Monday, June 28, 2010

PDF Format, Viable or Not?

I got some excellent feedback to the question of pricing PDFs, both from the publisher and consumer sides.

I understand the argument "that all PDFs should be free", even if I don't agree with it.  Consumers have readily accepted digital media, whether music (both DRM and non-DRM), movies and even mainstream book publishing (Amazon Kindle, B&N Nook, numerous assorted e-book distributors and e-reader makers).

Yes, our hobby is small.  Yes, it may be nearly impossible to make a living off of it (especially after the D20 Implosion).  That doesn't prevent one from making a profit off of it, large or small, if you are able to produce quality (and probably quantity too) products.

I remember reading somewhere (at some time in the not too distant past) that a Role Playing Game PDF make 90% of its lifetime sales in its first 90 days or so.  That means although it has a unlimited virtual shelf life, its visibility window is fairly small.  How does one lengthen, or refresh, that window?

Is PDF the ideal format for RPGs in electronic format?  Is there a more viable or suitable format?  Are there features that PDF is missing that you wish it had to increase it's viability or usefulness?  Would a drop in e-book reader prices with suitable size screens lead to a higher amount PDF acceptance?

The market does change and adjust.  Before the merger of RPGNow and DriveThruRPG, DTRPG used to lock down it's products with Adobe DRM.  RPGNow watermarks most of its products these days.  Would you do anything different?  As a publisher?  As a consumer?  As a foul beast from the outer reaches? ;)


  1. Well first off I am going to say, you can't make a living off just RPGs is true.

    BUT...you can do very well with them. A percentage of my total PDF sales paid for my 2004 Honda Civic full in clear. I don't own the car, LPJ Design Inc does. My PDF sale also paid for six computers, various meal, trips and other varies items and things, so even though you may not make a living solely off PDFs you can still do well.

    And this whole concept of RPG PDF should be free is just fucking stupid and absolute bullshit. On professional PDFs, like the one I make, I hire people to work and they don't work for free. When you buy groceries you complain about the price, but no one haggles in the check line over prices. Only we do with our cheap ass fan base. They will spend %70 on a video game that last 30 hours tops, but freak out on a $10 PDF. Just admit you are a cheap bastard and we will both feel better in the end. Really people?

    And last but not least, what is the ideal electronic/digital format? The one that helps me generate sale and money. Kind of simple you see.

  2. @Louis Porter Jr - yeah I AM a "cheap bastard", but that's got a lot to do with my financial circumstances. I don't complain about, what I consider to be, expensive pdfs, I simply don't buy them. But I DO buy pdf's every pay day. Louis, if you're making enough money off your pdf sales to buy a vehicle and several computers, why should you give a stuff what people like me think or say?

  3. @David - If you buy PDFs then YOU ARE my customer and taking care of you is my first responsibility. But if you don't buy PDFs, never will and complain they should be free, the YOU ARE NOT my customer. See it is very simple. If you buy PDFs = Important and must listen to; If you don't and never will = Don't listen to and full of shit!

  4. Put like that Louis, that's fair enough. :-)

  5. 90% of my game purchases over the past few years has been pdfs. One reason prefer them myself because I can print stuff out and scribble the heck all over it in play and not ruin the original.
    I also live in a small house, I've run out of place to store new game stuff years ago and pdfs are real small ;-) .

  6. Yeah Louis,

    And I'm sure you would charge for Facebook too. After all, you gotta go out and hire people to write the code and do the design work. And you have to pay for the servers and the bandwidth. And someone to manage that. You should definitely charge for Facebook. Genius.....

    Do you think Google got rich because they charged people for their services too?

    Or maybe you could open your eyes to the potential that exists with modern web commerce. Your comments here are remarkably closed minded about innovation in business.

  7. @Greg you think Google and Facebook are free? Why don't you ask those ADVERTISERS how much the free ads they put up cost? Oh that is right, it isn't free for them. See in BUSINESS someone is always paying. That is why it is called BUSINESS not charity. I am doing a "free" website where I give adventures and encounters a way for free. How will I be generating money to pay writers and arts? Advertising and affiliate programs.

    By the way Google got rich by charging their advertisers, and giving the content to user for "free". Which in turn made them more popular so advertisers would want to advertise with them making it possible to hire more people to create content, ect. Business and Economics 101.

  8. S'okay, Greg. We'll always have Demonoid. And TPB. And Chaos Wasteland. And DCC+. And Scribd. And...

  9. You are arguing my own point, Louis. Read the piece on my blog. My point is to take the money from a different source, not the consumer. If you can remove the cost to the consumer, you can generate massive exposure and make your money off the exposure (ex. advertising).

    I am advocating the very Google model which you detail. Meanwhile, you are running a CompuServe model.

    In my own personal case, my first product will be a case of free cognitive surplus. After that, I plan on using a "ransom" model to pay for my projects.


    By forcing the consumer to pay, you are trapping yourself in an antiquated paradigm.

  10. @Greg - I think you missing the point that you have to be a "known entity" for the ransom model to truly work. Getting people who don't know you to give you money BEFORE you release the product is like asking people to pay for dinner BEFORE they eat. How often does that happen?

    You might want to read up on what happened with Super Genius Games and their P20 Modern attempt at a ransom model (http://www.supergeniusgames.com/uncategorized/p20-modern-project-now-live/) and even Nick Logue's Razor Coast product fiasco (http://paizo.com/paizo/messageboards/community/gaming/dnd/sinisterAdventuresLLCNickLoguesNewGamingCompany) when thinking about asking for money upfront. I don't know your history Greg, but I can tell you creating and releasing a PROFITABLE PDF product is a LOT tougher than you think.

    @Restless - Thank you for proving my point of not listening to those who are not customers.

  11. I was looking forward to Nick Logue's Razor Coast line... then it dropped of the radar... now I know why.

  12. Did you miss the point about the first product being a free cognitive surplus? That is specifically to resolve the "known entity" problem. Future versions would be ransomed.

    Tenkar has a copy of the alpha version of the game (basically the full thing, I am working on appendices at the moment). I will take the leap of faith to ask for him to state whether he thinks the product could make a big splash as a free distribution.

    Thanks for the links though. Finding good info on what is and is not going on in the ransom model side of things is difficult.

  13. @Louis: You can take it however, you want; you do you.

    My point, however, is that people who want product free get it free already, and publishers who don't offer their content as PDFs for a reasonable price find that their PDF customers just seek out the free, too. Most DRM systems are broken, and for those that aren't or PDFs aren't available there are people who liberate the content by creating OEF-style documents from either encumbered PDFs a bit at a time, or with the aid of scanners, graphics tools and OCR software. No matter the format, bits are fungible. They will find their way into the hands of those who want them. It seems you have a dual problem of making it available and at a price point where the people that will pay do so, or someone will do your work for you.

    This completely leaves aside the whole argument that you're talking about something that is roughly comparable in quality to what comes out for free from hobbyists, but that's neither here nor there.

    (I am contemplating practicing some liberation myself for some really old out of print game content that has never been offered in PDF format. It's a part of my childhood, and to and my friends consider it a cultural artifact.

    There are retro-clones of this content, but I want the real thing in PDF, too. Is it legal? No. Do I care? Not really. Will it hurt the parent company financially? No, but even if it did I wouldn't lose sleep over it; if it were a current game and no PDFs were forthcoming (or PDFs anybody could afford), I'd probably go forward with it. If good, indexed OEF PDF files of the games (or rather, layouts identical to the original) became available at a reasonable price I would pay for them, just like I did with the retro-clones. However, this will not happen, so I will help free it.

    You face a veritable army of people with this mindset. Good luck.)

  14. Restless, this is exactly the reason that I think PDFs are not sustainable long-term as anything more than fluff money. Which Louis basically agrees with in his first comment on this post. He calls us all cheap bastards, if you read carefully. ;)

    And I agree. We are cheap bastards. People are that way about music too; which is why music is moving towards a free model. The same for journalism. And a variety of internet technologies started that way. Nobody is going to pay for Google or Facebook or Twitter and so on, ad infinitum.

    The solution to cheap bastards is not to charge the cheap bastards, but to go around them and charge in some other way.

  15. I spend money for the PDFs that are important to me. Fight On!, Knockspell, the new for-pay issues of ODDities, Oubliette, the various retro-clones with art, etc. They're put together well and provide real value for the money.

    Remember when Wizbro put out PDF files of some old D&D products? The scans were often really bad, skewed and the OCR was quite poor. Many of those weren't worth a plug nickel! However, there are cleaned-up, good copies out and about, fully for free.

    I guess I am a cheap bastard if I feel like I am being gouged for shoddy merchandise or it's hampered in some way. (I mean, f'r'instance, I can't seem to copy and paste some rules from Oubliette #3 into a house-rules document from Acrobat Reader; I have considered writing a script and putting together a toolchain to automagically render the pages, OCR the rendered pages and put it into a document that can be edited easily because I don't want my content encumbered, not because I am a cheap bastard. I paid for it, I should be able to kitbash it into my stuff.)

  16. There is a bit of a hole in the RPG PDF = Music argument - the size of the market. You can't market a free PDF the same way you would market free music or free news or free movies - the advertising share isnt there.

    As for the pirating aspect - A strong industry gets strong protections. I've been involved in counterfeit movie and music stings - those industries will hold law enforcement's hands throughout the whole process, from arrest to testimony. Porn movies? Dupe all you want, there is no industry watchdog to serve as the complainant. Same was true with the PDF torrents until WotC rattled the cage with the proofs of 4e that were leaked.

    As for Greg's game? I like what I've seen so far. I would pay a nominal amount if it was marketed and that was the route he wanted to go.

    As a free rules engine? If he gets it out there and markets add-ons to it, I think he could do well. Whatever "well is" in the Indie publishing scheme of things. ;)

  17. FYI. I just put up a new post about this subject on my blog.

    Going home from work now. will reply more tonight.

  18. @Restless - Just one thing about all your comments and using the word, "liberation". Just say steal. You are stealing. plain and simple. clean it up to make you feel better but that is what you are doing by suggesting "liberation". I didn't know PDFs were under some "bondage", expect a sale price, in need of "liberation". Just be honest with yourself what you are doing. No need to sugar coat it.

  19. Okay, it's stealing. Whatever.

    As I said, I buy product that is useful to me, and I don't feel bad about getting the product that should exist, but either doesn't exist commercially or is done shoddily or is hampered in some way.

  20. You can do whatever you want as long as you don't distribute it. OCR your collection for personal use. Legal. Pass copies to friends? You commit a federal crime. Odds of procection are fairly small, but still, it's a crime.

  21. Stealing is a crime in a legal sense, but there is also a matter of perspective and ethics. The classic example philosophers use is stealing medicine to help someone. At what point does your inability to pay for a medicine justify theft? Classic moral dilemma.

    There are certain acts which are illegal but which I do not believe should be illegal. Digital copying of music is one of those examples, for me. Artists don't really profit from music sales, they profit from concerts. So really music theft is only stealing from corporate distributors, which are enforcing an unfair monopoly on distribution, in my view. As more artists have access to cheap recording equipment, the reason for having to pay a distributor which is unfairly blocking access to it becomes even lower.

    I feel the same way about Microsoft. I have no qualms stealing from them because they are enforcing an immoral monopoly, in my view.

    Writing is a bit of a different beast. I am generally in favor of protection because writing is the closest thing to the actual concept of intellectual property.

    Most intellectual property should, in my view, be protected by law for a certain period of time, but only something like 5-10 years. Enough time to generate reasonable profits. I have near zero qualms about copying something that has been on the market for over 10 years. You had your time to make money, that time is over, now your work belongs to the public.

  22. @Greg, this is basically what I mean when I say something is a cultural artifact, and why I see no problem liberating/copying/"stealing" (again, whatever) such OOP or encumbered material.

  23. Stealing medicine to help someone in need, and stealing copyrighted material to satisfy one's own desires, are not equal.

    My perspective is different then yours, as I have seen crimes committed to feed one's family, and other crimes to feed one's greed. They are not equal.

    Need =/ Want

    We will agree to disagree on this issue I think :)

  24. What if Star Wars is still under copyright protection in 100 years. Should it still be protected work? Or should it be like Great Expectations?

    Now assuming you said, it should be public domain at that point, work backwards. At what point does the protection stop?

    Should copying an MP3 of Madonna's Material Girl (released in 1985) be considered a crime? Is 25 years not enough time to reap the benefits of that work?

  25. heh... what is it? 100 years, 25 years, 5-10 years?

    Besides, the argument was stealing for need (medicine) vs stealing for want (copyright). Need is an extenuating circumstance that has been recognized by courts. Want is convenience, I rather not pay for something I don't own.

    Lets see: Works created in or after 1978 are extended copyright protection for a term defined in 17 U.S.C. § 302. With the passage of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, these works are granted copyright protection for a term ending 70 years after the death of the author. If the work was a work for hire (e.g., those created by a corporation) then copyright persists for 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever is shorter.

    Basically, most work is copyrightable for 95 years(or 70 years after creator/owner death) from publication. No biggie. I didn't create it, why should I benefit freely from it?

    If I create something and I want to add it to the public domain, that is my right. If I create something and I (and my heirs) want to retain copyright to the very end, that is my right. My creation. My choice.

    Add all you want of your own works to the public domain if that is your choice, but don't expect others to do the same.

  26. I think those changes to the law are morally reprehensible. 95 years is insane. It is an affront to a long tradition of reasonable protection that generates enormous social value.

    You are not considering the staggering costs to society of such protection; in terms of artificially inflated pricing, suppression of derivative work, etc

    You do realize that RPGs as an industry started with a derivative work based on Tolkein's fantasy. What if Tolkein's copyrights had been vigorously enforced and D&D was determined to be a derivative work? Luckily, Tolkein didnt do that. But imagine how successful you would be if you started writing unauthorized novels about Jedi and Ewoks.

  27. Or worse, imagine if Henry Ford was able to retain patent on the automobile for 95 years.

  28. Even early American copyright was 14 years plus another 14 if the author was still alive, or 28 years. That was at the end of the 18th century.

    All fiction is derivative to some extent. All authors are inspired by previous literature they have read.

    Taking inspiration from Tolkein / Lieber / Howard / Moorcock / etc is perfectly legal: In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

    Patents are a whole other ball of wax. You want use of someone's creativity, their art, when you are talking about copyrights.

    As for Jedi and Ewoks, they are also under Trademark. Could I write a work that used the concepts, re-imagined in a whole different backstory and if I avoid any trademarks would it fly? Probably.

    How many Harry Potter imitators are out there vying for the same audience?

    Copyright protects the WORK, not the ideas. Take the ideas, respin and rewrite and make it original, you have no issue.

    All that being said, the threat of litigation will protect some works far better then copyright law ever will.

  29. Yes, I used my wikipedia-fu for my research. No gamers were harmed in the process. ;)

  30. I was writing a really awesome blog post reply, but Wordpress went crazy on me. Look for it tomorrow, Tenkar.

  31. sounds good. i get to play with firearms tomorrow (legally)... not sure when i will be on ;)

  32. The good news: I finally restored control over my blog. SQL decided to go insane for a bit.

    The bad news: Lost a ton of writing in the form of drafts, including my response on intellectual property.

    I am too sad to rewrite tonight, but I will see what I can do tomorrow. This duel of wits shall be continued, tavern-keeper!

  33. No prob. I have to fly in to work for a half day tomorrow on what should have been the start of my vacation. joy of joys ;)


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