I’d Rather be Working than Spinning

April 9th, 2010 § 21 comments

I wrote this post over on Dumpshock in response to praise on how Posthuman Studios is handling the ceasing of our business dealings with Catalyst Game Labs, and I’m echoing it here:

Y’know what’s work? Spin.

Y’know what I’d rather do than spin something? Other work.

Some crappy stuff happened, so we’ll do what we can do to fix it and continue Eclipse Phase with as little interruption as possible. The important thing isn’t what lousy things happened (and at this point, who knows if anyone’s “scorecard” is accurate…) but that Eclipse Phase will have a bright future.

And now, to repost something from the BattleTech boards, to demonstrate in part why I feel the future is so bright:

One of the things that Posthuman Studios is going to do is be very upfront about sales figures, expenses, etc. So I’ll start with this: we wanted Catalyst to sell EP at $10-15 for the PDF. They argued against it, and basically said “You’ll need to sell twice as many copies in order to make the same amount of money.” We said “Okay. If we don’t sell twice as many copies of the PDF as (ASpecificCatalystCoreBook) did in PDF in 18 months, you can take the difference in dollars out of our royalties.”

Less than six weeks after the PDF was available (and this was after we seeded the PDF to bittorrent ourselves — anyone could have it for free, legally), we broke that mark. This meant that we had made the same amount of money, and we had the PDF in the hands of at least twice as many people!

A few months after that, Catalyst lowered their prices on all core books, and announced that Leviathans would be Creative Commons-licensed as well. And the first print run of Eclipse Phase sold out, also.

So, there will be a quick resleeve for Eclipse Phase, and on with the future!

(Edit: I should offer a hat tip to Fred Hicks at Evil Hat Productions, creators of the available-for-pre-order Dresden Files RPG, who are transparent to a very admirable degree and are a big part of the influence towards Posthuman’s transparency!)

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§ 21 Responses to I’d Rather be Working than Spinning"

  • Tiara Lynn says:

    Never underestimate the value of putting something with an impulsive target audience at an impulse-buy price-point. It staggers me how few publishers get this.

  • Fred Hicks says:

    Yeah, exactly so, Tiara. The trick in my mind is to figure out where the impulse buy is. Usually once you’re above a $20 bill, you’re out of the zone, but even that can read as a bit high for some people. Comparisons are made to the cover price of the physical counterpart, but not often generously.

  • William says:

    I think it has more to do with a good product when obtained for free when combined with a responsible customer base nets sales because people like me know that buying means more books.

  • Fulminata says:

    @Fred
    “Comparisons are made to the cover price of the physical counterpart, but not often generously.”

    I think this is because for decades we’ve been told that prices are going up because “paper prices went up” or “printing costs went up” or “distribution costs went up.” Never once have I heard “we’re paying our creative staff more, so we had to raise the price.”

    Hence, now that we have a medium of distribution which doesn’t suffer from any of the costs we’ve been conditioned to accept as reasons for the high price of our games, a lot of people wonder why pdfs don’t cost less than they do. It’s simply a lifetime of conditioning.

  • Adam says:

    I wonder about this: if we made a PDF available for sale at $15 and $30 — the exact same file — but the entire additional $15 (minus the vendor’s cut) was allocated to (some of?) the creative team, with a breakdown posted, of course … how many people would pick the $30 option over the $15 option?

  • Fred Hicks says:

    That would be an interesting experiment.

  • That’s interesting — you’d be putting a fixed price on a sort of patronage+ model, possibly implying a greater ownership over the material. “Sure,” that $30 customer might say, “I bought that book. I bought it even harder than you did, ’cause I gladly paid double for it.” It’s like a donation, then, on top of the purchase — or a $15 message that says, “More like this.”

    I don’t think you’d sell many of those $30 copies, but I think you’d have some really fascinating data regardless.

  • Great stuff here — this is exactly why we went with the lower of our price guesses for the Diaspora PDF and indeed it’s a substantial seller. Of course you can never know what would have happened if you’d chosen otherwise, so everyone gets to declare victory.

    But you put yours in the bank, which is different than the others.

  • Dan Houser says:

    Wow. You know, I’ve been dabbling with a piracy solution in my own Hero Pack thing I’ve been doing for the ICONS release. Basically, I’m doing a book of commissioned artwork from the people who want the Hero Pack, and fill up fifty slots. Once the slots are filled, I stat out the guys, make the cards layout the Pdf and send ’em out.

    I take in the money, I spend it on layout and supplies, and put out a finished product that has a limited run (numbered and all) for those who want it.

    Everyone who participates gets everyone else’s creations. All creators keep the repub / commercial rights, so if the document gets released into the pirate’s cove, it won’t be anyone but the folks who bought the fifty copies.

    I just wanted to see if I could cut out the need for piracy, by making it the contributor’s responsibility to handle what they do with the data. 😀

    Dan

  • Ron Blessing says:

    @Adam As a future publisher, I find your concept intriguing. As a consumer of dead tree and PDF books, I can tell you I’ve deliberately gone back and purchased PDFs that came free in bundles, in an effort to throw more money at publishers.

  • Fred Hicks says:

    This also calls to mind the thing Radiohead did a while back with their album — “pay what you think it’s worth”.

  • Dan Houser says:

    Hey Adam, yeah, man I hear you.

    A friend of mine asked me about a supplement I did with Adamant Entertainment a few years back, talking about art I did, and I asked if he bought it and he admitted no, he was looking for gaming books and found it lodged in like a thieves’ BOUNTY of books.

    Seriously, this was a felonious amount of creative output that was being sent around. I shamed him into deleting it, and asked him nicely to buy a copy of the book I worked on. (He did. At a price so low I thought almost as criminal 😀 )

    But I do understand the ‘try it before I buy it’ mentality when it comes to games and software…which is why most games have demos available, and negates that argument.

    And I agree. Once I have a copy of something, lending it to a friend is fine. I’ve done this with books as well as games. I can’t number the times I’ve lent out then gifted via Steam the game Freedom Force. But again, as someone who’s VERY new to the field, I see piracy as people getting what they want for free more than ‘protecting the freedom of the people online’.

    I’m no saint. I participate as a seeder for the DAP MST3k archives when I can with whatever season I have available. However, we are diligent to pull any episodes coming out on DVD and available by reasonable means. (Most of the tracks are AVIS, ripped from video tape. Some even have the Turkey Day bumpers on them) This, loosely could be called piracy. But, it’s not available anywhere at any price, and the creators did encourage folks to spread the word about their show.

    That said, whenever a new DVD comes out I buy it, and support both Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic.

    I like the blog, and look forward to reading more.

    Dan

  • Jason Pitre says:

    Personally, I am a great fan of multiple pricing options. One that I found was particularly well written was for a indie computer game, one which I paid double the price for I believe.

    http://dmytry.pandromeda.com/games/buy_polynomial.html

  • Ronald says:

    If you included a small personalization in the pdf I wouldn’t mind a different price point. Maybe a personalized autograph on the pdf to a person or maybe a picture next to the authors. I don’t know how much work that would be, but I don’t mind spending more if I feel I am getting something special.

  • Adam says:

    Ronald, can you clarify what you mean by “A picture next to the authors”?

  • Frank says:

    What Steve Jackson Games does is provide ludicrous royalty deals for pure PDF releases. And I do mean ludicrous – the authors get $0 upfront and 25% royalties. Publicize that fact a bit, and combined with a low price point you could easily see a lot more PDF sales.

    People don’t want to spend $30 for a PDF, because they also have to buy and power a laptop or a Nook or whatever on top of that – making the “version that you can’t physically hold” actually cost more. Combine an impulse buy price-point with the directly stated fact that you’re giving money directly to th creative staff, and you’re making the PDF option much more reasonable.

    -Frank

  • William says:

    For a $15, $20, and $30 option, I’d say go for it.

    But I would be happier if say the $20 option had a graphic on the front, like a gold star just so I could feel better about the $5 and for the $30 option I’d like the in-design files or maybe an option of having split PDFs so that the GM only section is a separate file and that way I can safely give my players the books without having to threaten them with death for reading the last chapter.

  • Psycho Mantis says:

    “But I do understand the ‘try it before I buy it’ mentality when it comes to games and software…which is why most games have demos available, and negates that argument.”

    In the context of RPGs, the samples are seldom, if ever, extensive enough for one to notice a book isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. And samples extensive enough would likely amount to “giving a critical chapter away for free”, which your average publisher might not swallow – understandably, if maybe not correctly. So … that’s why a lot of piracy exists from people actually willing to pay, and that’s what Eclipse Phase addressed (among other goals, of course).

  • Dennis says:

    From the moment I noticed EP I was intrigued by it and reading your business strategy makes it even more enticing. Besides you and Rob, who else is working at EP?

  • Phil says:

    This is neat. You can go the Wolfgang Baur route and involve a limited number of people who buy in for the purpose of steering development with you – a patronage system.

    NIN and Radiohead, I believe, released albums that had no fixed price, if you recall, with different package options.

    I think if you released different versions at different prices reflecting a “margin” that goes above actual costs and goes directly to the author/artists, you’d see the fan base paying more than minimal as a group for well-written, high-quality product.

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