As a professional writer, I’m keenly aware that business models and consumption methods for written media are in a state of major flux right now. It’s interesting to see some real numbers that provide a hint on the direction things might be headed in. This missive from DriveThruRPG’s Steve Wieck on the effects of price slashing on PDF sales is extremely enlightening.
Wieck outlined some surprising sales numbers in DriveThru’s January email to publishers (which was posted here by Fred Hicks, who works for/with several small press and indie RPG publishers). The long and short of it is simple: cutting the prices on your RPG PDFs does not increase sales. All it does is cut into your profits. Worse, it kills DriveThru’s business model because of the fees they have to pay to Paypal and the credit card companies on microtransactions.
It turns out that as long as the price is within our reasonable expectation for a given product, the price is not the determining factor when making a purchase. If you decide you really want the latest gazetteer for your favorite RPG, whether it costs $5 or $15 isn’t really a huge factor. The problem is that “reasonable expectation” part — if every company is pricing their gazetteers for $2, you’ll start to expect that pricing, and the $15 product feels overpriced.
The direction for publishers is clear — the occasional sale is a fine way to draw attention, but don’t slit your own throats. I’ve always felt that pdf products should be priced similarly to print products; a little lower because there are no printing, shipping or warehousing costs, sure, but the true value is in the work of the designers, writers and artists. Your customers are aware of that, and apparently we’re willing to pay fair prices for it.