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Apr. 13th, 2008

Happy Monte

RPG PDF (Part 1)

I feel very tied to the whole role-playing game pdf market, since it was Book of Eldritch Might that really kind of made anyone notice that there were such things as role-playing game pdfs. By that, I mean, while it wasn't quite first, I believe it was the first to show that it was a viable way to sell such products, selling over 1,000 in its first day and something like 20,000--just in pdf--over its life so far. And yes, it still sells.

This was, of course, before there was an RPGNow or a DriveThruRPG. I'm speaking (well, writing, actually) of the wild and woolly days of pdfs before such established vendors brought order to the land. I still remember the late nights scouring the Internet for some clue as to how to sell the thing. Now, it's so easy to put a pdf up on RPGNow or DriveThru that I'm sometimes surprised more people don't do it (but more on that in Part 2).

Because we released a new product in February of this year (Book of Experimental Might), the first really new pdf product for us in a very long time, I've been paying more attention to our pdf sales since then than I was throughout most of last year. (I was focused pretty heavily on non-game writing most of last year.) I've got to say that it's one of the fun advantages of pdf sales for me. It's very, very difficult to get a precise figure on how many copies of a print book we sell. Some go into hobby stores, some go off to convention sales, some get sold through direct sales of the website, some go into the book trade, the book trade can return copies, and sometimes do, and so it's all very complex. Plus, for us, it's all handled by White Wolf, so we really only get a (somewhat arcane) sales report every quarter. 

But with pdfs, I can log into my account with OneBookShelf (who manage both RPGNow and DriveThru) and find out precisely how many copies of a particular book we sold that day. Or all of last quarter. Or last year. Or between my birthday and Sue's birthday. Or whatever. It's just fun to watch, in a very capitalistic sort of way. Publishers are usually hush-hush when it comes to talking about sales, but I figured why not share a bit of insight that I've gleaned?

I can tell you that Book of Experimental Might is not only our top seller for this year so far, but it is one of our best sellers ever as far as pdfs go, in regard to its first week or month of sales. Which is particularly gratifying because it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which tells us that it's a terrible idea to release a 3rd edition related rules supplement just months before 4th edition comes out. And I LOOOOVE to go against conventional wisdom. Particularly in the cynical, overly-conservative game industry.

I can also see that Ptolus is our number two seller for the year, which is somewhat surprising considering it's our most expensive pdf ever. Even after being out a year and a half, the product is still going strong. Ptolus pdf sales, of course, are likely buoyed by the fact that it's getting harder and harder (although not impossible) to track down a print copy of the book. Which, by the way, is another example of flying in the face of conventional wisdom. I was told again and again that it would never sell. It's too expensive, or no one wants that much detail, or it's too traditional a setting, or I'm shooting myself in the foot by announcing ahead of time that I was pulling back from full-time game design even before the product comes out. These were all things I was told or that I overheard purveyors of conventional wisdom say.

Number three is The Secrets of the Delver's Guild. Like Book of Experimental Might, this was never a print product, so that certainly helps pdf sales. It's also quite married to the Ptolus setting so it's not surprising that basically anyone who buys Ptolus buys this one.

Like Ptolus, numbers four and five--Complete Book of Eldritch Might and Monte Cook's Arcana Evolved, respectively--show steady sales likely because they're big, popular books extremely hard to find in print. That's one of the things I've always said about the ebook format. It's like a book that never disappears from the shelf. It's always in stock, and that's great. 

Other big Malhavoc sellers in 2008 include Book of Iron Might, Arcana Evolved Spell Treasury, and Chaositech. But really, I'm pleased with how all of our pdfs are selling. Even things that have been out since our earliest days still sell a few copies (or more) each month. Malhavoc Press made basically as much on pdf sales (not print) in the first quarter of 2008 as it has in any quarter since we started. So if anyone wonders why I'm suddenly playing around in the rpg sandbox again, really, it almost seems foolish not to. I figured by now Malhavoc sales would have dwindled, but they remained steady throughout 2007 and even increased lately (thanks to BoXM). So we're going to do another Book of Experiment Might, which I mentioned a few days ago, and we'll see how that goes. Don't expect much more on the Malhavoc front, though. And in case you were wondering, don't expect any 4E-compatible material or conversions of our stuff to 4E. (Even if I wanted to do 4E stuff, and to be honest I really don't, the morass that the current licensing situation appears to be in is not at ALL attractive to me as a publisher.) However, look for some interesting announcements in coming days and weeks regarding other projects. It's still a small portion of what I'm doing, and there's every reason to believe that it won't last long, but it's fun. 

Hopefully soon I'll be able to tell you about some of the upcoming fiction and comic-book related news that I've got going on as well, which is still the vast majority of my working day.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 14th, 2008 05:18 am (UTC)
talking shop
It is neat to see you talk shop, Monte.

I remember a few Gen Con's ago and there was a panel with you and a bunch of other industry folk and every single one of them said that they thought you were nuts for selling the pdf before the book back in the day. Every one of them admitted they thought you were crazy and that the pdf's would bite into your book sales and every one of them admitted they were wrong.

Interesting stuff. I look forward to this series. Any chance of putting a tag on it so that it is easy to track and link?
Apr. 14th, 2008 11:32 am (UTC)
Ptolus = Impossible to find for me, so I'm one of your newest PDF buyers. While I would MUCH prefer a book, I couldn't budget for $200-250 or so just to snag it. $60 was much more palatable to my wallet.

But I wouldn't be opposed to a 2nd (???) print run of it so I could buy it at the suggested retail price. :-)
Apr. 14th, 2008 02:55 pm (UTC)
Interesting post, Monte. I have to agree with Judd, above, it's good to see you talk shop. I'm gonna have to email you because I would love to have you for an interview on my podcast, The Digital Front, which is all about the e-distributed tabletop gaming market. I mean, it's only fair and fitting to have the guy who broke that door down and said, "Yep, it's clear, follow me."
Apr. 14th, 2008 06:36 pm (UTC)
Conventional wisdom in gaming is dumb. If everyone followed it, there never would've been a 3e, an OGL, prepainted plastic miniatures, or Magic: the Gathering.

I'm happy to hear that your stuff is still selling well. I mean, really, the core of your business has been to do good stuff. The stuff you do might seem obvious or a good idea to you and to the thousands of people who buy it, but, well, no one else is doing it.

And if this keeps you writing gaming stuff, then good. The biz is better with you in it.
Apr. 14th, 2008 10:05 pm (UTC)
I am disappointed to read "Even if I wanted to do 4E stuff, and to be honest I really don't" from you.

I hope you give the new version of the game a fair shot, and consider publishing 4e stuff after the licensing issue settles down and you start to read about your peers playing 4e and (hopefully) enjoying it. Emphasis on "consider".
Apr. 16th, 2008 05:21 am (UTC)
Yeah there's already a thread on ENWorld from someone reading into Monte's post to come out with "OMG he won't give 4E a fair shake!"

Remember, there has to be an OGL/GSL released for 4E so designers can even have information on what can be done. It has already been stated pretty clearly that alternative PHBs like Arcana Evolved would not be something to happen under the GSL, as they don't want any books that don't refer you back to the core books.
Apr. 14th, 2008 10:29 pm (UTC)
Interesting to hear that and glad to see that your stuff is selling well. I'm a bit sad to see your stance on publishing RPG material, as well as on 4E, but it's understandable, especially as a) you have novels to write and b) 3E (and AE and Ptolus) were your big brainchilds.

I hope it keeps going well!

Cheers, LT.
Apr. 15th, 2008 01:37 am (UTC)
Interesting article
This was a good read. It is interesting to hear that sales on the older PDF products just keep going and going and going...

Still waiting for the list of stuff that you are currently working on!

Apr. 25th, 2008 03:24 am (UTC)
Just out of curiosity, have you tried solution like for those who like hard copies?
Apr. 25th, 2008 05:05 am (UTC)
We're selling BoXM on Lulu, and plan to do the same with BoXM II. Slowly, we'll probably add more titles.

Many of our print books are still available in stores, however.
Apr. 25th, 2008 12:59 pm (UTC)
ah ok.

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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