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.