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An Open Letter to Marcus King

Dear Marcus,

I awoke this morning to see Green Ronin called out on the front page of ICv2 as part of your commentary on PDF pricing,( http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/14705.html ). Spurred by the Wizards of the Coast sudden decision to discontinue all PDF sales of their products, Green Ronin announced we were putting ONE product (our True20 Core Book) on sale for $9.99. You ask “…would you also like to drop the MSRP of your True20 core book to $9.99 — so that your distribution and retail partners can continue to support that title, and your line?”

The answer to that question, sir, is NO. First of all, the retail price of the True20 PDF is $17.95 while the retail price of True20 Adventure Roleplaying in printed format is $29.95. If we put the book on sale for $9.99 we would lose money on every book sold. If my distribution and retail partners need me to lose money on every book in order to “continue to support that title” that’s the kind of “support” I can’t afford. Secondly, this is a temporary sale in response to ongoing events and changes in the marketplace. If you are concerned that a $9.99 PDF of the rules is going to seriously undercut your business as your price-conscious customers flock to buy electrons during the sale, I would point to the True20 Pocket Player’s Guide which we’ve had available for sale since December 2006, at a retail price of $14.95, put out to appeal to those very same price-conscious consumers. I will also point out that Green Ronin has, and will continue to, offer sales and special incentives to the hobby tier and I know for a fact that you and your store have benefited from those because I personally helped you move stacks of books to your GenCon booth in advance of our industry-wide sale on our d20-logo products.

So, when I read “…I am insulted that my friends, my business “partners” or “publishing suppliers” value another sales channel so much that they would make a special effort to support that channel over the one I have worked in for 20+ years, and hope to work in for another 20″ I will tell you that I match your insult. I am insulted that you feel a sale in response to a marketplace occurrence entitles you to some sort of cut, somewhere, regardless. You characterize our sale as valuing another sales channel but that is not at all true. To use an analogy, if you have a sale on your HD DVDs and a customer complains that they “deserve” a discount on the BluRay DVDs, do they get one? Are you valuing your HD customers over your BlueRay customers, or are you responding to the conditions of the marketplace (in which BluRay sales substantially outstrip HD sales)?

As Green Ronin’s General Manager I reserve the right to set the price of our products as we see fit and to engage in marketing and promotion for my company and our products. I don’t attempt to micromanage our relationships with our distribution and retail partners and I would appreciate the same respect.

174 comments to An Open Letter to Marcus King

  • I remember those products; I also remember that they weren’t popular (as you state). A friend of mine ran a local game store in one of the hottest HERO products markets in North America, per capita, and nobody wanted these things.

    But, I suspect that most products have to have a time within which they operate best as well.

    Who wants an iPod Touch or iPhone now? Pretty damn near everyone.

    Who wanted a Newton MessagePad1000 when the same company made those?

    i wouldn’t be surprised if bricks and mortar places selling PDF game products wouldn’t be more successful now, if it were done in the right way. I could imagine, for example, that the storage requirements for inventory would be a lot less, so a bricks and mortar place could carry a lot more stock, for less actual cost of floorspace.

    I’m envisioning a small cozy space, rather like the first floor of a house in mixed business-residential. Comfy couch/chairs. Big wooden table with kitchen chairs around for actual gaming space. Hardcopy products of the basic/core rulebooks, plus most core supplements, and PDF copies of damn near everything. A laser printer and simple binding machine there for “we print it and bind it for you” service.

    I suspect you could fit this kind of place into roughly the same kind of sq footage and neighbourhood as a used bookstore, perhaps in conjunction with a used bookstore.

    But, i also know what kind of margins there are in gaming nowadays, and have watched the steady decline of the hobby in my area (from a “shops” point of view) over the past few decades.

    I suspect that barring big centres (like my FLGS which stocks a very small selection of RPGs amongst huge selection of boardgames, collectibles, stuffed toys, and every other damn kid-craze thing), the hobby has pretty much moved entirely online for all practical purposes.

    Rather like the rental video market… 8/

  • *applauds*

    Nicely said, and I’m glad to see that there are a few retailers who get it, at least. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah no shit, I bought the print version of the PF Beta on the strength of the free PDF. “But that’s crazy talk,” says WotC and apparently the retailers. When will some of these meatheads stop conducting business according to theory from the 1950s?

  • Anonymous

    But second hand items don’t generate income for the publisher

    Might I interject that Titan Games sells second hand stuff, and as far as I can see, a lot of it. Second hand material generates income for the retailer, but doesn’t generate income for the publisher. Should Green Ronin (and all the other affected publishers) start complaining about Titan Games in public press releases that they are hurting the business by selling second hand material? The music industry does…

    Cergorach

    ps. The PDF and print market are two very separate markets, they influence each other. But saying that one ‘steals’ sales from the other is highly overstating the negative impact of the situation. If price is an issue, then the customers of Titan Games wouldn’t be buying from him in the first place, the would order it online. I’ve never seen a person stop buying a book because they got the pdf, I’ve rather seen that folks bought books they got the pdf of..

  • Anonymous

    But second hand items don’t generate income for the publisher

    Might I interject that Titan Games sells second hand stuff, and as far as I can see, a lot of it. Second hand material generates income for the retailer, but doesn’t generate income for the publisher. Should Green Ronin (and all the other affected publishers) start complaining about Titan Games in public press releases that they are hurting the business by selling second hand material? The music industry does…

    Cergorach

    ps. The PDF and print market are two very separate markets, they influence each other. But saying that one ‘steals’ sales from the other is highly overstating the negative impact of the situation. If price is an issue, then the customers of Titan Games wouldn’t be buying from him in the first place, the would order it online. I’ve never seen a person stop buying a book because they got the pdf, I’ve rather seen that folks bought books they got the pdf of..

  • This is the first thing that makes me wish I was going to GTS. Good thing Pulp Gamer will record it.

  • One more retailer perspective

    I posted this on RPGnet, and thought I would bring it over here too…

    “First and foremost, the article did exactly what I am sure it was intended to do: get Marcus King a bunch of attention. It worked! That said, from an individual who has spent the last few years divesting himself from the term “Game Store” to someone who runs a “Entertainment Model Store” (a store that sells some games, new and used, used DVDs, CDs, and Video Games), I am continually shocked how he is sought out for such wide sweeping statements representing gaming retailers. As someone who owns a Full-Line Game Store, I will flat out say he doesn’t speak for me. In fact, as someone who focuses solely on analog gaming product, I stand more to lose due to the rise of the PDF market than someone who stocks SNES games, don’t I?

    Flat out, PDFs intrinsically provide a major benefit to our Industry, period.

    An example of the arguments I hear from many retailers is, “I have a customer who already bought the new Shadowrun 4thed. 25th Anniversary book online as a PDF. I lost a sale!” Wrong. You WANT that PDF in that Alpha Gamers hands for several reasons, should you be smart enough to take advantage of them:

    1) That Alpha Gamer is going to get out there and talk about that game on his blog, on forums like RPGnet, on the game company’s forums, on your store forums (should you be trying to build that kind of community). Everywhere he can. As a retailer you can utilize these early reviews as one more method of product research. _So many_ retailers only buy what their various sales reps feed them. So few do any actual and real product research, and are missing a prime opportunity to get actual play reports and reviews before they even have to submit pre-order numbers. By taking advantage of the stuff these people are writing, I can make a much more informed decision on how many of a title I want to bring in. To take that Shadowrun 4th analogy a step further…I have taken 6 pre-orders on that book already due to the hype from the PDF. That’s a book that isn’t due for quite a while, but I have orders already. Now I know how many I wanna bring in (so far), and can give my distributor a more accurate idea of how many _he needs to order for me._ Nifty, hunh?

    2) For those Game Store owners who see actual value in having play space, you have an advocate in that Alpha Gamer who can be at your store on launch day running Demos and getting people excited. This is a gamer who will have the luxury of having read the PDF in detail, have Pre-Gen characters at the ready, and a short four hour mod prepared…shazam, you have people playing your shinny new book day of release. You think that won’t sell a few copies? It does. Trust me. Really.

    3) These Alpha Gamers who are SO excited about the PDF and funnel some cash directly to the publisher help fund the print run of the book. Yup, sure, I know I lose a few sales to PDFs, but I know those Alpha Guys are helping get the print version in my store. Most of my true Alphas then come in and buy a print version from me (usually pre-ordered mind you…cause they themselves have had a chance to make an informed decision on their purchase.) By giving up a little cash here and there from my Alphas, it is helping keep my publishing partners healthy. When they are healthy, I am healthy. Period.

    I would suggest to many of the retailers out there who struggle to sell RPGs and who point the finger at their publishing partners sales of PDFs as the root cause of all their woes…what are YOU doing to support YOUR community? Do you even have one, or do you have customers who shop at your store? EndGame, as one example, has spent the past 7 years building community. I tap my Alphas to run in-store demo games from the PDFs they paid for…or hell, sometimes I GIVE PDFs to my Alphas (at the permission of people like Evil Hat) so they can give me their thoughts on an upcoming title, run a game, etc. If retailers used PDFs as the tools they actually are, some of the misconceptions like those stated in the original article would become a lot more apparent to the industry as a whole.”

  • One more retailer perspective

    I posted this on RPGnet, and thought I would bring it over here too…

    “First and foremost, the article did exactly what I am sure it was intended to do: get Marcus King a bunch of attention. It worked! That said, from an individual who has spent the last few years divesting himself from the term “Game Store” to someone who runs a “Entertainment Model Store” (a store that sells some games, new and used, used DVDs, CDs, and Video Games), I am continually shocked how he is sought out for such wide sweeping statements representing gaming retailers. As someone who owns a Full-Line Game Store, I will flat out say he doesn’t speak for me. In fact, as someone who focuses solely on analog gaming product, I stand more to lose due to the rise of the PDF market than someone who stocks SNES games, don’t I?

    Flat out, PDFs intrinsically provide a major benefit to our Industry, period.

    An example of the arguments I hear from many retailers is, “I have a customer who already bought the new Shadowrun 4thed. 25th Anniversary book online as a PDF. I lost a sale!” Wrong. You WANT that PDF in that Alpha Gamers hands for several reasons, should you be smart enough to take advantage of them:

    1) That Alpha Gamer is going to get out there and talk about that game on his blog, on forums like RPGnet, on the game company’s forums, on your store forums (should you be trying to build that kind of community). Everywhere he can. As a retailer you can utilize these early reviews as one more method of product research. _So many_ retailers only buy what their various sales reps feed them. So few do any actual and real product research, and are missing a prime opportunity to get actual play reports and reviews before they even have to submit pre-order numbers. By taking advantage of the stuff these people are writing, I can make a much more informed decision on how many of a title I want to bring in. To take that Shadowrun 4th analogy a step further…I have taken 6 pre-orders on that book already due to the hype from the PDF. That’s a book that isn’t due for quite a while, but I have orders already. Now I know how many I wanna bring in (so far), and can give my distributor a more accurate idea of how many _he needs to order for me._ Nifty, hunh?

    2) For those Game Store owners who see actual value in having play space, you have an advocate in that Alpha Gamer who can be at your store on launch day running Demos and getting people excited. This is a gamer who will have the luxury of having read the PDF in detail, have Pre-Gen characters at the ready, and a short four hour mod prepared…shazam, you have people playing your shinny new book day of release. You think that won’t sell a few copies? It does. Trust me. Really.

    3) These Alpha Gamers who are SO excited about the PDF and funnel some cash directly to the publisher help fund the print run of the book. Yup, sure, I know I lose a few sales to PDFs, but I know those Alpha Guys are helping get the print version in my store. Most of my true Alphas then come in and buy a print version from me (usually pre-ordered mind you…cause they themselves have had a chance to make an informed decision on their purchase.) By giving up a little cash here and there from my Alphas, it is helping keep my publishing partners healthy. When they are healthy, I am healthy. Period.

    I would suggest to many of the retailers out there who struggle to sell RPGs and who point the finger at their publishing partners sales of PDFs as the root cause of all their woes…what are YOU doing to support YOUR community? Do you even have one, or do you have customers who shop at your store? EndGame, as one example, has spent the past 7 years building community. I tap my Alphas to run in-store demo games from the PDFs they paid for…or hell, sometimes I GIVE PDFs to my Alphas (at the permission of people like Evil Hat) so they can give me their thoughts on an upcoming title, run a game, etc. If retailers used PDFs as the tools they actually are, some of the misconceptions like those stated in the original article would become a lot more apparent to the industry as a whole.”

  • Re: Real Concerns

    “What publishers need to do is to educate retailers that this is not the case, that PDF products don’t impact sales of print; you should know. If you can show this to us, we’ll believe you.”

    Some will. Some won’t.

    “We continue to see no evidence that PDF and hardcopy sales interfere with each other.”
    – Steve Jackson, 2008 Report to the Stakeholders

    That was a year ago, and it took alot more than 12 month’s worth of data to convince SJ. Other publishers moved more aggressively, and have had similar data for years before we arrived at that conclusion.

    But the question continues to be debated, despite the reported evidence.

  • Anonymous

    “And Erik Mona is right – I have the PDF of Pathfinder, and I have every intention of buying the physical product at Gen Con this year.”

    Which is really gonna help out the Local Gaming Store… The question is not whether PDFs help or hinder sales, but where those sales are. A publisher can easily see more copies sold, does not mean those sales were in a store.

  • Actually…my local game store closed over a year ago, and the only other one near me inflates the prices of books badly, so it’s either Amazon or Gen Con for me to actually purchase books. I like Paizo and the PDF so much, I’m willing to pay full price at Gen Con, instead of the discounted one on Amazon.

  • One of the reasons why I buy from IPR is the advantage and ability to buy print+PDF bundles at one go. If my FLGS offered this in a convenient way, I would definitely support it by buying from them.