I usually steer clear of reporting gaming news here on TT (there are other sites that are much better for news, like Gaming Report and EN World), but this item has the potential to have an impact on the GMing community.
As you may have heard RPGNow and DriveThruRPG, the two largest PDF retailers on the web, have merged to form OneBookShelf. How will this impact GMs?
One byproduct of this merger is that the new commission rate (the slice OneBookShelf takes out of every sale) is, for many publishers, higher than it was before. At the time of this writing, at least one major PDF publisher, Expeditious Retreat Press, has raised the issue that OneBookShelf doesn’t seem to be offering anything new in exchange for taking a bigger piece of the pie.
On the flipside, PDF buyers may benefit from having one large catalog (as the old sites merged their product catalogs) in one place, rather than having to sign up at two sites. And, of course, it remains to be seen what will actually happen — will OBS create additional sales for publishers? Will the majority of PDF publisher raise their prices (low prices being one of the principle benefits of PDFs for many gamers) to compensate for the higher commissions? (RPG Blog just posted about a petition to OBS to reduce their commission, which currently has 212 signatures.)
What I’m curious about is how you think this merger will affect you as a GM. Do you buy a lot of PDFs? Are you dead set against the merger, or do you like the prospect of having one uber-retailer for PDFs? I welcome your thoughts, opinions and feedback.
as a disclaimer, i’m the evil overlord behind Dire Press, a small publisher currently selling through RPGNow. so i’m kinda directly affected by all this.
that said, a) we’re fortunate in that our commission rate isn’t changing, and we won’t be changing our pricing, b) there are many other vendors who will not be changing pricing for various reasons, c) it remains to be seen exactly how the higher commission rate will be used. the merger was announced less than a week ago, and the parties involved have been busy in that time coordinating catalogs and the like. it seems premature to say that vendors aren’t getting anything in exchange, when OBS hasn’t had much time to detail their future plans.
as i understand it (and mind that i have no special insider understanding of it), the plan is to continue DTRPG and RPGNow as separate storefronts only until the OneBookShelf website is complete and ready to rule them all. at that point they will either go away completely or become skins on the OBS storefront (much as the EWGS is now a skin on the RPGNow storefront). OBS will inheirit the best features of both, using the gestalt character rules.
as a GM, i’m kind of looking forward to it. in the near term, it makes it a bit easier to buy stuff. some publishers may be forced to raise their prices, but these are largely the sorts of publishers who have always struggled to ensure that their products are a good value first, and i’m happy to continue to support them. in the long term, if OBS is successful in growing the PDF market, then i expect to see more publishers jumping in and more interesting things.
As a DM, I think I’ll appreciate having one site to go to for my PDF needs. Frankly, I’m just a customer; I don’t have to power to tell someone how to run their business, except for taking my business elsewhere.
Regarding the higher margins: Competition is almost always good, but I’ve seen competition take out all the players in a limited market (like two comic shops in a small town). If the new margin is indeed “too high”, then surely someone will come up with a cheaper competitor.
I’m a bit confused on one of the DRM issues that Alan refers to. Is OneBookShelf merely offering the option of DRM? If so, how is that choice automatically a bad thing?
One site (OBS) will help eliminate confusion but will it result in 15% more sales to offset the 15% rate hike (or more) for most publishers?
It’s something of a fallacy to believe that a large portion of PDF purchasers are “drive by” in nature and window shop. Data supports that most purchases are via direct link; you go and buy one specific product and then leave.
Ancillary sales are more common, but that’s within a company’s existing catalog. That’s unlikely to change with the merger, as pre-merger you were already looking at a company’s entire catalog.
I think upset PDF publishers have every reason to be concerned; OBS has offered no clear indication what the 15% rate hike buys a PDF publisher. They promise increased advertising but have yet to outline a plan.
One would hope that they would, at least, finally update the RPGNow front-end that is a travesty in UI design and usability. A large portion of why I’ve not bought PDFs (quality aside) is my lack of desire to try to navigate their site.
Since RPGNow seems to have sold my email address to spammers, I have been avoiding doing business with them. Having fewer options of who to buy PDFs from probably means I will buy fewer PDF products.
sorry, one last thing. the 15% increase in commission rate is (at most), *not* (or more). the worst case is a vendor selling at ENWorld (20%) or grandfathered at RPGNow’s old rate (20%, which has not been available to new vendors for a couple of years now) going to non-exclusive association with OBS (35%). obviously, there are some in that category, and that’s unfortunate. there are many others which are looking at less or no impact.
there is precisely one vendor which i am aware of which is looking at a change of more than 15%, and that is ENWorld Publishing itself, since they are no longer selling through their own storefront for free. they have seemed optimistic about the matter, all things considered.
My reference to “or more” was that OBS could certainly raise rates again.
Next month 40%?
Next year 45%?
Not having seen the OBS contract, one wonders when the next rate hike will be. When is too much — literally — too much?
RPGNow could raise my rates right now. so could have ENWorld, so could my ISP, my phone company, or wendy’s. as it is the 99 cent value menu is becoming no more than a fond memory. that the price of services you rely on to run your own business could go up at any time for any or no reason whatsoever is a fact of life, not something to be paranoid about. businesses adjust or die.
and, sorry, not having seen the OBS contract? i’d assumed that you’d done at least a little research before commenting.
Personally, I don’t like DRM at all, so any things that get DRM’ed on me are an automatic no-sell. Watermarks are OK, since they can actually have value to me as a GM/Player if I leave hardcopies of books somewhere, since the watermark ensures there’s something that says who the item belongs to.
Therefore, if I start seeing appreciably larger quantities of DRM’ed PDFs, my purchases will go down and as a GM, I’ll just avoid the shops that require them.
I don’t usually buy PDF type products, finding PDF’s more suited to things like quick starts, character sheets, or other free content. I don’t mind paying for an electronic copy of something if it’s worthwhile, but if I’m going to be shelling out money I prefer to have the hard copy on my bookshelf.
Being a producer of content, it would suck to suddenly find that my avenue of choice to publish, left me with absolutely no avenue of choice. The RPG market is small enough as it is. Gaurdians of Order just couldn’t make it in this “soft” market. With only one major place to go to for PDF content, it becomes even harder, especially if they are giving their content producers a shitty deal.
There is the option of selling it yourself, but you lack the exposure of an RPGnow, DrivethruRPG, etc. Everyone will want to put their content on OBS, and everyone will eventually accept whatever price hikes OBS wants to charge. If they’re making content to turn a profit they’ll have to raise their prices. I’ve already seen some PDF content priced at $20 dollars and above. I’m not paying $20 dollars for a computer file, for what I could pay $30 dollars to have as a book. The whole PDF for RPGs has been an interesting ride, but I don’t think this is a good next step for it.
Alan: I believe the plan is to do what you said for now — keep RPGN and DTRPG running — but to eventually merge them into a unified OBS site. Having two storefronts wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense over the long term, IMO.
drow: Good point about the possibility that only the smallest PDF publishers having to change their prices. It’s possible that the merger may have the unintended side effect of reducing some of the glut at the low end of the PDF market — the products that very few people want or buy.
and, sorry, not having seen the OBS contract? iâ€™d assumed that youâ€™d done at least a little research before commenting.
No need to be snarky. I did a bit of research, and while I read their FAQ I didn’t see a publicly available contract. Is there one out there?
Telas: I believe you’re right about OBS offering the option of DRM to publishers. This was how DTRPG was able to convince some of the larger print publishers to dip their feet into the PDF pool, and it seems to have worked for them.
In general, I think I agree that as a GM I will be better served by a single site. I’m just not sure they picked the best route to go, based on what we’ve seen so far. That could certainly change.
Abulia: I couldn’t agree more about the front end — actually, on both sites, not just on RPGNow. I’ve always hated navigating both DTRPG and RPGN, partly because it feels like 1997 calling and partly because it can be such a fussy process.
If the folks behind OBS are reading this, please take this one to heart. Lean, simple and attractive is the way to go for the OBS interface.
Kestral: My gut feeling is that the quantity of DRMed PDFs won’t change much, if at all. A lot of publishers (rightly so, IMO) don’t like it either, and it’s not being forced on them.
John: It will definitely be interesting to see if any of the larger PDF publishers shift their marketing efforts away from OBS and towards their own storefronts. I doubt many of the biggies will pull out of OBS — they’ve already signed up, and even if they make less per sale, why lose those sales? — but I could see a shift in focus.
I also am with a publisher (Tabletop Adventures), and we are excited about this new development in the industry. Drow has already given out a lot of good information. Let me add that some time ago, DriveThru RPG switched to watermarking as its main form of file security. I don’t know if it’s even possible for publishers to still use DRM, though it may be. It is definitely not common, and not all publishers there even use the watermarking option.
There are also other choices of sellers in the PDF market. Both Paizo and e23 (the PDF version of Steve Jackson’s Warehouse 23) have active, stable electronic sales sites that are viable choices for publishers and customers. It is true that their market share is small compared to OneBookShelf, but especially with their company affiliations, they are not likely to be driven out of the market even by large competitors.
I’m sure there will be changes coming in the PDF market, but we are confident that this is going to be a good time to be in the PDF business.
You may want to take a step back and a deep breath before posting ultra-defensive again. I’m interested in a civil discourse on the merits and pitfalls of the merger and the business implications. If you’re not, please feel free to bow out.
Yes, rate hikes happen. Are they built into the contract? In exchange for a lower processing fee and signing an “exclusive deal” is my rate guaranteed to be locked in place for a year or more? These — and other considerations — are the types of things that a publisher should be looking for.
Also in regards to rate hikes, as competition dwindles so does a publisher’s protection. Already publishers are abandoning OBS for smaller competitors, unwilling to work with a company that raises rates with only 24 hours notice. That doesn’t strike me as a good business practice on the part of OBS or a way to engender a good faith working relationship in a time of transition. Also, many publisher’s business models do not account for an unplanned hike of 15% without notice.
Could you afford an across the board 15% hike in utilities, rent, and cost of goods with 24 hours notice?
So what does a company do? Ride it out and hope for the best? Civil disobedience? Try the grass on the other side (e23)? It will be very interesting to watch these events unfold.
A number of people (gives Cassandra a friendly wave!) have stated they’re happy/pleased/hopeful about the merger, yet they never seen to articulate *why*. Whereas those who have concerns do articulate why and are berated for it.
A successful business model is not built entirely upon hope, IMO. 🙂
Cassandra: I’m not sure why, but I didn’t realize that e23 and Paizo.com were open to smaller publishers. I thought they mainly stocked SJG and WotC PDFs, respectively.
If you don’t mind, what aspects of the OBS merger are you excited about as a publisher? I’m especially interested in your perspective, since TTA publishes exclusively GMing material.
(Abulia) You may want to take a step back and a deep breath before posting ultra-defensive again.
I already reminded drow of this, there’s no need for a second reminder. Civil discourse is always the goal here on TT. 🙂
Reading your comment made me think about what Phil “Ronin Arts” Reed said on EN World — he thought he was a partner in the PDF industry, and he didn’t feel like one when he saw this news (paraphrasing, of course).
I don’t think the PDF industry would look the way it looks now without Phil, who has been hugely successful (on the PDF scale) with what started as essentially a one-man show. It’s definitely a surprise to hear that big fish like Phil apparently weren’t given any advance notice about the merger or the rate hike.
Well said on both fronts, drow and Abulia.
This is clearly a touchy subject, which is precisely why I think OBS could have handled it better. 😉
Martin asked: “If you donâ€™t mind, what aspects of the OBS merger are you excited about as a publisher?”
The first reason I am excited is a personal (even selfish) reason – I’m the one that does most of the uploading of products for Tabletop Adventures, and now I only have to do it once to cover RPGNow, DTRPG and EN World. Before the merger and affiliate site, I had to do it three times, in three different formats, which was frustrating and sometimes time-consuming. That change alone is enough to give me a favorable first impression of the merger. 🙂
We also think that the marketing efforts of RPGNow and DTRPG combined can do a lot to increase the visibility of the PDF market in general, more than when separate and sometimes at odds with each other. We encounter many people who are either completely unaware of the availability of gaming material in PDF, or think it’s just old products from WotC. There is a lot of room to increase the market share of PDFs in general, and we believe Tabletop Adventures will ultimately benefit from that.
Most of our products are specifically written to be of use as impulse purchases – our motto of “Buy It Today, Play It Tonight” isn’t just hyperbole. Although we are starting to move into print products, the electronic delivery model is a good one for TTA, and so the more people who become PDF customers in general, the better off we will be.
I’m not a publisher, but I am a frequent purchaser of pdfs. I’m of two minds about the whole affair. I think they could’ve handled aspects of the merger better. I don’t know the reasoning behind the rate increase to comment on that.
I do like the combined catalogs. I frequented RPGNow and DTRPG, and personally thought RPGNow much easier to navigate — and far, far, better than the abomination that was ENWorld’s game shop.
I’ve never bought DRM, and never intend to. If anything, fewer and fewer products are being offered as DRM. I have no objection to watermarking, as it doesn’t restrict my use at all.
Cassandra: Thank you for elaborating — it was good to hear your perspective.
Bill: Yeah, the quotes page thing is a bit weird. Hopefully a misstep, not a sign of things to come.
Nellisir: Thanks for the feedback. My sense is that your POV is shared by quite a lot of folks.
It totally amazes me about the amount of misinformation presented here. Rate change: 0, 5, or 10% depending on the publisher (not 15+). DTRPG has also initiated an affiliate rebate to give publishers 10% back on certain sales.
No one is forcing DRM on anybody. Some publishers won’t sell PDFs without it – they use it. Mostly everyone else is fine with watermarking or nothing at all.
Price increases, while likely, have been a long time coming. Someone made a comment elsewhere about how people don’t complain when the jeans they buy go up a buck. If prices go up by 50 cents will you even notice? Everyone is talking like $5 PDFs will suddenly sell for $20 or $10 ones for $30.
And while I like Phil Reed and have a good working relationship with him, don’t mistake his success for growing the market single-handedly. Lots of folks helped do that, especially the under-appreciated freelancers who contribute a great deal. One of those contributors was also RPGNow, who spent tens of thousands of dollars on advertising to find those customers.
I’m not for or against rpgnow/DTRPG, but facts are facts.
Whereas those who have concerns do articulate why and are berated for it.
Abulia, this has proven itself to be true. Your position is sound, even if not irrefutable. Responses, on any side of a discussion, should address the point, not make it seem unreasonable to hold the position being discussed.
If one decides to identify flaws in someone’s position, one ought to support the statement during the ‘correction’. This allows the point to be discussed and, possibly, errors to be revealed. Errors on either side. It also invites others to join the conversation, rather than turning them away if they don’t like the tone of the discourse.
For example, allow me to disagree with a statement in the previous comment. People do complain about price changes. For example, the increase in movie prices is still something that folks commonly complain about. Gas price complaints sound familiar to anyone? Incidentally, both of those products have caused widespread discussion across the nation. How about the rising cost of cable TV? (This is how satelite TV was able to gain a foothold, and now the competition helps the consumer by applying downward pressure on prices.) There have even been legislatures that have responded to local pressure by enacting requested legislation. (Eg. capping local revenue from tax on gasoline.)
In any event, civil discourse should be our goal here. Not ‘winning’ an argument by silencing the other side.
Ramza, your statement about people complaining about price changes is accurate up to the point where it relates to the matter at hand. There have been no significant consumer price changes yet – and this is a single event right now as opposed to continually changing gas or movie prices. It is not exactly the same. How can you complain about something that has yet to occur? It can be a concern, sure, but people are outright suggesting that no one will be able to afford PDFs anymore.
What I’m suggesting is that people should be more rational and express more level-headed concerns rather than wild ideas.