Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The pdf market today

The Fantasy Cartographic has released products only in pdf.  We may, at some point, go to print, but that isn't in the cards at this time.  Something that I’ve noticed is that the PDF market for Dungeons & Dragons is very different today than what it has been at any time up to this point. I say that based on the number of publishers currently putting out 4E material and the number of products that are currently available on RPGNow.com. Although I didn’t track 3.xE very closely, as I’ve said before, I feel that the number and pace of products being released for 4E is lower than what had been released for 3E. One could argue that the previously overly restrictive GSL is to blame, however with the revisions released last February, I would have thought that more publishers would be putting out material. A separate point but perhaps pertinent is the fact that a large number of Pathfinder titles are being released right now at RPGNow, as is material for other rpgs and other types of products. Is it possible that the 4E market for third party material just isn’t there? As someone who is attempting to put out 4E material, I hope that is not the case.

But it might be.  The announcement from One Bad Egg early last fall that they were closing up shop and ceasing production might have been an early sign. This came as a surprise to many people who felt, like I did, that One Bad Egg was one of the premier 4E publishers in the PDF market. You can read about their decision here. They listed two main reasons for ceasing production. The first is their sales numbers, which they didn’t feel was at a level sustainable for them is a company. From a business perspective, this makes the ultimate sense as sales drive profitability, and businesses need to remain profitable to continue to exist. To me, however, their second reason is more interesting. They felt that the quality of material that WotC is putting out and the quality and quantity of material that is available at D&D Insider makes it very difficult for small publishers. (I hope that I am not putting words into their mouths or misrepresenting any of their reasons for making their decision. This is merely my interpretation is of their announcement from last September.)

What I find curious is that Wizards has always produced good quality material. I wonder if DDI is such a game changer. Perhaps it is. It has been commented at other places in the blogosphere that third party publishers in general are not doing as well in the age of 4E. Whether that is a result of DDI, the current quality of Wizards material, or some other factor is, I believe, unknowable.

If the market for D&D material from third party publishers is in fact different than at any time before, what does that mean to me and perhaps to others as small press publishers of roleplaying materials? I believe that it means this: Basing a business strategy on the production of 4E materials is a decision that cannot be taken lightly. If the expectation of gaming material quality is extremely high (in other words expensive to produce) and the potential sales are low, 4E is a market that should only be entered with caution. Perhaps it would be better to enter the market for other gaming systems. Perhaps the market for Pathfinder, 3E, or even one of the retro-clones is stronger than that for 4E at RPGNow and elsewhere.

In the case of the Fantasy Cartographic, we are interested in pursuing both markets: some small releases for 4E complemented by releases in support of one or more of the retroclone rulesets.  However, dividing our efforts between the two stylistic extremes of the gaming market is a path probably best not followed.  Targeting the OSR might make better sense for us.

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