Monday, July 11, 2011

Spycraft 2.0 and Print on Demand

The print-on-demand edition of Spycraft 2.0 is a reprint of the last Spycraft product Alderac Entertainment Group produced before they shut down the Spycraft product line. When that happened, the crew behind the Spycraft RPG started Crafty Games in order to continue the line and have since expanded to different RPG genres, most recently developing the Mastercraft game system.

I now have a hardcover edition of the print-on-demand Spycraft 2.0. This version has many fixes from the original run's errata. It also is available in softcover.

This was a re-purchase of the book as I had the original book at one time. A big fan of the original Spycraft, it was difficult for me to let the 1.0 version go in favor of 2.0. The book is rather large. I found it to be too overwhelming and shortly after buying it I shelved it where it sat for many years.

Now my interest is rekindled (I don't know why! I'm quite fascinated with my obsessions coming and going!) and with Spycraft 3rd edition coming soon under the Mastercraft system I longed for this book once again. So here we are. is where I ordered this book. There are many reviews saying how their customer service is great. I'd like to re-affirm this to be true. I made an error in my ordering the book submitting a very old shipping address that was lingering on my account. With one email the issue was resolved and the book was shipped to the corrected location with no problem and rather quickly at that. The whole process took four days- that includes the printing AND shipping.

The hardcover book is an excellent product. It is black and white as opposed to the original's full color production. The paper feels like a lighter grade or weight (however paper is measured) which actually cuts the physical weight of the book quite a bit from what I remember. As mentioned before, the book is updated including errata fixes and a black and white print version of the graphical design. Very well made.

Print-on-demand is an interesting thing. Game books and gamer collectors probably know the frustrations of old and out-of-print books. PDFs are on the rise and probably a majority of gaming products never are even intended to see print. Out-of-print could be a thing of the past (no pun intended), in theory.

My brother has dabbled in print-on-demand with children's books and the market for it seems to be still trying to figure itself out. Here is an interesting blog post about this topic [from The ArtOrder]:

Print On Demand and the gaming industry

Patri Balanovsky -
Leandro A. Pezzente dropped me an interesting question recently concerning Print On Demand (PoD). For those that are not publishing savy, Wikipedia defines PoD as:
Print on demand (POD), sometimes called publish on demand, is a printing technology and business process in which new copies of a book (or other document) are not printed until an order has been received. “Print on Demand” developed only after digital printing began, because it was not economical to print single copies using traditional printing technology such as letterpress and offset printing.
Many traditional small presses have replaced their traditional printing equipment with POD equipment or contract their printing out to POD service providers. Many academic publishers, including university presses, use POD services to maintain a large backlist; some even use POD for all of their publications. Larger publishers may use POD in special circumstances, such as reprinting older titles that had been out of print or for performing test marketing”
PoD sounds like the magic bullet for everyone that doesn’t have the funding or demand to print the thousands of documents necessary to hit the “minimum print run” required by most traditional printers, doesn’t it? And that goes right to the heart of Leandro’s question:
“My question is related to “PRINTING ON DEMAND” concept , like the one Pinnacle Publishing uses for “Savage Worlds” . More throughly i wanted to know , why such a simple concept that could save Publishing companies thousands of dollars and help to drastically reduce piracy is such a hard one for publishing houses to adopt.”
Sounds like a no-brainer doesn’t it? I wish it were that simple. We are starting to see companies adopting e-pub, and PoD strategies, but it is not a decision to jump into lightly. Wizards of the Coast has been investigating all of these publishing options for a while, and I have dealt with the same considerations personally here on ArtOrder. Let’s talk for a few minutes about this issue . . .
Everyone is quick to talk about the cost savings for PoD. There is a little realized fallacy in this statement. Everyone thinks that there is no cost associated with PoD, and that isn’t really the whole story. Yes, it is true that the publisher does not pay for printing – there is actually a cost for printing. But instead of the publisher bearing the initial cost and then passing it along to the consumer – now the customer bears the cost directly from the printer. Many folks tell me “so what’s the difference? I have to pay for the book either way.” So true, but here’s the twist:
Twist #1
Everyone believes that the company is saving money because they don’t have any printing costs – which should result in a saving on the end product. Wrong! While the publisher doesn’t incur a printing cost, the consumer still has to pay for the printing, and they aren’t getting a quantity discount either – so they actually end up paying more for the printing.
Let’s take a real-world example. I’ve got a book for sale on Blurb. The development costs are fixed for me whether I print traditionally or through Blurb. So I didn’t save any money by printing PoD. I have a set “profit*” amount that I need to make for each book, and that wouldn’t change which printing method I use. If I were able to print a minimum of 1000 books, and use my print broker in China on the Lovecraft Creature Lab book I could bring the book onshore for less than $5 each.
$5 for publishing with broker, with volume discount
$5 for profit*
$0 for development (thanks to the volunteer work of Aaron Miller)
$10 Retail Price
Let’s compare that to PoD
$14.89 for publishing with Blurb
$5 for profit*
$0 for development
$19.89 Retail Price
Did you notice anything? The cost to produce the product didn’t diminish in any way, and the cost to the consumer actually increased. Not really cheaper to either the publisher or the customer, is it?
*All ArtOrder products have only a $5 mark-up (whether digital or PoD). This money is used to defer costs of running the blog and community, and to raise funds for ArtOrder scholarships.
Twist #2
As a publisher, when I deal with a printer to print a product I tend to have options. I love options! I can pick certain papers to improve or influence the consumer experience. I can choose print options to affect price, shelf presence, durability, and a million other variables. When I deal with PoD I normally have just a few printing options – sizes, formats, papers stock and finish, cover stocks and finishes, and so many other aspects of the printing process. Because of this, I have very limited options to tailor the customer experience. While this doesn’t really affect my costs, it does affect my perceived value – which in turn affects my ability to set a specific price point on my product. This often directly affects my ability to set a retail price that allows for an appropriate profit or development level.
Twist #3
This is the hardest one to illustrate and get folks to understand. Development costs . . .
Let’s look back at the previous examples. In the traditional model, I would figure out development costs by taking the total development cost and dividing it by the total quantity of books produced to get my development cost per book. Let’s pretend that Allen had charged me a reasonable fee to produce and layout the book. Let’s also pretend that I billed for my time directing, marketing, and various other activities around the development of the book. Let’s pretend that we amassed a development bill of $5000. Modest development costs for a book. So, when I take the traditional model this is where we end up:
$5 for publishing with broker, with volume discount
$5 for profit*
$5 for development ($5000 development cost/1000 books published)
$15 Retail Price
Okay, that probably makes sense right? Not to complicated, is it? I’ve got development costs, printing costs, a target profit level and that gives me my retail price (wish it were that simple in real life…).
Now, what happens when I choose to go PoD. Remember, the reason we are going PoD is usually because we feel we can’t pay the print fees out of our pocket (cash flow issue), or we don’t think we can sell enough copies to hit the minimum print run. In this case we are going to deal with the minimum print run issue. So we don’t think we can sell 1000 copies of the book. Do we think we can sell 100, 200 or 300 copies? We have to decide, and we have to be right. Why? Remember what we need to set our retail price? Print, development and profit numbers. Let’s take a look at an example, and let’s assume we think we can sell 300 copies of the book.
$14.89 for publishing with Blurb
$5 for profit*
$16.67 for development ($5000 development cost/300 books sold)
$35.56 Retail Price
See what just happened to out retail cost? It significantly jumped, didn’t it? Why is this a big issue? If everyone else can produce and sell a similar book with a retail value of $15 (from our traditional model), and we are producing a book for $35.56 – how do we deal with the customers expectations they have for paying twice as much for a comparable book? And what about the risk? I hear you thinking – “What risk? You printed PoD, there isn’t any risk?” Wrong. Remember, I made an assumption that I’d sell 300 books. Let’s pretend that I wasn’t able to convince folks that my $36 dollar book was worth buying when my competitors were selling for $15, and I only sold 100 copies of the book. What does that do to my pricing model?
$14.89 for publishing with Blurb
$5 for profit*
$50 for development ($5000 development cost/100 books sold)
$69.89 Retail Price
But wait, I didn’t sell it for $69.89, I sold it for $35.56. What happens then?
Gross income – 100 books @ 35.56 = +$3556
print costs – 100 books @ $14.89 = – $1489
Development costs = – $5000
profit = -$2933
Holy cow! That hurts, doesn’t it? You did notice the negative symbol in front of that number, didn’t you? Forget the idea of profit. Heck, forget the idea of even covering your development costs.
So, does PoD seem like the magic bullet still? Is it a useful tool? Sure! Is it a great way to develop certain products? Sure! Is it a great way to lose your shirt? It can be. This is the whole reason companies don’t just jump straight into this technology. They have to understand the limitations of the tech, the customers perceptions, and the risks involved. As this industry matures, I except to see more and more publishers move into this technology – but it will not be the massive cost savings that many customers think they will see, nor will it be the ‘get rich quick’ path that many self-publishers hoped it would be.
Great question!

Good Night by Batfish73

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