Wednesday, 6 April 2011

the noble experiment

Adamant announced the end of their $1.99 (was $1) PDF publishing experiment on Monday.  Gareth offers some analysis to explain the decision.  Ultimately the experiment became unsustainable.  The experiment evolved over three months with the following factors playing a part:
  • An initial shift in pricing from $1 to $1.99 after the first day.
  • The March GM Day sale where Adamant dropped prices by 25% further for the duration of the sale.
  • An increased release schedule meant more things to buy which drove up sales and outlay.
Responses from interested bystanders range from condolences through rants at customers.  With prices at $2 or less each, it's hardly credible to cite stinginess.  Adamant has over 200 items in stock at DriveThruRPG so it's hardly lack of choice.  So what gives?  Having previously mentioned certain events, let's look a little closer.

First impressions count, the jump in price after day one was an inauspicious start.  While it's evident the initial pricing hiccup was due to a miscalculation on small purchase handling, some suspected a gimmick or publicity stunt.  While motives vary, Gareth's opinions and those of his alter-ego GMS have antagonised RPG fans before and it's certainly possible those making such remarks were unfriendly competition.

It's notable Gareth and Adamant has a history of largesse when it comes to sales, launching a $1 sale in December 2010 and contributing to many charity bundles.  The March GM Day sale price drop gave those who missed the December sale a second bite.  Fred Hicks posted a note from DriveThruRPG on January 6th at his Tumblr and it contains a possible explanation for what happened here.
If all publishers trended prices down to $1 for an RPG, then customers will re-anchor their price expectations at that level and $1 RPGs would no longer ignite large sales volumes for any single publisher. Instead $15 RPGs will seem expensive, much like any app over $1.99 is “expensive”.
By normalising prices so that the discount wasn't as large as usual, customers saw it as less of a bargain which may explain why takeup wasn't as dramatic as in previous years.  Adamant now faces a period of readjustment, fortunately given the strength of products like ICONS it may be able to weather the consequences of this.

The increased release schedule was the killer.  Given the work needed to put out any publication it is not surprising that increasing your release schedule means increasing outlay.  During March 2011 but after the GM Day sale three titles were released with only a 35% increase in income compared to the previous year.  That's effectively one per week!  Before the sale, there was greater correlation between increased releases and profit.  After, it suggests that a plateau had been reached.

What interests me (and others) is how this compares with epublishing (arguably niche, maybe less so than RPGs).  There are success stories like J.A. KonrathTobias Bucknell has a year of ebook data with variable pricing and argues for diversification.  Looking further outwards at apps themselves, it's suggested individual users tend to purchase 10 - 12 per month.  That's a lot and given the depth of some RPGs needs a significant learning curve.  Matching that level of takeup is ambitious and saturation appears to be a risk. Perhaps the solution is to produce add-ons to a core product?

I admire Gareth for his vision and having the chutzpah to do this.  Failing to applaud pioneers means nobody visits terra incognita.  I can recommend ICONS as a cracking rules-lite superhero game with plenty of support - if you haven't bought it yet, please do so.  There are other publishers who are following the app pricing experiment including Nevermet Press who priced their PDFs at $2.99.  It appears that the noble experiment continues...


  1. Part of the problem with the $1.99 / low price model is that the data gets muddied by publicity.

    The first few people who drop their prices get large amounts of publicity leading to increased sales. This increase in sales is seen as a success for the low price model.

    But as more and more people drop their prices, each company gains less publicity as it becomes routine. Consequently they see much less of a sales boost and ended up generating less revenue.

    The low price model is a publicity stunt and publicity stunts can be very profitable for the first few people who do it.

  2. I see it as a regrettable race to the bottom. RPG resources are not apps. You're not selling tens of thousands, at best you're selling hundreds.

  3. @Chris - It's a different way of thinking that mirrors what's happening in other areas of publication. Whether that's the right model? Don't know. What Postmortem Studios is doing with app pricing seems very sensible.

    @Paladin - Would like to see the RPG resources aren't apps argument expanded. I think it's possible to sell in the 1000s as Paizo and even WOTC do so.

  4. It is just hard to reach very profitable numbers when you only get $1.30 per each sale in a market where 100 is a strong seller.

  5. @Louis - True (and welcome BTW!).
    The low sales thing makes me curious as to why the RPG e-publishing industry is a microcosm of other areas of e-publishing. I look at things like Chuck Wendig's Terrible Creatures sales and wonder 'Can RPGs do the same?'


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Greatest Hits