So, starting to look more at pdf/electronic RPG purchase but not sure where to start? Wanting to get more bang for your buck and be smarter about what you download? Below is my quick guide to getting the most out of using pdfs for your roleplaying games and making sure every purchase counts.
1) Check your software: In my experience Adobe Reader (which a large majority of people use for pdf browsing) is oftentimes slow and takes up an inordinate amount of space. I've switched to FoxIt Reader, which is free, more compact than Adobe, and seems to scroll and work much faster with my pdf files. Even if you decide FoxIt isn't for you, don't forget there are a LOT of pdf programs out there. Having one you're comfortable with can really help you get more out of your pdfs and make using them more of a pleasure. You make sure you have plenty of light when you read a printed book; make sure you have the right setting for an electronic one.
2) Know your companies: We as a hobby have been at this pdf thing long enough now that some frontrunners have begun to emerge in terms of quality and value for RPG products. Look at the ratings on products; look at the folks consistently getting high marks. There are some truly sub-part pdf companies out there, and you don't want to get burnt. For my part, I believe companies such as Adamant Entertainment, Precis Intermedia, 01 Games, and a couple others are at the front of the pack. I usually don't like to disparage other people's hard work on here, but its easy enough to figure out who the bad ones are with very little checking. You can also use tools like RPGNow's tiers of Copper/Silver/Electrum/Gold/Platinum (I think that's close) sellers, which can at least give you an idea of how many other folks are enjoying that product.
Also remember some companies excel in different areas. I'm going to 01 Games or perhaps Skeleton Key for maps, I'm going to check out Precis Intermedia for paper minis, etc. Be sure to check those free previews on the retail sites and company web pages to get an idea of exactly what you're getting. Even if its only $10, you don't want to drop it on something that doesn't quite line up with what you want.
3) Get the newsletters: I cannot tell you how many products I've purchased at a lower price because I waited for some offer from RPGNow or YourGamesNow. Often, the newsletters and mailing lists will have a number of products indicated that are on sale or special.
4) That which is old, is new again: Sometimes you're searching for a supplement that just doesn't seem to be out there. Remember, there is nothing new under the sun. Chances are, if you're looking for it, someone has done it at some point in the past, and there's a decent chance its for sale. After all, you can buy old D&D adventures, rules, and supplements for a pittance--everything is somewhere.
5) Freebies First?: Seriously, is anyone paying attention to the massive amounts of homebrew stuff produced out there that's on par with the "pros"? Whether its Lythia.com or the documents linked to in someone's signature on a message board, there are plenty of products out there (as with #4) that may already do the job you're looking for. Netbooks, blogs, fan products, free RPGs--put in a little research and by seeing how much good stuff is free, it helps really raise expectations and what you demand out of a pay product. I know more than half of my "RPG Resource" folder on my desktop is filled with free products I've found. Don't forget about these filtered searches, either...
I know pdfs aren't for everyone, and I'm definitely in the school of thought that says there's just something about the feel and smell of an old RPG book, but there are more and more fantastic products being produced in pdf format every day. Don't miss out if you can help it.