded a pirated version of this product from the internet...

    Well, give the game a try! Don't just let this shit rot on your hard drive, it
    only takes like 5 minutes to put a scenario together: So go print out the
    needed parts, bring some friends together and throw down a session or two.
    We only hope that if you liked it, and got some fun play out of it, that you
    guys throw us some money for a genuine print or PDF version of the game
    (www.maidrpg.com). It helps Ewen for all the murderously hard work he did
    on the translation (while simultaneously going for a grad degree and holding
    down a job, no less!), and encourages us to bring more nifty Japanese RPGs
    over into English.

    If you bought a copy of the Maid: The Role-Playing Game PDF, none of this
    applies to you. Because you are awesome. We love you. Thanks for supporting
    this project!"

    Ewen and I have received at least a dozen emails from people directly, and saw as many in various forums and the like, from people who said, "I downloaded the game from some site, read it, loved it, and went ahead and bought a copy." We figure many more did the same but just didn't say it. But that disclaimer above guilts people a little while at the same time encouraging them to actually play it.

    Again, the important bits are: Low price (under $10 is kind of a must in my book, I personally just ignore anything over that price, not even as a "stance", more of like a "wut? naw, i'll get somethin else", I'd say $8 or less inspires purchases.

    Ben wonders:
    Posted By: Ben RobbinsWhat's important (monetarily) is whether someone whowould havebought it, pirates it. That's all.
    Well, I'll make it real, I'm a guy who sells PDFs. I also buy PDFs. And heck, I also acquire some PDFs that I didn't buy. In every case of the last category, the following things happen:

    I find a copy of some game or supplement somewhere. I download it pretty much without thinking, thinking that downloading it is a good idea in case I want to play it some time.
    * From there, I'd say about 95% of these games stay, file unopened, in some directory on some hard drive somewhere. Never look at it (or just open it once to see how it looks, then close it and forget it existed).
    * The few that I actually *read* from there, I skim around, read a few pages on the screen, and from there either.
    -- "Eh, not interested in playing it". Close the file, forget about it.
    -- "Huh, this looks pretty cool: I might play it." Buy the game, usually in book form. <--- This is not a moral decision or anything, it's more of a "I like printed copies, they're easier to read in bed" thing.
    -- "Huh, this looks pretty cool" I might play it." The printed book is expensive, the PDF is pretty cheap, and the likelihood of me actually playing the game is mixed or 50/50. I buy the PDF, maybe print it out. (from there, it either gets read, played, or sits in a binder somewhere)

    In other words, I use pirated PDF downloads pretty much as others admit on various forums: Basically an electronic "browsing the game on the bookshelf". I open it up, read a fwe pages, then either delete/forget about it, or I go buy the real deal.

    It is also likely a factor of:
    * Reading a PDF on a screen is still just plain inconvenient. Even on an iPad, which is a pretty cool tool, it chews up battery life and is just hard on the eyes.
    * Reading a PDF on an electronic book reader with long battery life and electronic paper (easy on eyes) is still kinda weird, because of the small screen and formatting.

    If an electronic paper/reader comes out that does 8.5x11... well, that will be a new day. Honestly, though, I'd roll the same way: Download the PDF, flick through it, then buy the real deal if it's inexpensive. If someone in that new era was selling unreasonably expensive PDFs ("in my opinion", which is all I'd have to go on), like a game with few rules for over $12, then I honestly don't know what I'd do. It would depend on other factors (is the author a douchenozzle? Is it something with a theme I'm REALLY attracted to and will ABSOLUTELY play? etc).

    So in the end, people DL for various reasons. I've seen people on various forums brag about being a cheap-ass broke student who doesn't pay for any RPGs, but use the PDFs for actual gaming. But due to laziness, a feeling of inherent "Oh, this PDF costs money, so it's like getting something for free! I'll download it.... and read it... sometime... later... maybe...", I'm firmly, based in the experiences of me and other friends who do the same, in the camp of Ben's belief: 98 out of 100 people who download your game and don't end up buying it, wouldn't have downloaded it anyway. And it's far likely that they won't actually play it, or even read more than a few paragraphs of it before dropping it away somewhere, forgotten.

    -Andy
  • Oh, and Brad's concern rings a bell: For a game that's been out for half a year already in print with no PDF, selling a PDF (with the expectation that within days or hours it'll be rolling through Demonoid or 4chan or whatever) is a no-brainer: The game's been in print long enough that the folks really itching for it will buy the print version, and the folks buying the PDF will be that wave of folks who wanted it, but for some reason the price point (ex: international customers) wasn't sounding good.

    But folks like Fred and Luke, who sell/give away the PDF with the pre-order, or folks who make the PDF available at the same time as print: That takes more cahones IMO, because you're basically giving the PDF out before you even break even on sales... it changes the game a bit. There's more to consider. I would expect a few more people to actually make use of the PDF after DLing it rather than buying it. That percentage? That's the gamble, I guess. The risk seems to pay off for Luke and Fred each and every time, though, enough that even though it seems to defy common sense, ontologically it works.

    -Andy
  • Just adding my own opinion.

    I've pirated a few pdf's in my time, which, if I liked it, I bought. Or would have. You see, very often there was no homepage adress in the pdf showing WHERE I could buy it. So do as Andy suggested. Put an "If you prirtated this" notice and tell people where they can actually buy it.
    The second case of me not buying something I liked was that I live in Denmark, and some online bookstores have distribution deals meaning I'm not allowed to purchase the book because I live outside their distribution area. Sure, I could buy the PHYSICAL book from them, because then the point of sale was their store's location. If I tried buying it for download, the point of sale was MY location.
  • I've got data. I'm speaking from a commercial point of view.

    First, as everyone says, don't worry about piracy. I could give you techniques to mitigate the problem, which work for Profantasy (seeding with demos, going after people whose serial number we have), but frankly aren't worth it for smallish PDF sellers. With Pelgrane I just send the occasional removal notice to pirate sites which come up very high on important google seaches. If your PDF isn't pirated you should be worried. I think the vast majority of downloaders just don't look at their downloads. For example, of the of the 7000 or so Haitian bundles purchased from rpgnow.com about 2200 downloaded the Trail Player's Guide. This gives an idea, anyway.

    PDFs now account for 20% of our margin. RPGnow accounts for a large proportion of these sales, and I'd strongly recommend selling through rpgnow, although you'll have to price the PDF to take account of their large cut.

    I think PDF sales have a negligible effect on print sales: I released products in a few different ways to try this out - print+PDF simulataneously, print, then PDF and "pre-order the print, get the PDF now". I don't think it makes much difference, though I tend to release PDFs more slowly. I think that if your print version has been out a while, releasing the PDF will either make no difference to print sales, or perhaps improve them.
  • Thanks for all the feedback guys. I have to admit that I approach piracy from the lens of a fine artist; I'm used to thinking of piracy as something reputation-destroying. (When people pirate your art, they're doing it to steal credit for themselves.) I admit that I have trouble shifting my attitudes when dealing with game piracy, which is an entirely different phenomenon with entirely different outcomes.

    Also thanks for keeping the feedback mostly concrete. It's been way more helpful.

    Don't have much to add beside that.
  • Mostly, Anna, online piracy is pretty much never about stealing the authorship and credit, and all about hoarding and in some cases being cheap.

    Real-world piracy (which is a horrible term, but let's not digress), with books/games/cds/paintings reproduced without the consent of the author is about that, often even faking them as the real deal, but online, yeah, I've never heard of even removing the copyright notices in the pirated pdfs.
  • For what it's worth, Anna, Jason and I had some of the same concerns when we released Grey Ranks as PDF. Our choice at that point was much like Andy's - we put a note in the back asking folks who pirated the game to at least play it and talk about it (actual play reports, etc.), and consider buying it if they thought it was worth it. We didn't watermark it or otherwise try to protect the file.

    For a while we thought it was getting pirated, but honestly we haven't looked too hard for it. It went well enough that we put Fiasco out the same way. We're also selling it through DrivethruRPG, which has been really good- I suspect it's introducing the game to a whole set of folks who would not otherwise know about it, and many of them are picking it up.

    Bottom line: while we want folks to buy it, we're more interested in them playing it and having fun. If lots of folks play it and have fun, that'll come back to us in the form of sales, and we'll keep making games. So far,that seems to be working out.
  • Oh, one more hilarious consequence and vignette of pirating:

    So, there was the original version of MAID, in print and PDF. There were lots of grammatical mistakes and the like, we ended up fixing most of them over time. To our credit, though, there were extremely few actual rules errata/clarifications. Like, something like "less than five in the entire book", and most of them were really small ("Change that +2 to +1" etc). Mostly it was due to Maid having simple rules.

    In any case, the biggest rule errata was one of the powers, called "Crisis Adrenaline". Ewen did a solid job of translating all the powers, but this one kind of confused us (it appeared to read correctly in English as it did in Japanese, due to vagueness), and instead of clarifying the intent, we moved on and forgot about it. Turns out that the rule was intended to do something else. So we clarified that in the Errata, and of course every updated PDF was made available to everyone who had purchased the game before (all the folks who bought the original print run, for example).

    But the thing is, that original PDF with that broken rule was the one that got put on the file-sharing sites, and is the copy that is still floating around to this day. I'm sure a new version is floating around, but because of the propagation scale of the old one it's hard to specifically target the new version.

    Anyway, to this day we still have people ask us (directly, or on the google list) "Hey, I'm reading this rule but I don't understand it, it looks like it makes you weaker. Why is that?" And we reply with, "BUSTED!", tongue in cheek, explain the rule, and politely ask them to purchase the PDF if they end up liking the pirated version. This, too, led to a few sales (I was able to track by asker email vs purchaser email). So having that accidentally busted rule in the first edition of the PDF ended up causing some confusion, but ended up guilting some folks into purchasing the real one.

    Not that you should intentionally make your game broken or whatever, but it's a cute talking point.

    -Andy
  • Andy's anecdote brings to mind the old practice of putting a fake word in your dictionary or a fake place on your map, just so you can see what other dictionaries/maps pick it up. There are at least a few words now shared in common between multiple dictionaries for just this reason.

    As for the actual topic: it's been pretty well said, but things I like I often end up with in both formats. I ocasionally end up with PDFs from friends, in which case I generally end up either never using them or using them so much I buy the game myself.

    Having a digital version also opens up more opportunities for play, at least for me. Now that I tote my iPad around with me, having a quick reference for my favorite pick up and play games is a big selling point. I've gone from having maybe one or two games I could run if I just happened to be sitting in a bar or something to a dozen or so. Having MouseGuard a few touches away at any time is pretty much one of the nest things ever. Unfortunately some games just don't show up right (Dogs was the one that really got me), but in general the added value of having the game with me pretty much all the time is huge.
  • My only real contribution to this conversation is from a consumer perspective. I've downloaded pdfs of games, read them and immediately purchased the print edition. On the other hand, when I buy the print edition first, I basically expect to get the PDF for free. It's like buying a record - you get the mp3s for free because you can't easily rip a record. I can't scan my own books.

    So, I dunno. I can't come at this from a particularly accurate-numbers angle, but if you looked at my RPG PDF folder and compared it to my shelf - I own or plan to own 95% of them in dead tree editions.
  • I would mirror the above sentiments that the work will be pirated, but ultimately it will generate more sales, both of the legit PDF and the Printed copies.

    This may be anacdotal, however while I don't like PDF files I've often bought the Print+PDF bundles on IPR so I can pass my PDF copies to a few peeps who would never spend a penny on the product. After going over a "free" PDF they then decide to pick up the printed copy of games they enjoy, while the ones they didn't often get ignored.

    I also know of a few peeps who download the illegal PDF's solely to work out if they want to shell out money for the game. While personally I enjoy the "fun" of picking up a hard copy to read, and don't mind passing off books I didn't care for after a time, some peeps are more careful with their dosh and want a sure bet before they fork anything out...

    As for TABAW, I am one of your european customers and I'd never have picked it up unless I was doing a big order for other stuff even though I was extremely keen upon it (that said I'd not have picked up the PDF either).
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