Sunday, June 27, 2010

What is Your PDF Price Point?

I had this thought on my mind yesterday as I was driving to (and back) from Connecticut:  what is the magic PDF price point?  I'm not talking about absolute price, as in "I'd never pay more then $7.50 for a PDF book", I'm talking more on the order of "What percentage of the 'Dead Tree' version of the product's price are you willing to pay for an electronic / PDF version?"

This is an important question.  There are some folks out there that believe all PDF gaming material should be free, and it is certainly open to pirating (just like movies, music, and other electronic book formats).  There are others that don't like PDFs at any price... I can understand that point of view.  Then you have the other extreme:  those of us that prefer the PDF format - even more so in my case as the iPad is an AMAZING PDF reader.

I'm going to throw my own magic price point into the mix - somewhere in the 40% to 60% range of the printed product, although it is a rule I've managed to break more then once.  60% for the lower priced books, 40% for the higher end of the spectrum.

If you read this blog on any sort of semi irregular basis, you know I'm keen on PDFs.  I've always liked the format, or at least it's potential as a truly portable format that isnt stuck on your desktop or laptop screen.  The Kindle DX was leaps and bounds closer to achieving that then we had ever been, and the iPad makes in a full blown reality.  For me, PDFs are the key to my 21st century gaming library, tucked away on a portable device that takes up less space then the 1st Edition DMG.

If you aren't as portable in your reading medium for PDFs, their value to you may be less.  Then again, if you are far from a game store they may be more valuable then the physical book.  Each situation is different.

I like to find the really excellent gaming material that is made available for free from the companies themselves and share it with my readers.  Not just because it is free, but because it meant to be read and used.  In most cases, free PDFs from the named publishers are quality products aimed at showing your their works, in the hopes that you will buy further products from them, either hard copy or electronic.  It is in their best interest to make it a quality experience.

Not everything can be free.  When I started gaming in 1981 or so, the only free gaming material is what you or your friends wrote up themselves.  These days, with the OSR, retroclones, quickstarts and other stuff, I could probably game for years for free on stuff others wrote.  Yet I'd be shutting myself out from 95% or the hobby.  I'd never experience the Indy publishers, the ones that push our hobby to the edge and then some.

Me, I enjoy my free and not-so-free PDFs.  I find price to be less an issue then enjoyment.

Still, it took me a while to prefer PDF to dead tree.  Where do you stand?  What is your price point?

(Greg C. and I spoke a bit on this in email today- damn synergy at work ;)


  1. I price my lulu and PDFs to make the same profit margin. (RPGNow takes a certain percentage so there is a cost to selling PDFs.).

    Out of that profit margin comes what I pay myself and my artists. Right now I am bootstrap mode so each project has to pay the cost of the next.

  2. Well I have spoken about this a lot and I feel the $5 - $8 price point is OK for PDFs. Plus I think free PDFs are the best way to gain interest for an upcoming product.

  3. As for me personally if it under $10 the price doesn't mean as much as the writing quality and subject matter. Over $10 I take a good hard look at reviews and stuff before I buy it.

  4. It really just depends. My gaming dollar is going towards OSR stuff, nowadays and I think the most I've paid for a PDF is $7 bucks. I don't think I would go over $15 for a PDF, at all. Maybe $20, if it was something I really, really wanted and there was no print version available. Sorry, I just don't have a percentage type of cut-off, here.:)

  5. Well, the percentage isn't a hard number, just a general wavy line ;)

  6. For me the % doesn't come into it, rather I simply refuse to pay more than $10 for a pdf, and any pdf worth ten bucks would have to be a guaranteed quality product. I don't like reading big electronic documents and don't own a portable viewer, but most of my rpg purchases are pdfs. This is because I live in Australia and international shipping is usually a killer, not to mention fluctuating currency conversion. I print most of my purchases myself on my desktop printer, so I have the added costs of ink, paper, cardstock, etc., to take into account. And of course it's never going to be the same quality as a professionally printed product, which the seller needs to take into account.

    A price range of $5 to $8 is pretty fair for most rpg products in my opinion, however I recently purchased Expeditious Retreat Press's latest Advanced Adventures module for $7 and got an 7 and a half page module for my money. I'm feeling pretty ripped off and wouldn't have purchased it if I'd realised. In fact it may be the last of their products I ever purchase if that's going to be their caper.

    Most Old School pdfs however are reasonably priced.

  7. It's not a percentage for me, as much as a flat number. 5 or 6 bucks is about the most I'll spend. Here's then thing though---I don't give a crap about art. Just give me the content and the maps. Hell, even scanned-in hand-drawn maps are fine. I already have everything I'll need to game for the next 45 lifetimes on my hard drive and my bookshelves. So you can't sell me a "must have" item. Basically, what I'm buying is raw material to add to the churn going on in my brain.

    From what I can tell, the amount of churn I can keep going up there is limited in space, and seems to be shrinking by the month. Therefore, to add to the churn, the thing has to be good or unique enough to interest me. Yet another dungeon crawl or ruleset variation just doesn't make the cut.

    As it is, the boards and blogs I read keep the churn going with enough new ideas and material to make me not feel as if I need to buy anything. Certainly not a magazine. I think a lot of the best board posters and blogsmiths effectively put the mags out of business.

    It's odd because I see a lot of bloggers and boardies whom I follow write articles for Knockspell and Fight On!. Maybe if they stopped posting all their other content on the blogs and boards I might feel the need to shell out 8-10 bucks for a magazine, to fill the gap.

  8. Of course, if you broke down the costs and figured out the amount it takes to print and deliver a physical product, then sheer that off the price point of the final product, you might be close to something real. However, once I got beyond the personal opinion that most should be around five dollars or less, I managed to bring myself in line with feeling that half retail on a similar print product seemed reasonable.

  9. I replied with a post on my blog, but for some reason I dont see trackback here yet.

  10. Generally, I will not spend more than $10-12 on a PDF and I think all PDFs should be no more than 40-50% of the print price. I'm not even willing to pay that much for a few pages or for a PDF product that isn't easy and low cost to print -- products with backgrounds on every page, etc. need to be nearly free if I'm going to even consider them. I also will not buy PDFs that prevent printing, block copy/paste, etc. I will not even accept those free.

  11. I'll pay what I feel the content is worth. I am also comfortable setting prices at $5/$10/$15 dollars for PDF's that White Haired Man sells.

    I would like to shed some light from a PDF publishers point of view. David Macauley felt ripped off at $7.00, yet we offer a 2 page at $5.00. It is different in that it is coupled with a Fantasy Grounds II module that would offset the lower page count for some. But as a straight PDF imagine needing something to plop down into your game for a night that leave a GM with possibilities to derive many more gaming sessions from the presented core ideas? That is what we are delivering for $5, not just a two page PDF. From the sound of it the Expeditious Retreat work didn't provide enough value to the reader, thus the sour after taste.

    Economics of Indie publishing is another issue. Of that $5.00 our cut is $3.50 after RPGnow skims the top. We've sold 10 copies of this product. It takes us about two months to write, do artwork, layout, electronic design, and playtesting. Our full line modules seem take about 6 months to produce for 44 pages at a $10.00 price point. We did an 88 page module called The Nine Towers that took us almost a year and it sells at $15.00, which translates into $10.50 per sale.

    Incidentally, The Nine Towers has outsold all of our other products by a margin of two to one over our closest selling product.

    My point is that this indie publisher doesn't see tens of thousands of customers to allow for a scant margin. It is my hope that our sales out strip our frugal costs this year. We are exploring getting our work to print but most print on demand services are way too expensive to consider. At this time the government is the only one making money off our sweat. The fees to operate an LLC and file reports to the state are a rip off and cost close to $200 bucks a year.

  12. I would like to shed some light from a PDF publishers point of view. David Macauley felt ripped off at $7.00, yet we offer a 2 page at $5.00...We've sold 10 copies of this product.

    Only 10 copies Andugus? Why am I not surprised? A $2.50/page product must indeed be gold. Most publishers would giveaway such an item as a bonus free pdf to those who bought the original module, surely a good and smart marketing strategy for any company? What customer doesn't like a bonus freebie? To make the customer pay an extra $5 for a 2-page item on top of the price of the original module definitely would leave a sour taste in my mouth.

    I understand the cost factor behind producing rpg products, I have worked with several old school rpg publishers. But a pdf is not a print product, it is a very different beastie and if the customer wants a hard copy of his purchase, the fact is he is not going to end up with the same quality had it been professionally published. I wonder if customers would pay $5 for your 2-page (single piece of paper) product off the shelf from a gaming store? Somehow I doubt it very much. There are publishers out there selling 90-page products for $5 which would suggest to me greater value for money.

    The woe is me, publishing costs eat my profits argument doesn't impress me. Anyone entering into the business of publishing rpg products first and foremost needs a heavy dose of realism. As you yourself said Andugus, we're not talking a market with "tens of thousands of customers". Few people without an established and diversified publishing business behind them would seriously consider trying to earn a living solely from publishing rpg products. The bottom line is a product, especially a pdf product, is worth what the customer is willing to pay for it. If similar publishers are selling similar products for the same price but with a page count 10 or 20 pages higher, that will have an effect on the buying decisions of potential customers. While I'm not suggesting rpg businesses run at a loss or do it all just for the love of the game, a realistic understanding of the market is vital.

  13. I want to point out that Andugus did not say the PDF cost $5.00 on its own. It is coupled with a Fantasy Grounds module that includes custom tokens. I believe that provides a substantial part of the value.

    Most of the PDFs I have purchased cost over $10.00, and I have been pleased with all of the purchases. But I also prefer the PDf format, which I'm sure affects my view. If PDFs weren't my preference, perhaps my price point would be different.

    In addition, I seldom print the PDFs.

  14. viz - Yep, I've used some of White Haired Man's Fantasy Grounds 2 products, and the quality has been top notch. FG2 Module, game tokens and PDF is damn nice. Many of the FG2 modules available are built off current PDF products, so the PDF isn't included in the package... or the price. You want a PDF copy, buy it separately.

  15. MarkCMG - I'm around that 50% mark like I said. Seems fair for a product that doesn't have to go the whole printing / distribution layer of price increase.

  16. David - I feel your pain. I've been burned on some PDF purchases, but I've also been burned on some dead tree RPG purchases over the years.

  17. Randall - I HATE PDFs with all that extra background and edging thrown in. It might look great in a printed book or on the computer screen, but it wrecks havoc with Kindle DX reading (PDFs can get wonky)and even with the iPad it uses up space that would be better for reading at a larger font. I don't even want to think about printing them...

  18. Andugus did not say the PDF cost $5.00 on its own. It is coupled with a Fantasy Grounds module that includes custom tokens.

    Thanks viz, yes that wasn't clear in Andugus' original post. Re-reading my reply, it sounds harsher than I intended, but then it's hard not to sound harsh when you're trying to be realistically practical.

    On the subject of being burned and something that is a fairly new development in the pdf market - Adobe Digital Editions. At the beginning of the year I purchased a "pdf" module through Lulu from an old school publisher who had previously only sold print products. I was surprised not only NOT to get a pdf, but was forced to download software before I could view the file. My surprise turned to anger when I realised the option to print the "pdf" had been turned off. Lulu told me it was the vendor's choice, so I attempted to contact him.

    Sadly, after three months of swapping pm's on a forum, and after he initially ignored my emails until I got angry, I caught the man out blatantly lying (which I won't go into) and he refused to either give me what I paid for - a printable pdf, or refund my money. I don't game with a computer or laptop and so his product was useless to me. It certainly wasn't what he advertised on his website. Thankfully for customers, as far as I know he is no longer selling pdfs.

    In hindsight I now understand why he went down that track, he was paranoid about piracy and people ripping off his pdfs and obviously thought the Adobe Digital Editions would be the answer. That of course doesn't excuse his lies and double-dealings, nor the false advertising on his website, but that's fine, I won't ever buy one of his products again and will happily make the same recommendation to all my friends.

    Luckily the vast majority of amateur and semi-professional rpg publishers are great to deal with.

  19. $2.00 + 10 cents a page would be a likely top end for a PDF purchase for me. If it's an author and publisher I've enjoyed I might go higher.


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