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Sunday, September 13, 2015

Some Random Thoughts on the OSR Going Off the RPGNow Grid

There has been some recent talk about starting a new online RPG distributor of PDFs and Print on Demand for the OSR to avoid the perceived threat of censorship by RPGNow on products that "push the edge."

Personally, I think competition is good. If RPGNow / OneBookShelf had any sort of true competition, the site itself would run faster with less down time, better site security and I suspect more responsive customer service.

The thing is, OBS is THE distributor of RPGs in digital and on demand services. There is little competition.

YourGamesNow is long gone. The d20pfsrd Store is a horror to navigate and doesn't have POD as far as I know. Paizo sells third party PDFs as a supplement to it's core business (and is more likely to censor than OBS ever will), Indie Press Revolution doesn't have the size and Lulu is even worse than d20pfsrd to navigate.

Building a competitor from scratch is cost prohibitive, especially if you are hoping for POD. Although the OSR certainly packs a punch far outside it's weight class, it is still just a small piece of a relatively small hobby.

You'd also be fighting RPGNow's market share and ability to cut into their own profits to undersell your price points on any new distribution service. In many ways, RPGNow is free advertisement for it's releases.

The DriveThruRPG site (the half of OBS that the OSR tends to ignore) does significantly more traffic than ENWorld. RPGNow trails ENWorld but it's fairly close. How do you compete with inertia like that as a start up?

You can't. Not without investing and losing money for years up front.

What you could do for little cost (but I suspect lots of man hours) is put together a central site that links to all the above, allowing shoppers to find the product no matter where it's hosted (and compare prices at the different online stores.) Use what is already out there instead of creating new. Use the marketing strength of all the available services to ensure that if a product is not carried at one source buyers can easily find it at other sources.

Eh, maybe my idea isn't as simple as it appears to me, but it has to be cheaper and easier and more effective than trying to compete directly.


15 comments:

  1. I have had a similar idea recently, thou my thoughts were that a hub site wouldainly help people find the large swath of material and publishers out there. I uses to run the OSR Lulu hub site but I had to shut it down when Lulu changed the way they do their author spotlight pages. I wonder if it would be possible to set up a website with a WordPress template and have publishers lig in themselves to customize their "post" site with links etc. It would reduce work for whoever operated the site.

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  2. Frankly, I don't see any censorship on the part of OBS at this point. I can understand why one would want to lay the foundation for another channel--I TRIED to take my products somewhere else, but Warehouse23 ignored by questions where OBS has never been anything but responsive to me--but I think it's a bit early to think that the Shriekies who will be abusing the complaint system when it's first implemented will have any influence. I HOPE I'm wrong... (Of course, I don't do any "OSR" products, so maybe there's a component to this apprehension that I'm not understanding,)

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    1. I seriously can't believe you wrote a defense of censoring offensive content while flying a "Charlie Hebdo" banner.

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    2. Because I didn't write a defense of censorship? The OBS policy is one of "business as usual," as I read it. My opinion may change if they actually respond to the Shriekies by pulling products.

      I am not with the hysterical people on either side of the argument. (And I may have more to lose here than most of them, if I'm giving OBS too much credit, since the bulk of my products are satirical on the line of the "Gamergate" cardgame that was the beginning of all this, as far as I'm concerned. They gave an inch to the would-be morality police and censors. They're giving another inch. It's a potential problem... but Chris Field DID shit in the pool. When the Shrieking Mob comes back and demands a mile... then maybe I'll join the howling chorus on the other side of the fence.)

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  3. Don't forget e23....although that said, since you did forget it I guess that's telling as to just how relevant they are.

    This may look like a good idea in a year if we start to see a lot of crackdown on content at OBS sites. But I think we need some proof that's going to happen first. Right now what we have is a venue that's floundering about in roughly the same fashion any other retailer would when some torches and pitchforks show up to freak them out.

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    1. Oh: and the idea you propose, while cool, doesn't really help products that can't find a venue due to censorship. But again.....we need to see some censorship that's more contentious than what has happened so far.

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    2. I also thought of e23 right off the bat. They've been at it as long, if not longer, than anyone else and Steve Jackson was ahead of the curve on pdf sales. I'm often surprised how little attention the site gets from the OSR.

      And I also think there's too much concern about what might happen. I think the OBS policy is reasonable. Open to abuse, sure, but so was their old system.

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  4. Considering the clarification of their policy, I don't understand why people are clutching their pearls and freaking out and still think this is necessary?

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  5. Considering the clarification of their policy, I don't understand why people are clutching their pearls and freaking out and still think this is necessary?

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  6. At this point competition would have to come from a source with the capital to start-up big and threaten immediately. I seriously doubt building a start-up with a small initial investment would succeed.

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  7. How *do* people "find the product"? Although I often buy through OBS, I rarely find stuff by browsing their sites (although I do find Applecline's history bits on the D&D stuff useful). I usually find material by bouncing around between G+, blogs and publisher's sites. So I guess, for me, the "hub" is the interlinked set of sites that constitute the OSR's online presence.

    In the end I go to wherever the thing is sold to buy it. Which, in the last year, has included OBS, Lulu, LoTFP's own site, Stormlord's own site, Goodman Games' own site, Frog God's own site, and probably a couple of others I am forgetting. Oh, and two FLGSs.

    I guess the big question is on the publishing side, and what the relative costs are. But the fact that all of those publishers were already selling outside of OBS even before the recent controversy possibly indicates that OBS is less important to the OSR than is sometimes assumed.

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  8. This might not be feasible if enough purchasers of OSR product are like me. Basically, if there is a digital product distributor that has reasonable provisions in place in order to exclude rapey products from its virtual shelves, I'm likely to reward that distributor with my business. Call me when the government gets involved, but I'm not signing up for any crusade to help themes that are offensive to me thrive in a free market space.

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    1. Yup. Unless it's government censorship, I don't really care. I seriously doubt that there's going to be much going on with this policy.

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