RPG Publishers are Holding Games for Ransom

Life is hard as a small press publisher. Getting from one release to another is a challenge at the best of times, and if a book doesn’t do well, it can screw up your cash flow badly enough that your publishing schedule basically gets shut down. Some RPG publishers, like Wild Talents publisher Arc Dream, are developing a new method of getting books in print: holding them for ransom.

The ransom method works like this: the publisher has a proposal for a book, possibly with some sample sections or art. In some cases, the book is actually completed and available as a pdf, so the ransom is for the printed version. They post the information along with the ransom amount and a deadline. People who are interested in the book can help pay the ransom, effectively pre-ordering the book. Fans with deeper pockets can ransom larger amounts and get special perks along with their copy. If the ransom is met by the deadline, the book goes to print with no financial risk on the part of the publisher. Arc Dream’s Shane Ivey explains it here in more detail.

Arc Dream used the ransom method for the latest Monsters and Other Childish Things supplement, called Bigger Bads. Despite following closely behind the holidays and the fact that Arc Dreams was experimenting with a more aggressive ransom schedule, the book hit the ransom threshold three days before the deadline.

I’ve run into other companies who were using this technique to gauge interest and find a way to get niche products into print. Hell, in this industry, pretty much anything not published by Wizards of the Coast is a niche product. It obviously works best for companies with an established reputation and following, but the success of Bigger Bads suggests that people beyond Arc Dream’s core following are finding the book and deciding they’re willing to pay ahead for it.

I love the DIY aspect of this, but more importantly, book ransom could be a key way for independent publishers to survive the massive changes that are going to sweep the publishing industry in the next five to ten years.

4 Responses to RPG Publishers are Holding Games for Ransom

  1. Of course, then the issue becomes CONTACTING the people who’d want to ransom/preorder. I see the charm in the pre-order model, I really do. I just think that print-on-demand is going to catch up first.

    One big downside is– sometimes there are products I WANT but I can’t afford at the moment (less so now that I’m old & have a job…). I will shell out for X down the road, or splurge on Y in a spasm of consumerism. You know? Or like– like look at the PHB2. I don’t own it. I haven’t gotten bored of my PHB1. Still; maybe one day I’ll have a real yen to play a…a goliath sorcerer, or something. & so I’ll pick it up.

    I use White Wolf products to run my game; I run a Science Fantasy High Weird campaign of my own design. I like the mechanics & flavor of the World of Darkness products; the material I can do without largely, since I run my homebrew. I wish there was a way for this to be communicated to the publisher– that is the strength of ransoming– money-where-your-mouth-is dialogue between the buyer & the producer.

    (& btw re: the above I am MOST excited about WoD Mirrors)

  2. See, my only problem is that I tend to only buy RPG books as the ‘impulse buy.’ I’ll see it in a store and thumb through it to see if I want to try it, and whether or not I can afford it. Usually they get marked on the come back later list because if I buy it I won’t be able to buy what I came to the store for, but I’ll come back later to grab it. Then I hope and pray that this summer I can actually organize the guys into playing one of them.

  3. Well, they sure have a strategy for hooking buyers like me… dangle a little art-work out there and we start drooling. Who cares if I don’t have a group and haven’t really played for years? Show me a cool monster or setting and my imagination starts to take control of my wallet.

    p.s. It’s been a while since I’ve commented, but I’ve still been stopping by, and Ed, keep up the good work!

  4. In the current economic climate, a lot of us can’t afford to take big economic risks, so it makes sense to have a get paid then deliver mindset. It’s not just for RPG publishers, either; there’s a wider application for this, and framework web sites are popping up all over the place.

    For example, check out kickstarter.com – you can list any project you like, along with how much money it’ll cost, and people can pledge money to support it via PayPal/credit card. They don’t actually pay anything, though, unless the project’s target amount is reached.

    It’s not automatically open to all to create projects, but if I can get an invitation I might try using it to raise enough funds to tour my D&D comedy show to the US. If I put it up there, I’ll be sure to let you know!

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