Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kevin S. on Small Press Publishing Options

It seems like the past week around here has seen Palladium mentioned a bit more than a normal week, but this is a topic that might interest some of the independent and small press RPG folks out there. I found this while browsing Kevin Siembieda's "Murmurs from the Megaverse", detailing the comparison between a "book printer" and "print on demand services". Here's an excerpt:

Did you know that a “book printer” can do print runs of 1,500 copies for the same amount of money as 500 P.O.D. books?

I have found the answer to that question is usually an excited, no.

I recently talked with an author who was looking to print 1500-2000 copies of a new book. The author was confident he could sell that many in six months to a year, but lamented to me that his Print On Demand quote was $7.78 per book – $3,890 for 500 copies. Making the large press run an unaffordable $11,670.00.

The person sounded crestfallen, until I said, “Um, you know a book printer – or at least, Palladium’s printer – could print that book for you for around $2.25 a piece.”

I was wrong about that. It turns out Palladium's printer, McNaughton & Gunn could print 1,500 copies for under two dollars each!

In fact, the actual quote for a . . .
- 192 page book
- 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches trimmed book
- Perfect bound
- Softcover book; four color front and back laminated cover
- Black & white interior pages
- 60# white paper stock
- Plus proofs of the cover and interior pages for approval

. . . turned out to be $1.77 per copy!

The total amount was less than it cost to print 500 P.O.D. books even when $700 was added to ship the books to his out of state location. It was a gigantic savings. This person freaked out with joy.

Depending on the P.O.D. company, that savings might only be half of what they charge, but that savings is still incredibly HUGE and you get 3x the number of books.

Cheap printing – modest press runs

What surprised me is that most small press and self-published authors I have been talking with do NOT seem to know about Book Printers who use web presses. P.O.D. printing over the last 10 years has become so omnipresent that many people today, don’t even know there are alternative and cheaper printing that provide large press runs and superior quality.

I had similar discussions with a couple other people who had been printing through Print on Demand (P.O.D.) companies. They also freaked out to learn they could do a modest press run of 1,500 copies for the same price (or close to it) as a measly 500 P.O.D. copies.

In each and every case, these were very smart people who knew nothing about web-printers, and assumed (incorrectly) that the big book printers required massive print runs of 6,000 copies or more. It ain’t so.


...the article goes on from there (you can read the entire thing here), but I found it interesting. I've been around long enough to know that posting anything from Kevin S. online is akin to drawing a circle on my stomach, dousing it with lighter fluid, and holding a sign saying "ignite here", but I wanted some feedback from some of the small-press folks that read this site. Is this something you've looked at, or are you ok with your current P.O.D. options? What are your thoughts? Is this something you'd look into in the future?

I firmly believe many of the small-press publishers these days are putting out books not only every bit the equal of those from larger publishers, but with more personal support and less corporate oversight influencing their moves. So it's things like this article I find interesting, and would like to learn a bit more about from their side of the fence.

24 comments:

JimLotFP said...

Traditional printing is better... if you can sell that many books. That's a big if.

However, POD and digital printing doesn't have to cost as much as Lulu, either.

clash bowley said...

Great, if you have a distro agreement and can actually sell that many. If you don't, there's 1000 books sitting in your garage or basement.

-clash

Olman Feelyus said...

Yeah, I think that's the thing that Kevin S. is missing. 1,500 is what he considers a small print run, but for a lot of small press operations, an affordable (and reasonable in terms of expected sales) is in the low 100s. P.O.D. allows you to test the market with less of a commitment. The price is, of course, low margins, but at least you don't have tons of heartbreaking inventory sitting around your basement.

Richard Iorio II said...

Here's thing. If you are a new publisher and you print 1000 copies, and only sell 300, you still are sitting on 700 copies. That is warehouse space, and inventory that is not making you any money. In this market you are lucky if you sell 1000 copies of anything.

POD, though not as nice looking as offset, is the best way for small publishers and new publishers to get their book out into the market. Period.

Rogue Games uses Lightning Source for our printing. They are POD and offset, and due to them being a part of Ingram, our books are available everywhere. We can drop ship books to distributors, in addition, our inventory is virtual, in that we print what we need and that is it.

I will be honest, unless you are a WOTC, Piazo, or one of the bigger companies, offset should be avoided. Still, there are many first time publishers who printed far too many books than they should and have their garage and basement stuffed with unsold inventory.

Anonymous said...

"I will be honest, unless you are a WOTC, Piazo, or one of the bigger companies, offset should be avoided. Still, there are many first time publishers who printed far too many books than they should and have their garage and basement stuffed with unsold inventory."

Wow, so I guess I was right in thinking that landscape of indie games has changed drastically since D20 and the OGL and all that.

WTF? It's not just D&D and derivative games that can do well. 1,000 copies is not really that much if you pimp it and promote it. If you just sit on a website and hope to earn sales you will not sell more than 100 or so copies. period.

But, if you take it to Origins, or GenCon, get a nice table set up and have some demo games (esp Origins, which is a great place to get people hooked via demo games), and promote the hell out of it, you can sell it.

People seem to forget that all RPG's started out indie. Until the whole WoTC buying D&D, indies ruled the roost. Almost all games could be considered small press, yet there they were, all over the place.

D20 and OGL killed this. Now that D&D 4th ED is no longer using the OGL we need to take advantage of it and move past this stupid "everything is D&D" crap we here all over the place. Retro clone or not, we need to branch out and move forward if indie games are to survive, rather than imitating someone else's popular product.

Just my two cents.

Jeff Rients said...

Isn't Kevin S. missing the point of POD here? The advantage of something like lulu has never been price. It's been the ability to get one copy printed for one customer.

da Trux said...

i agree with the anonymous poster who talked about promoting and selling at conventions (like Origins in my city, hooray!)

if you order 1500 copies of a book for $1.77 a copy, and you only end up selling a couple hundred initially through direct sales (such as a web site) then that's your fault!

go to game shops and talk to the owner about making a special display for your product. or here is a really crazy idea... give them away for FREE.

giving away free product does two things; frees up storage space, either your home or garage or a rented unit (which are more expensive than they are worth), and gets your product and your name out into the public. it builds a fan base - which you can use later to sell other product.

especially nowadays where money for most people is tight (i haven't bought a book in over a year, and i used to buy at least one a month before that), giving back to the people is a great idea.

no matter what, i would rather pay less than 2 bucks per copy than 7 bucks.

Quim said...

Ours is a samll market that that of Palladium Books or other biggies. Selling 1000+ copies would be a dream come true! For me a small run is 100 or less copies, which are still better done by digital prints or POD.

clash bowley said...

Note what those who are publishers are saying, and note what those who are probably not publishers are saying - "Buy 1500 books for $1.77 each and give them away for free!" Great idea! You want to pay for them? I'll give them away if you do, Mr. da Trux.

Mr. Anonymous? I ran myself ragged running demo games at GenCon last year. Spent tons of time prepping the games, which could have been used to work on product, not to mention the expenses of travel, getting a place to stay, and eating in Indy. Result? No appreciable difference in sales. Not a good return on investment.

until I get decent distribution, I'm not buying 1500 books.

-clash

clash bowley said...

Another point which hasn't been addressed yet. I have 13 roleplaying games, plus supplements for each line. Buying 1500 of each comes to a bit of money. I would have to ease myself into anything, even with a good distro agreement.

Anonymous said...

Clash- you ever thought you were spreading yourself too thin?

And Palladium, as I once said, was once upon a time indie. Almost all of the RPG companies were at some point. That's something people seemed to have forgotten.

clash bowley said...

Anonymous said...

Clash- you ever thought you were spreading yourself too thin?

A Game Publisher can never be spread too thin, or be too rich... :D

-clash

Louis Porter Jr. said...

For those who have said it is no big thing to sell 1,000 copies of a most likely have never ever sold a 1,000 copies. EVER. It is tough to sell 1,000 copies. It is even tougher to sell them when you have a $2,655 bill for them over your head (PS: Don't forget the cost of shipping them to where ever you are sent. And what about storage?) Do yourself a favor and sell POD directly from your webiste first, If you get 500 sales, THEN think about selling direct. Don't let people who have not actually done what you are planning talk you into something stupid.

HinterWelt said...

I have to side a bit with Clash. Distribution is important. However, I have to say it is more than just "a deal" in that you need to look at a lot of different channels to retailers and customers.

The lesson we should take away from this is know when to use POD and know when to use web press. The two are not interchangeable tools. I also think Palladium is getting a bit of a deal on that price. McNaughton Gunn was far from that reasonable with me.

da Trux said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
da Trux said...

my point was that very few people are going to pay for a game that they know nothing about, and probably know no one who has played it either.

without free distribution (or selling it at a loss) of at the very least the rules, you aren't going to sell anything.

also, if you are in the RPG business to make money, you're in for some big time disappointment. wait until you get distribution? how do you expect to do that if there isn't a market for your product? there is sizable risk in any business endeavor, and the tabletop RPG market has enormous financial risk involved for little profit.

Not everyone is going to end up like Mongooses publisher with a mansion and a Porsche. Hell, Palladium almost folded last year. D&D is only still around because of its parent corporation and name recognition.

Not everyone reads RPG blogs, or RPGNet or The Forge. Not everyone goes to conventions. But every gamer in every city knows where the local game/comic shop is. and every game/comic shop has a "free stuff" table. I know this because that's where my gaming magazine goes every month.

POD works if you have no ambition to sell more than a couple hundred copies and want to make a minimal amount of profit. but then you're pretty much trapped with POD because you'll just keep making small runs for any trickle of demand.

lastly, Anonymous; in what way is Palladium NOT an "indie" company? last time i checked, they weren't bought out by Hasbro or any other corporation. it's still run by Kevin out of his house, he still writes 90% of the books and does a lot of the artwork himself. Palladium just manages to be the largest indie company.

Jonathan Walton said...

To answer the original question... Yeah, I think it's fair to say that indie publishers who have done any serious investigation of printing know that you go with a real printer once you're printing several hundred or more and stick with POD for smaller numbers.

I think, in many cases, what you think may be happening out of ignorance is actually happening because people have different goals and priorities for publishing.

Speaking personally, I don't have the will to do what needs to be done to sell 1500 copies on my own. Guys like Luke Crane and Fred Hicks do and that's totally awesome, but I know myself and my products well enough to know that's not for me. Heck, Vincent Baker sells that many without having to do anything, not even demoing his games at conventions, so it really is different strokes for different folks.

Zachary The First said...

Guys,

Thanks for a robust discussion on the topic, and for keeping it nice and civil. It's much appreciated, and I appreciate your contributions on the topic.

jsemaj said...

A big problem with having a 1,500 copies on hand and actually selling them is the cost in time and resources it takes to fulfill orders.

I used to do the zine and mail-order collectibles thing many years ago and processing payments and getting the things out the door could take a lot of time.
Most customers were cool but every now and then checks would bounce, sometimes even money orders would bounce. I usually could get the customer to get me the funds as most just made simple mistakes but every month I'd have to eat 1 or 2 bounced check fees (which were low back then for the account I had).

Non-subscription copies would take me 15-30 minutes to process including trips to the bank and post-office. Doesn't sound like much but multiply that by just couple hundred and boy oh boy it's a lot of time. sure you can get streamlined or wait until you get X-# of orders in and then you have to spend more time with customers soothing fears the product will not ship and dealing with canceled orders.

It can easily be a real job, that doesn't pay much. It's a real commitment not just the development time it takes to get the product ready.

If you aren't ready to do that, don't print up 1,500 books.

That's one reason POD is attractive, a lot of work is paid for and done by someone else.

But selling your own stuff is also a heck of a lot of fun.

rdonoghue said...

Great post, cemented in quality by actually naming the printer in question. POD is easy to get into and can be hard to leave - POD printers have good, informative, useful web presences while finding an offset printer can be a baffling experience the first time someone tries it out. The simple fact that POD is usually easier (at least until a publisher has a certain amount of experience) is a huge draw for a small-scale publisher, and they may be willing to pay the extra cost to get benefits like customer support, distribution channels, ease of revisioning, clarity and reliability. Is that an equitable tradeoff? Clearly, that depends on your priorities.

For us, POD was the right place to start because Evil Hat is, financially speaking, a very conservative company. Starting out POD reduced our income per book by a fair chunk, but it also allowed us to minimize our exposure. It's great that our game sold well, but we had no reason to anticipate that, so we made choices that meant that if at any point the game stopped selling, our debt would be minimal.

There's a clear risk-reward equation there. If we'd decided to shell out for a several thousand book run at the outset, we'd have made a lot more money, but we also would have been in a tougher position if we hadn't gotten lucky. I point this out not to say that our choice was the right or wrong one, but rather that every publisher needs to make the choice that suits their comfort level.

Which comes back to why I dig this post. There are good reasons to go with POD, and good reasons to go with traditional printing, and every publisher is well served making the decision that suits them best. But if a publisher makes the decision without weighing both approaches against his needs and goals, he may do himself a disservice.

For a publisher starting from zero, it is easy to get familiar with their POD options, and harder to get a sense of their other options, so articles like this that call attention to that are a welcome thing.

-Rob Donoghue

Zachary The First said...

Thanks for the comments, Rob. I'm really glad you decided to post on this topic, and that you found it interesting. It's good to get a sense of these different options, I think.

Anonymous said...

The opening is "did you know"? The option to go offset or POD is entirely up to the individual. Kevin's article only reflected the desires of the people he spoke with. Starting a new company is always risky and time consuming and everyone decides how much time and effort they want to put into it. No, he doesn't consider 1,500 a small print run, it was just used to compare costs. That's all.

Zachary The First said...

Good point, anonymous. I think if anyone had any doubts about his intent, here's a quote from his Sunday murmur:

"
To all of you imaginative and creative people self-publishing, whether your print run is 50, 500 or 5000, the best of luck to you. I know how hard it is to do what you are doing. It takes courage and plenty of hard work. I hope this info helps, if not now, maybe a year or three from now. Good luck, be positive, and keep following your dreams".

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