Monday, December 26, 2011

PDF Pricing

I've been reading a few marketing books on my time off (do I know how to have a good time or what) and came upon the controversial subject on pricing PDFs.  I know as a fiction writer the rates for writing are pretty much as they were in the late 60s, early 70s with a lot less avenues of opportunity.  These days with electronic self-publishing though writers can make a decent income without the need of a magazine or publishing house.  With POD we have a more control of our writing, presentation and pricing.   

Knowledge Illuminates at this time has netted me $193.05.  After you take out the OGL and stat blocks it is a 5400 word manuscript.  That works out at .035 cents word with the ability to increase.  This is about what I would make if I wrote for an RPG company and less if I were selling a short story.  All of them have different rates, but the few I have seen, none go over 3 cents.  Once an editor/owner/whatever the title is that controls the purse strings likes your work and you become more reliable, he will pay more.  But many gaming companies are not accepting submission.

So after all the above veering off the path I want to swing this blog back to its original intent, the pricing of PDFs.  Your PDFs. And back to the book I was reading.  Here are the guidelines I saw for short PDFs (this was written in 2005).  These numbers are coming from ePublishing 101.

Pages          Base Cost
1-5                   $1
6-7                   $1.25
8-9                   $1.50
10-11               $1.75
12-14               $2
15-17               $2.50
18-20               $3.00

Additional Factors
Appropriate  Artwork +$1
Established, Respected Publisher/Writer +$1

The one thing I see now on RPGNow is there is no standard.  You will see a 100 page product priced at $1 and a 32 page product sitting at $32.  I know when Troll Lord Games released their Castle Keepers Guide on PDF for over $30 I was thinking it would never sell.  It's a silver seller.  I am Mongoose, and so can you! at $23.96 is a copper seller even though it is only 37 pages.  But these guys are well established and well liked.

For me, I try to figure out how much I would like to make with each sale.  With Knowledge Illuminates I wanted to make $2 after RPGNow took their cut and costs were factored in.  With my upcoming Starter Adventures I would like to make $3 PDF.  PDF pricing for me is much easier because all I need to do is subtract what the seller percentage which is set.  No matter how big or small, cheap or expensive, RPGNow takes35% for non-exclusive sales.  So I make 65 cents per dollar.  To make $3 I need to sell my PDF for $5.  Will that be too much?  Sales will dictate if I was wrong.  It will all come down to if people believe they got value for their money.  And that does not mean bloat the manuscript with additional material, but to streamline and make the material as assessable to the reader as possible.

EDIT: Forgot to add my last paragraph.  With production values increasing so have the prices.  With LOFP recent releases and the recent release of Weird Tales the OSR is becoming more professional and proficient at producing products.  And of course with that the PDFs have increased.  To me you have to ask yourself three questions:  How good is your product?  How many you would like to sell?  And is it a product that people want? 

I'm done.  Now go outside and play.


  1. Thanks for the post! We're in the midst (and have been for a while) of is the *democratization* of media production and it's so exciting!--a Cthulhu like resurgence of pulp markets, if you will. In terms of OSR: folks like you and others continue to wrest creative control of our hobby from companies driven by profit margins who make flaccid games dreamed up by number crunchers and demographic analyzers (err... probably hyberbole, but I like how it reads!). In terms of fiction, new markets like *Stupefying Stories* and other e-presses/magazines have generated all sorts of new possibilities for fiction writers. Thus, the logic of artistic quickenings reaches critical mass: folks who are driven by visceral passion and *not* profit come to produce products that produce profit. Say that 3 times. Thanks again!

  2. Let me just rewind a bit and say that not all folks who work for big game companies are "number crunchers" and "demographic analyzers": being friends with one or two of them, they are just as passionate as any of us I think. Sorry, sorry!

  3. Interesting post, Tim. Pricing of the pdf was something I spent a bit of time thinking about before the release of Weird Adventures. I looked at pdfs on RPGNow (and like you say, they're all over the place) and also considered thing like the pricing of the hardcopies to follow. Given the money I spent on art (more than I initially budgeted, actually) it will be interesting to see if I break even, much less make a profit.

    I don't regret doing it, though--it's a hobby. Nor would I charge much more for a pdf of this size than I am now doing, unless I upped the quality some (full color, etc.). The only thing I would do differently in the future is have a complete outline before I started to commission art, so I would have a better idea of what I needed. That would help keep costs down.

  4. Interesting post! I have no plans to sell PDFs and am generally not that interested in the business side of things for RPGs, but I enjoy "peek behind the curtain" posts like this one. Reading someone's thought process about a business decision like pricing their product is enlightening for me. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Jason > Like that passion. Although my primary intent is to have fun, but I don't mind making a bit of money. As you can see on my left hand column I spend a lot of dough on gaming stuff and sometimes it's nice to have a small stash of money earned from gaming, for gaming. And no worries about clumping them all together. When the flagship of our hobby is run as it has been run then your comment is not unfounded.

    Trey > Anyone who gets Weird Adventures is going to discover every penny they have spent is worth it. And that your blog is a giant free supplement that goes with The City. But yeah, doing a budget is critical. I know doing the art for starter Adventures has been a lot easier because of Jason and John. They have been very helpful.

    onlinedm > Glad you enjoy because I do to. Love the peeks. I am about as open about my business dealings as you can get and will continue to do so.

  6. This is a very interesting post, and I wish there were more posts like it.

    I find it interesting b/c I'm in the early process of thinking about pricing for an adventure of my own. It has been done as a labour of love, with lots of original art, so I don't see myself making money on it. Having said that I still have no idea what to charge.

  7. Kilt > Labour of love is a good thing. Making a little pizza money by doing your labour of love is a great thing. And just so you know, no matter what you charge some people will say it is too much. Happened to me. And that's okay. Put it out at the price you want. If you think its worth $10 or $1 that's how much it's worth. I hope to see it out soon and let me know when it is.

  8. I've asked this question over at the Tavern, and this is the best answer I've seen yet.

    Hooray! for beer and pretzel money! :)

  9. If you are making a print copy available, I think it's a good idea to bundle it with the PDF - so that you get the PDF for free if you buy the hardcopy (we did this via Bits and Mortar for ACKS) and if you buy the PDF you get a coupon to apply the purchase price toward picking up the print version (for ACKS, the partnership with Game Salute makes this easy). This bundle changes the math some; the pricing for print copies is more standard (and involves costs that are easier to calculate), so if you are treating the PDF as a way for people to see whether they want to use the coupon to invest in the hardcopy, you can do the "how much do I want to make" calculation based on print.