It’s a fair question in my book. Is $60 (including postage) too much to pay for a print copy of a RPG rulebook? Obviously it’s not that black and white, so let me clarify. Is $60 too much to pay for an updated version of an old game you’ve either never heard of, or is so rare and expensive that you’ve never been able to see a copy, a game you probably only know of by reputation and a literal handful of informal reviews – if you’ve been curious enough to unearth those reviews through Google?
In the past I’ve blogged a few times about my interest in Dave (now David) Millward’s Heroes RPG, published in 1979 and re-released recently, 33 years later, as an updated version. When the announcement was made I was excited. When it actually happened I was disappointed, as it is to cost non-Brits and non-Europeans a hefty $60 to receive a copy of the new version. With no plans to release a cheaper pdf version this is bad news for many – and I think bad news for David Millward.
Having expressed such thoughts on my blog back in September, yesterday David left a comment on that post justifying the expense of the new version. If you have any interest in the game, or indeed in the economics of amateur publishing (or even the price difference of beer in England over 33 years), I encourage you to go read his reply.
In a nutshell, David compared the price of beer 33 years ago to now, and also the respective costs of the two versions of the game, concluding that “In terms of price inflation, the new edition is actually cheaper than the old one.” Hmmm.
While comparisons between the cost of living way back then and that of now is an interesting exercise, and one that other older RPG publishers have relied on to justify the pricey cost of their newly published materials after a long break from the scene, the simple fact is that the worth of an item is what the average bod is willing to pay for it.
No one denies that an author should receive just compensation for their labours, another issue he talks about in his comment, but if financial remuneration is to be one of the prime goals of the exercise it surely makes sense to enable that to happen as efficiently as possible. I don’t believe David has done so.
Publishing has greatly changed in the last 33 years. Hell, publishing has greatly changed in the last 5. You only have to look at the growing crisis in the global newsprint media and wider print publishing industry to see the reality of the situation. We live in a time when any bugger can self-publish at little or no cost or financial risk. Gone are the days of paying a printer a big wad of cash for a print run of books, which then must be physically transported, stored and then hopefully sold to recoup monies invested, and, if you’re lucky, actually make a profit.
As most of you reading this know, and so I won’t harp on about it, the blessed combination of easy desktop publishing tools and easy access print-on-demand services has enabled authors to produce print products at a greatly reduced cost compared to the old model, thus greatly increasing profits. And it’s only common sense that the cheaper you can offer a product the more likely you’ll increase the amount of customers buying it, with the potential of a much greater total profit than if the customer base was kept much smaller.
The reality of Heroes RPG is that it is an obscure and rare game published 33 years ago. Collectors have generally pushed the price up out of the reach of casual buyers, with the game selling on Ebay for as much as $200. And so the audience of the game has been small in number. When David announced plans to republish the game I had high hopes of it reaching a much larger audience, with an affordable new version being made available. It was never going to be a big seller as not only is it an obscure game, but it is a pseudo-historical game rather than the more popular fantasy genre, which greatly decreases the potential audience. The odds are already stacked against it being a big money spinner for David. It’s a niche game in an already niche market.
However, the opportunity was there to take advantage of a trend within our community of older publishers reviving and re-releasing old games. Myself and others wrote to David and talked about the modern tools of publishing, even offering to volunteer help in bringing the new version to print. Apparently he even replied to some folk. But in the end he chose to go with the old publishing model and as a result he has produced a pile of copies that will now have to be stored and transported. He is at the mercy of the postal system and the customer will have to wear the cost of that, as opposed to the no upfront author costs through PoD publishing and the often cheaper postage rates those companies offer the customer.
A golden opportunity was lost to make an obscure game readily and affordably available, while maximising profit to the author. David’s current decision not to release a pdf version is another lost opportunity, but one I won’t bother discussing in this post as it would be pretty obvious to most of you reading this. Sadly, it seems to me that David’s business decisions will result in Heroes RPG remaining a highly obscure niche product in the already niche old school RPG market.
Is $60 too much to pay to get your hands on a copy of Heroes RPG v1.2? Is it worth that much? All I know is that an item is worth only what a person is willing to pay for it. It cost me $85 all up to get hold of a copy of the original game, and that was bloody cheap compared to what they were selling for at the time. If I’m honest it was a fit of madness, but one I don’t regret. Its collectability was one motivating factor in my spending so much. The sad thing is David didn’t receive a cent from my purchase of his game. And with the price of the new version being not that far behind the price I paid for the collectible original, I’m afraid he’s not going to get a cent from me for that one either, which sadly is an opportunity missed.