I read Gary Ray’s Quest for Fun blog frequently. I find his insights into the world of the game store very insightful. Last month I was reading one of his posts (Adventure is Key) and it brought into crystal clarity a number of ideas that I had in my mind. It made me change a number of releases and even add a few PDF-to-Print adventures for the Shadowsfall Campaign Setting coming out next year.
I kept reading the comments and two caught my eye. They were basically complaining about how Wizards believes in the success of the local game store and how Paizo does not share this view. This isn’t the first time I had heard this view expressed by game store owners. My local game store owner expresses a similar view frequently. The complaints I hear tend to circle around the fact that Paizo sells book from their website and subscribers can get a copy of the PDF and (depending on the actual subscription) can buy it for less than MSRP, undercutting the game store. I can understand the view that Paizo is not the most positive force for game stores. However, I don’t understand how Wizards is still seen as good for game stores.
When it comes to D&D, Wizards does not sell their books direct from their website. This is true. However, when I think of D&D, I think Amazon or Barns & Noble or any other mass market book store out there. For me this is a leftover from the 3.5 days when I did not have a FLGS nearby, but I still have this association. Back then, when I wanted a Green Ronin book or a Goodman Games adventure, I typically had to go to a website that specialized is gaming books. So when a gaming store opened up near me, it was easy to switch from the gaming websites to the local gaming store. Mind you, I had switched to Pathfinder by the time the game store opened, but I suspect I would still be buying my D&D books from Amazon if I still played that game. Heck, after buying a bunch of 3.5 books at rock bottom prices after 4E’s announcement, I’d probably look at eBay first.
Wizards of the Coast’s products are available everywhere. I mean you can buy Magic cards at Walmart. Their distribution capabilities and name recognition among megastore buyers is one of the single biggest advantages they have. However it also means that being undercut by Walmart.
Here’s the real kicker: we all know that 5E (or 4.5 or whatever) is in the works. It may be the best RPG since sliced bread or it may be another flop. We’ll see. But here’s what I am pretty sure of: it’s going to primarily be electronic. 4E was suppose to be an electronic-based game with pen-and-paper still available for those that wanted it. However, WotC did not anticipate how difficult implimenting all the pieces of a digital tabletop, digitial character creation tools and the rest and spend quite some time working the bugs out. By the time that 5E does come out, it will be a relatively smooth transition. And by that time, tablets will be in much wider use and Wizards could make the printed book almost an afterthought. Hey the core book might even be an app rather than a PDF.
When I sell a PDF, I make roughly as much off of it as I do a print book, despite charging about half as much for it compared to the print book. I don’t have the infrastructure in place to sell from my own website but if I did, I could make considerably more by cutting the cost of DriveThruRPG’s and Paizo’s commission. Wizards is set up for that thanks to their D&D Subscriber system. It is not a tough leap to imagine the print version being much less important considering their reduced print schedule.
To end on a positive note, I will offer this different prospective: small game companies support the local game store and believe in their health. Sure we individually do not sell much but in aggregate we are mighty. Plus many of us have a PDF Guarantee so you can give out PDFs as well. You could set up a sign or a display that says, “Get the PDF for free when you buy these books,” to help encourage their sale as well as increase customer loyalty because not all game stores are set up to give them PDFs of the print book they just bought. If you are apart of this, you can do just that!