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Sunday, October 27, 2013

A New Trend in RPG Kickstarters? - PDF Rewards With "At Cost Print on Demand" for Supporters

Awesome art can open my wallet, and this piece and others like it
may just get me to support the Amethyst Kickstarter
The first time I noticed "At Cost" print options as a reward in a Kickstarter was the Lords of Gossamer and Shadow: Diceless Role-Playing campaign. Steve Russell, the main man behind Rite Publishing, has been doing crowd sourced projects from a time before Kickstarter became the engine for funding.

I loved the Amber RPG, even if I only played it in a short, email run campaign years ago, so it was a no brainer that I would support a Kickstarter that was bring the rules for that game back into print. Until I saw the "At Cost Print on Demand" in the rewards section of the Kickstarter. In truth, it pissed me off initially, as it meant that my pledge / support / backer cash that I was Kicking in WASN'T going to actually give me a "prize in hand" without further expenditure (not counting the PDF that is). In the end, I recognized it as pure genius.

With "At Cost Print on Demand", some schlep who can't keep his finances in order to actually pay for print copies, or just as bad, pays for print copies but never ships them because of the latest excuse of the day, isn't the one holding things up. When it's ready to "print", you get your link or code to OBS, pay the "at cost" price plus shipping and you get it shortly thereafter.

Instead of shipping to someone's apartment and then shipping from there across the world, in dribs and drabs as one sneaks out to the post office between real world responsibilities, it's just a single shipment from the Print on Demand source.

International shipping? The project creator isn't at the mercy of increasing postal rates. OBS' PoD partner prints in Europe and Australia if I'm not mistaken, again keeping down costs (and removing the dreaded "International backers please add $30 US for shipping).

Amethyst - Fantasy & Technology Collide is another Kickstarter that is going the "At Cost PoD" for backers, which allows one to get all of the rewards for $40 in PDF and print copies of the products one wants in print at cost.

Taking shipping out of the hands of creators can be an excellent business decision, as more often than not, creative types make for horrible business types. Not everyone can be good at both.

The danger lies with the back tho'. One has to remember the final cost will include the price to print and ship. Still, it's a better option than waiting on a "Wandering Wizard" or looking at photos of boxes piled in someone's living room waiting for the shipping fairies to come and take them away.

Now we just need to get project creators to stop with the t-shirts, tankards, usb keys and all of the other extraneous chotskies that are used to drive up pledge amount totals but do nothing but drain money, time and effort from the project. One can hope, right?


  1. I confess I've been looking into this seriously as an option for my next Kickstarter project. It *does* eliminate quite a few issues on the back end (including especially under-estimating shipping costs and last-minute changes of address).

    The downside is that it puts the onus on the international backers in terms of shipping. Too, it's something that only works with POD, far as I can tell. Minis, or boxed sets, or custom dice, or other oddkins, aren't applicable.

  2. For what it's worth, IMHO, this is the only way to fly and I think you did an excellent job calling out the reasons. I rarely invest in print versions of books anymore because if I like the game enough to warrant a print copy I want to lay it out myself and pull all the stuff I don't want to include out of my custom printing. We have some seriously talented layout folks in the community but when it comes time to play a game I want, what I want, where I want it and that is something that no layout guru can reasonably deliver.

  3. Except it looks like we get to spend lots of money on pdfs now, and then spend more to print them and ship them afterwards.

    Honestly, there is so much free material available now and I have so many books that I will probably never get around to using that it will take waay more than pretty pictures to draw me in. Especially since printing all that pretty color in expensive.

    I was looking at the shadows of Brimstone boardgame kickstarter today and thinking how cool it looked. But fuck me - that's a ton of crap and minis that I don't really need.

    You might like that one Eric - it's a sort of Cthulhu Western Horror Mine Dungeon crawler.

  4. Thanks for the plug! We just passed our goal! Feels great!

  5. Not sure I see the benefit. If I own the PDF I don't need them to setup the print on demand process. I can do it myself... and do it with some tweaks (not hardback, spiral bound/etc).

    Just sounds like another way to put more costs off on the consumer. I realize "print is dead" these days but I still like a book in hand when I do a kickstarter.

    1. Set up what....ohhhhh they submitted a pdf and checked some printing options. What a bonus.

  6. As a project creator getting ready to ship this month I am pretty 'meh' about this option. I personally like printed books and I am looking forward to being able to pack these all with a note of thanks to each backer (I only have 200 so its not going to kill me). I figured shipping into the price when I set up the KS (including shirts and misc. "stuff" :) ).

    The way I see it backing a project is a measure of trust and creating the product is its own reward. There are all kinds of ways to plan for shipping costs and issues and by passing that part on to the backer you take away some of the satisfaction of product completion.

    I would back projects using this method without complaint, I just do not see doing one this way. My $0.02.

  7. I tend to agree. This basically drops the option to have a finished book on the consumer. And you really have to spend a lot to get a POD book that would match the quality that a publisher could get from a printer with a bulk discount.

    This book would end up costing how much for a hardcover, glossy, full color POD after the overly expensive pdf - 60, 70, 80. Fuck that.

    The more I think about it the more I hate it, shocker I'm sure. It just smacks of the publisher being too damn lazy to finish their own work.

    Glad you met your KS goal - people should spend more on their 401k.

    1. The next KS I do will be exactly this format- pledge for X, get the PDF and at-cost POD if you want to order it from DTRPG. the b/w book will run about $5 for a softcover or $10 for a hardcover, plus cheaper overseas shipping than I could possibly provide on my own. I'm a publisher, not a shipper. It makes sense to let the professionals at that trade do their job while I do mine.

      Unless the creator completely screws up his pledge levels, you're going to be paying for that hardcover glossy full-color POD one way or another. This way just makes the costs transparent and saves you 10% on the shipping.

    2. We know that lots of the POD is about the same, price wise, as printing of a b/w pdf at Kinkos. That's not the issue. B/W is cheap anywhere.

      The issue is that a hardcover, large page count book that requires glossy paper due to full page color art is not cheap to POD. And the quality issues start to rear their head quite a bit more when doing color through POD.

      This is where the printing in bulk has a price savings for the end product.

      Couple this with a pdf price that is approaching or exceeding the cost of a finished book and it is the buyer who is taking a hit.

      And 10% shipping is barely worth mentioning

    3. Incidentally, what the fuck do you need to run a Kickstarter for to release a pdf?

      To pay for art? Maybe. But that can also be funded from the pdf sales if you write a contract with the artist.

      Sounds to me like it is a way to make some money upfront while covering art costs and producing something that would have been released in pdf regardless.

      If any of these pdf kickstarters cost more that 5 or 10 bucks they are scams.

    4. Because only clueless, desperate, or pure charity artists ever sign on to work for royalties. Artists get _paid_, and I'd no more ask one of my illustrators work for royalty shares than I'd ask they work on spec. It's just unprofessional.

      As for POD color costs, why should I care about them? I'm not printing color, I'm printing b/w, and for b/w my POD per-item cost is more than competitive. It would be stupid for me to reject self-serve POD because the per-item stinks on a product I'm not selling. And frankly, I'd have to see the per-item on a 500-copy short run offset before I'd believe the numbers are better than what Lightning Source can give me, particularly after you factor in the knowledge that OneBookshelf is taking responsibility for the fulfillment.

      To be clear, b/w _is_ the issue if b/w is what is being produced. When Kinkos can give you a sewn hardback for $10 out of a downsampled PDF not intended for print in the first place, then they can compete. Until then, if you want 300 dpi illos in something nicer than a plastic tab on the side you can shell out the $6+shipping for a softcover.

    5. But B/W is not what was being discussed with regard to this particular Amethyst book following in the footsteps of other POD releases.

      It was color. I stated that many times.

    6. This particular Amethyst book has got ~140 backers. What print shop is going to give them a better rate on 150 color books than they're going to get via POD? Until you're moving White Wolf numbers of items you can't hope to get meaningful economies of scale compared to POD.

  8. The printing and shipping direct from DrivethruRpg/Lightning Source worked really well for us on The Demolished Ones, with the logistical issues of Lords of Gossamer & Shadow it was the best option. I got to order the printing proof today by the way.

    Oh and Lightining Source has printing facilities in the USA and UK (none in Australia).

  9. Frankly, I don't mind the PoD idea but pledging and getting a coupon/code to get it printed on my dime? That should be included in the pledge level price. I don't cotton to pledging to a project and then having to pay for a PoD book on top of that (I don't mind the shipping - I expect some kind of charge like that, especially since the rates can fluctuate wildly).