Monday, August 14, 2017

Bill Webb (Frog God Games) on the Economics of Publishing High Quality Hard Cover Books for Three RPG Systems

There was a tempest in a teacup over at the Frog God's latest Kickstarter, Quests of Doom 4. The adventures are being offered only in softcover and a vocal minority of backers were demanding a hardcover option.

The reality of hard cover publishing that isnt Print on Demand is that you can't just print a handful of copies. You need significant numbers to bring the cost per book down, and when publishing for three systems the math become even harder.

Leave it to +Bill Webb to explain the economics behind the latest decision:
Hey all--Bill here. 
I understand the thoughts behind the hardcovers--but just so you know; we hire top writers (Ed fricking Greenwood!), hire top artists (Terry Pavlett, among many), and hire top cartographers (Alyssa Fadden and Robert Altbauer). 
I also got a ton of feedback that fans needed a lower price point buy in (those pain in the butt surveys we ask you to do on backerkit actually do drive how we deliver products). I also got feedback from a majority of our fans that people wanted shorter "portable" books so that at the table they could play with a module rather than carry a 300 page book around. 
And finally, the main reason is simple economics--we cannot afford to do short adventure compilations in three systems. Publishing short adventures costs a bunch more than big sourcebooks. We have been seriously working in the adventure market for some time, and we just don't sell enough of them to maintain that $3-5 pricepoint for each of them that we did in the first few QOD books. Not if we want to pay writers a fair wage.
We would need to sell at least 300 sets of each version to make it worth printing the hardcovers (that is because minimum print runs on library bound hardcovers is 500). So really, what this means is we can either a) sell only pdfs or PODs, b) only make 5e modules (we sell a lot more 5e than the other two systems) or c) do what we are doing now. 
We have actually lost money doing the QOD books for SW and Pathfinder, and as you can tell from the add-on sales, we have a lot of extra inventory left over (and the compilations are GREAT books, cheap--so everyone should get them--I especially love QOD 1's ant adventure!). 
So why do we still do adventures? Well, I personally like them. I think they offer the best bang for the buck of any book besides a rulebook. I built Necro and FGG both on adventures, and we will continue to make them as long as folks buy them. I also want to make SW books (I play SW, and so do many of my friends) and Pathfinder books (our long time Pathfinder fans deserve books as well). Simply put, we need to be able to order how many we need and not 500 of them. 
Now, on core books (like Bards Gate, the Blight, etc.)--we sell way more books than we sell of short adventures. Those will continue to be made in baseball bat-proof hardcovers because we want to do them that way. So don't worry about that. I too, love hardcover books; so we will not abandon them for our main product lines. 
That being said, I still want to make short adventures a couple times a year.
In other news--the books will likely have page counts of approximately 24-60, depending on title and system (PF is a lot bigger). So they are still a pretty darn good deal at the price--especially when you get the 16 unit lot. 
I think everyone understands the 32 and 48 book buys---that is for the completionist customers who want 2-3 game systems of the total set. 
ps--We also targeted the adventure levels based on customer feedback (you all said no more low or super high level stuff--so we went mid-level in response (that one was over 80% on the surveys). 
These adventures are solid, with something for every gamer. From the FR feel of Ed to the creepy, surreal style of Lance, combat heavy Curtis adventure, and thinking man nature-based Sustarre, and I think all of our fans know how Tom writes. Every one of these 16 adventures will get use and is useful to a GM running games that last 2-3 sessions before moving on to the next thing. 
There you have it. From the Frog's mouth.


  1. I've gone through the economics of big books on my blog before, and he's (unsurprisingly) absolutely right: even if you hook up with a sewn binding with a minimum order of 250 . . . it's very spendy. Ideally you want quantities of 1,000 or more to make it really attractive [1], and for that you want 500-800 actual orders, at least.

    [1] Until international shipping rolls in and fraks you when you're not looking.

  2. Cool. Name-dropped by Bill Webb!

    1. And he just name dropped by you... circle complete

  3. I am glad to hear there's a publisher listening to customer feedback. :) And not just selectively but based on a survey. I can dig that.

    1. We like being able to be responsive to customer needs/requests and it's a balancing act. What amuses me is the customers that make the most objections to changes are often those that complain loudest about our conducting a survey or customer research.

      Poetic :)

  4. For me (and I like hard covers), the fact that this is doing better money-wise than the last campaign and is not even close to being done is a good sign. Plus, the stretch goals are going for color maps that can be used at the table or on VTT which instantly makes the adventures more useful to me.

    I would love to have another hardback to go with the others in the series, but I want a steady supply of good adventures in their style more than I want another book sitting on my shelf.

  5. Thanks for sharing. About the only piece of advice I'd offer is call it something else. The Quests of Doom are already in format X. Cool. It had a good run. Let it die.

    Move onto a new format, new option, new marketing. "In the spirit of Quests of Doom... XYZ. Now in a more affordable format!"

  6. That is solid advice and I suspect that would have been the case except the change in format was a very last minute one where Bill had a 'moment of clarity' on the series. I had been dripping out teasers for awhile and the graphics were largely ready...with a full production schedule in Q3/Q4 delaying it would have meant a long one, maybe indefinately. The writing was solid and the costs were sunk so we compromised...but your advice is 100% spot on and wish we could have taken it.

  7. Curious about the difference between FGG hardcovers and Goodman Games hardcovers. I bought Tome of Adventure Design for $42 and the DCC hardcover for $40. I find the FGG paper to be much thinner and the hardcover more flexible. It would be interesting to find out which printers are used.

  8. If this model works better for the Frogs, more power to them. But I'm not sure I grok the 'modules are convenient' message. With PDFs, can't everyone print their own modules as needed?!


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