Friday, February 11, 2011

Paper or PDF?

RPGs are an area where PDF publishing thrives. It lowers the barriers to publishing and can (in theory) result in lower consumer prices. Still, many folks prefer paper. Lets see how they stack up to each other.

Cost - PDF versions are generally the cheaper alternative, which is always a selling point.

Portability - Depends on what you read your PDFs on. An iPad, tablet or ebook reader can store hundreds of PDFs and are extremely portable. So can your desktop, but that isn't very portable.

Marking Up - While there are programs and applications that allow one to mark up PDFs, it's easier and quicker to mark up / make notes on a paper copy.

Bathroom Reading - Paper. It just doesn't seem right having my iPad in there. Besides, reading in the tub is definitely a paper situation. Less to risk with accidental immersion.

Ease of Flipping Thru - Unless the PDF is well bookmarked, it's way easier to flip thru a paper copy then a PDF copy.

Less Tangibles - You can throw a book across the room in disgust with generally less damage then you can an iPad or laptop. PDFs are much easier to make backup copies of. Some people just prefer the feeling of a book. PDFs take up much less storage space. PDFs can be corrected by the publisher, paper books may get an errata sheet.

I'm sure there's more to add to the list...


  1. With RPGNow supporting Print on Demand and for that matter PoD technology in general means you can have both.

  2. good point Rob. Pendragon came out real nice in print on demand from RPGNow

  3. Storage - I can have way more PDFs on my laptop without Mrs Beedo yammering about taking over the study with gaming books...

  4. Love the PDF option for small page products. Once the page count gets above 60 or so I need to have it in print.

  5. Yes, I'm with Tim S., short works are okay as pdf, but longer ones should be print for me. Though I am an admitted book fetishist and have no portable means for reading pdfs at this point.

  6. In a survival situation, books are going to keep you a lot warmer than your iPad. Something to think about the next time the power goes out there in NYC, Tenkar. ;)

  7. I'm never home in a blackout anyway. I can charge my iPad in my patrol car ;)

  8. Buy a book and as long as you treat it well, and barring any accidents, you've got it for life. In fact a well cared-for book can last hundreds of years (the oldest book in my collection was published in 1706). As an added bonus, paper can be made from renewable sources and even recycled material.

    Buy a pdf and you need an electronic device to read it. In a world of planned obsolescence where an electronic device is a throw away item and has a life-span of no more than several years, meaning it has to be purchased again, and again, and again...for the rest of your life, this often involves an expensive purchase each time. And of course these items must be powered, which is an additional lifetime cost on top of each purchase. Whereas, assuming you read during daylight hours, it costs nothing to read a book.

    And then of course electronic goods are made from non-renewable sources - oil for plastics, diminishing supplies of minerals on the circuit boards. Infinite growth in a finite world of finite resources, it's a party that can't go on forever, but I guess it's fun while it lasts and bugger the grand children's grand children.

    Pdf's are often cheap and convenient - although in light of the above I would say this is an illusion - but give me a book over a pdf any day.

  9. I thought the first sentence read "PDF publishing thieves", which maybe gives away part of my sentiment. Part of me wants folks to get paid for their work, and the ease with which PDFs can be copied and redistributed undermines that. But I'm happy to have the free no-art versions books like LL, especially when I want to copy a table or text for special handbook I'm making for my game.

    But really, I spend so many hours in front of a screen, I don't want to keep doing that when I play a table-top game (other than devoting the computer to our Skype interface). Yes I can print it out on some crappy paper, but I'd rather have the thing in my hands, properly bound.

  10. PDF doesn't involve a suspicious package arriving to tip off your Girlfriend to how much your nerdy habits are costing you.

    PDF grants immediate satisfaction.

    PDF can be backed up on your cloud space (SDF.ORG for the WIN).

    PDF will likely be readable for the foreseeable future, and the DRM is easy enough to crack should you need to transfer them to the next great format.

    From a publishers perspective I can see the downsides but as a consumer I'd say I prefer products that at least have a PDF + Print option.

    Not that I have any great love for pdf per-se, just that I have the sort of library on a single book sized external HD that would take an entire shelf of print products. I also have some module ideas which I might release in future-proof emacs readable txt. The trick is to find a future-proof image format for the art.


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