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An Open Letter to Marcus King

April 9th, 2009 (08:57 am)
irritated

current mood: irritated

Dear Marcus,

I awoke this morning to see Green Ronin called out on the front page of ICv2 as part of your commentary on PDF pricing,( http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/14705.html ). Spurred by the Wizards of the Coast sudden decision to discontinue all PDF sales of their products, Green Ronin announced we were putting ONE product (our True20 Core Book) on sale for $9.99. You ask "...would you also like to drop the MSRP of your True20 core book to $9.99 -- so that your distribution and retail partners can continue to support that title, and your line?"

The answer to that question, sir, is NO. First of all, the retail price of the True20 PDF is $17.95 while the retail price of True20 Adventure Roleplaying in printed format is $29.95. If we put the book on sale for $9.99 we would lose money on every book sold. If my distribution and retail partners need me to lose money on every book in order to "continue to support that title" that's the kind of "support" I can't afford. Secondly, this is a temporary sale in response to ongoing events and changes in the marketplace. If you are concerned that a $9.99 PDF of the rules is going to seriously undercut your business as your price-conscious customers flock to buy electrons during the sale, I would point to the True20 Pocket Player's Guide which we've had available for sale since December 2006, at a retail price of $14.95, put out to appeal to those very same price-conscious consumers. I will also point out that Green Ronin has, and will continue to, offer sales and special incentives to the hobby tier and I know for a fact that you and your store have benefited from those because I personally helped you move stacks of books to your GenCon booth in advance of our industry-wide sale on our d20-logo products.

So, when I read "...I am insulted that my friends, my business "partners" or "publishing suppliers" value another sales channel so much that they would make a special effort to support that channel over the one I have worked in for 20+ years, and hope to work in for another 20" I will tell you that I match your insult. I am insulted that you feel a sale in response to a marketplace occurrence entitles you to some sort of cut, somewhere, regardless. You characterize our sale as valuing another sales channel but that is not at all true. To use an analogy, if you have a sale on your HD DVDs and a customer complains that they "deserve" a discount on the BluRay DVDs, do they get one? Are you valuing your HD customers over your BlueRay customers, or are you responding to the conditions of the marketplace (in which BluRay sales substantially outstrip HD sales)?

As Green Ronin's General Manager I reserve the right to set the price of our products as we see fit and to engage in marketing and promotion for my company and our products. I don't attempt to micromanage our relationships with our distribution and retail partners and I would appreciate the same respect.

Comments

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Posted by: Evil Head (drivingblind)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 04:02 pm (UTC)

*applause*

Posted by: AnarchAngel (anarchangel23)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 04:13 pm (UTC)

What he said.

Posted by: Matt M McElroy (matt_m_mcelroy)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 04:11 pm (UTC)

Well said.

Thanks for posting this.

Posted by: chrishanrahan (chrishanrahan)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 04:12 pm (UTC)
Sigh

It is so sad that Marcus gets as much mindshare in this "industry" as he does. He himself claims he no longer runs a game store, but rather something he calls an "Entertainment store." But, as always, until the current Old Boys Network manages to finally put itself under...squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Posted by: Donald Dennis (walsfeo)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 04:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Sigh
Smug Pirate Don

Does he? I don't give him any thought. Now I'm glad!

Posted by: Robert N. Emerson (friadoc)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:04 pm (UTC)
Re: Sigh

Posted by: doccross (doccross)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 04:17 pm (UTC)

Give 'em hell, Nik. If GR really wanted to screw over retailers, y'all would just go PDF only.

Posted by: seankreynolds (seankreynolds)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 04:23 pm (UTC)

His statement
{I mean, if the PDF is free, why would anyone ever need the printed book?}
just proves how old and slow his thinking is.

Because, ya know, people don't buy music because they can download it from iTunes, or copy it from the radio.
And people don't ever go to movies because they can watch them for free at home on TV.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: Nikchick (iamnikchick)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)

I already laid some smack down in the GIN the other day re: Dancey and GAMA. I'm thinking I don't want to go into GTS having stirred the hornet's nest again. :)

Posted by: Bryant (bryant)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 04:37 pm (UTC)

Was Marcus going to stop selling (say) Conan: Shem for $12.99 when the MSRP is twenty-five bucks? Or does this ire over undercutting only work one way?

To be perfectly clear, I don't find anything immoral or wrong in either price break.

Edited at 2009-04-09 04:38 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Matthew Goodman (heliograph)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC)

His big profit center at conventions and online is selling game books he's essentially bought at liquidation prices. He used to make buckets of money from it, but he's recently said he's doing fewer conventions to spend more time with his family. Judge that statement for yourself, but PDF sales (of any kind) directly cut into his convention and online biz.

He was one of the ranters about retailers and publishers discounting, and he actually, firmly believed that selling three books at cover and getting a fourth one for free didn't count.

He's actually a decent human being, but he has no filter between brain and mouth. He'll angrily argue a point and then change his mind and argue the opposite as little as a day later.

Posted by: Bryant (bryant)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 06:48 pm (UTC)

Posted by: TechNoir (technoir)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 04:44 pm (UTC)

I for one have bought print books because I saw and liked the pdf. They have encouraged my purchases. Anyone operating a retail store may be loosing sells these days but that is less to do with the PDF market and more to do with the unfortunate price differences between amazon and what you get at a local store. That is more on Amazon and the economy though.

Posted by: Viktor Haag (viktor_haag)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 04:57 pm (UTC)

I for one have also bought PDF books because I saw and liked the print book. I think it goes both ways. For example, it's a relatively inexpensive way for me to ensure that I have enough copies for my gaming group to get a "let's try it out" adventure off the ground efficiently. Previously, the publisher would get one book sale, and we'd try their game for a quarter and then maybe they'd get nothing more.

Now, the publisher would get one book + one PDF sale, and we'd try their game for a quarter, and I think the publisher's chances of getting more sales goes up, because it's more likely that all the people in my gaming group would get more direct exposure to the products in actual play and in a fun and more informed way.

I trust my friends not to abuse this privilege, and would hope that e-publishers see this as reasonable behaviour.

Posted by: Brennan Taylor (bar_sinister)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:14 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Evil Head (drivingblind)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:29 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Viktor Haag (viktor_haag)
Posted at: April 10th, 2009 08:11 pm (UTC)

Posted by: DaveW (dhw)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Viktor Haag (viktor_haag)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 04:50 pm (UTC)

One thing confuses me about this general issue. I understand that brick-n-mortar retailers sometimes complain that PDFs of rulebooks cannibalize their paper sales. I understand that there may, or may not, be actual market data to backup, or dispute, this claim. But establishing the validity of this claim is not really what confuses me.

What confuses me is why I don't see retailers talking about (nor actually doing) sales of the PDF products in their brick and mortar stores!

Why don't game retailers offer to sell PDFs to their customers? They could sell USB keys to customers (and make a bit of profit on those) that come "preloaded/bundles with PDFs of interest". OR they could sell USB keys (and make a bit of profit on those), and a "we fill up your key" service. OR they could just accept their patrons' keys and fill it up for them with PDF products purchased in the store.

Is this really not a plausible business strategy? As a publisher, would you be unwilling to engage in a business agreement with a bricks and mortar store that wanted to sell product like this?

If you were worried about directly accounting for units sold, you could presumably sell pre-loaded USB-keys into the channel yourself to FLGSes, or burned (mini-)CDs?

Instead of retailers complaining about how e-products are drawing customers out of their stores, why don't they try making their stores a place where their local customers can (want to) come by and purchase e-products?

Perhaps this is the crazy talk of someone not well versed in the realities of the hobby business...

Posted by: Nikchick (iamnikchick)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:02 pm (UTC)

Not crazy talk at all. In fact, we've had some in-depth internal discussions about the viability of getting electronic book sales into storefronts, as well as ways to efficiently offer access to electronic/print bundles, among other things. These are definitely things we've been considering actively, but I will admit that attitudes from retailers like Marcus make me wonder if going to the trouble is worth it.

Posted by: dtwatts (dtwatts)
Posted at: April 10th, 2009 03:45 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Paul Weimer (princejvstin)
Posted at: April 15th, 2009 12:44 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Eric Haddock (mysticalforest)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:05 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Jason (jadasc)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:11 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Sabe (sabrecat)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:57 pm (UTC)

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: Daniel M. Perez (highmoonmedia)
Posted at: April 12th, 2009 01:55 am (UTC)

Posted by: Matthew Goodman (heliograph)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Bruce Baugh (bruceb)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)

Posted by: paulchapman (paulchapman)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 08:36 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Bruce Baugh (bruceb)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 08:53 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Nikchick (iamnikchick)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 10:38 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Viktor Haag (viktor_haag)
Posted at: April 10th, 2009 08:21 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Viktor Haag (viktor_haag)
Posted at: April 10th, 2009 08:18 pm (UTC)

Posted by: paulchapman (paulchapman)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 06:56 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Foxbat (foxbat)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 08:44 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Viktor Haag (viktor_haag)
Posted at: April 10th, 2009 08:29 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Eric Trautmann (mercuryeric)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:04 pm (UTC)

I'm a retailer.

I'm all in favor of you guys doing whatever you're doing. Sell a PDF to one of my (or rather OUR) customers? They'll come in and buy books from me when they love what you do.

Good for you, Nik.

I *do* consider us "partners": you guys keep making great stuff, and I'll keep selling it. And if you do lower-cost .PDF releases? Then you're helping advertise the stock on my shelves.

Jesus. How hard is that to understand?

Some people...

-E

Posted by: seankreynolds (seankreynolds)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:33 pm (UTC)

Ladies and gentlemen, we have someone here who GETS IT.

Thank you! :)

Posted by: Autumn Riordan (infinitemorning)
Posted at: April 11th, 2009 02:41 am (UTC)

Posted by: Sam Chupp (sambear)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:04 pm (UTC)

I can't imagine that PDF sales would ever hurt bricks-and-mortar. Didn't I hear of a store giving out burned CDs with PDFs on them to seed buyers? I don't understand what the thinking is here. Oh well. I applaud Green Ronin for supporting the PDF format.

Posted by: Evil Head (drivingblind)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:33 pm (UTC)

Evil Hat goes so far as to:

- Guarantee that if someone buys a print product in a brick and mortar store and can prove it to us, we'll give them a free PDF of what they bought in print.

- Work with Endgame occasionally to do "bundle preorders" in-store. When we've done it, we've worked it so that when customers preordered the book through Endgame, Endgame gave them a burned CD with the PDF on it. Instant gratification, but such that it moves the print volume as well.

Partnership possibilities are there, and as a "hybrid" publisher, I find it really useful to regard PDFs as vehicles for driving print sales. But it takes the attitude of a mammal, not a dinosaur, to make the most of it.

Posted by: Robert N. Emerson (friadoc)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:08 pm (UTC)

Nicely put, Nicole, and it's thoughts and attitudes such as yours, as well as others at Green Ronin, that keep me buying your books, hard and soft copy. Personally I didn't know who the guy was, or would have even known of him or his editorial, until you replied to his out step, old media, thoughts. I mean, I get his position, as a Local Game Store, but when it comes to PDFs they are either bought by folks who want hard and soft copy or by folks who only want soft copy, neither of which change anything for King's retail venue.

Anyhow, well thought out and said.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:13 pm (UTC)

Just a lurker supporting what you said. I'd never heard of this guy before, but he sure is loud and obnoxious.

Posted by: Mike Selinker (selinker)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:20 pm (UTC)

Genuinely curious here:

Do we know whether any meaningful subset of RPG players has gone digital-book only? Is there an audience that's playing face-to-face RPGs surrounded solely by laptops, iPhones, and 256-page printouts?

Mike

Posted by: seankreynolds (seankreynolds)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:33 pm (UTC)

If there is one, his name is Eric Haddock. :)

Posted by: Eric Haddock (mysticalforest)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 06:33 pm (UTC)

Posted by: ronblessing (ronblessing)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:39 pm (UTC)
Electronic books instead of printed...

Posted by: Mike Selinker (selinker)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 06:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Electronic books instead of printed...

Posted by: Bruce Baugh (bruceb)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 06:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Electronic books instead of printed...

Posted by: lemuriapress (lemuriapress)
Posted at: April 10th, 2009 03:29 am (UTC)
Re: Electronic books instead of printed...

Posted by: Mike Selinker (selinker)
Posted at: April 10th, 2009 03:35 am (UTC)
Re: Electronic books instead of printed...

Posted by: seankreynolds (seankreynolds)
Posted at: April 10th, 2009 06:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Electronic books instead of printed...

Posted by: Richard Iorio II (mind_of_richard)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:23 pm (UTC)

I agree with you Nicole.

Posted by: Mistress Redpen (elissa_carey)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 05:26 pm (UTC)

Dear Mr. King: Yes, it is just you.

Posted by: Rechan (rechan)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 06:07 pm (UTC)

I... honestly thought that the guy's post was satire, until I came here.

Posted by: seankreynolds (seankreynolds)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 07:06 pm (UTC)

I wonder: is he going to participate in Free RPG Day, where people can pick up free print RPG products in participating game stores? Should PDF sellers complain that free print products cut into the sales of their PDFs?

Posted by: Steve Creech (ghostwind)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 07:27 pm (UTC)

Yes, he is participating in Free RPG Day at both of his stores.

Posted by: LongStrider (longstrider)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 07:22 pm (UTC)

In additional to all the comments about the various stupidities in his column, I was amazed he thought it was a good idea to open yet another game store in the Kalamazoo/Portage area. It has two stores established years ago, since at least the early 90s before I went to college there which are still in business and doing well from what I could see poking my head in when I was back in town for a wedding this last summer. And I just did a quick web search at it looks like there is at least one and possibly two other games stores in town (they have web presence but it's not clear if they have a store front.) I really question his business savvy if he thinks opening yet another store in a market of less than 250k (that's for the whole county) is actually a good idea.

Posted by: Adam (adamjury)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 08:00 pm (UTC)

You have to bear in mind that Marcus' stores sell gaming stuff, but they also sell a large amount of used CDs, DVDs, novels, video games, etc. They aren't traditional "friendly local game stores."

I don't know if his stores are truly successful or not, but whether they are or aren't, I don't think they're indicative of the potential success or failure of a more traditional game store in a market.

Posted by: Matthew Goodman (heliograph)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 11:49 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Steve Creech (ghostwind)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 07:28 pm (UTC)

Some retailers do get it and will continue to support publishers regardless of what a couple of mis-informed people say and believe.

Posted by: Kenneth Hite (princeofcairo)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 08:18 pm (UTC)

Nicole: You. Wind. Wings.

Posted by: mach1_9pants (mach1_9pants)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 08:23 pm (UTC)

That guy was just bizarre, I cannot get my head around his attitude. Just weird....

Posted by: Ian Sturrock (serpentstar)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 08:32 pm (UTC)

Well put.

I don't see PDF sales, per se, as a significant threat to bricks-and-mortar retailers. If anything, PDF sales are far less of a threat than are online discounters of printed products.

Thing is, though, the worst threat to bricks-and-mortar retailers is themselves. The marketplace changes; retailers, as always, can either adapt or die. Things are getting tougher out there; we're in a worldwide recession, for starters. Still -- whining about things doesn't help. What helps, is ensuring that one runs a game store that people want to support. There are a vast number of ways one can do this; there are even more ways one can run a game store that people don't want to support, though, and many, many retailers are far better at that.

Posted by: incandescens (incandescens)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 09:05 pm (UTC)

Bravo.

Posted by: hoshisabi (hoshisabi)
Posted at: April 9th, 2009 09:37 pm (UTC)
GURPS and Steve Jackson Games

I remember that not too long ago, Steve Jackson Games had an internal debate on whether or not the PDFs of their products caused a drop in sales of their printed copies of the same. Being wise and cautious, they took a slow "wait and see" and measured things.

They now sell the PDFs at about the same time as they sell their printed books, as they found that the PDF market was separate from their print market.

To quote Steve Jackson him directly: (or click the link)


We continue to see no evidence that PDF and hardcopy sales interfere with each other. In fact, PDF releases have created demand for short-run hardcopy editions of several GURPS supplements.


Oh, and just speaking on a personal note: I got the PDF for a bunch of things that weren't available in print, and wait patiently for a hardcopy version of the same. Given the choice, I prefer the hard copies, but I'd rather have a PDF than have a book not written. All of us customers are a little different.

Edited at 2009-04-09 09:38 pm (UTC)

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