Sunday, April 2, 2017

D&D 5e: Scads of People Really Really Want Legal PDFs

On Saturday, April 1st, I shared a little fake news story about Wizards of the Coast finally selling PDFs for the D&D 5th Edition core rulebooks.

And it got a lot of attention. A CRAP LOAD, one might even say.

Let me give some perspective. I am a nobody in the RPG blogging world. I mean, I have a small amount of recognition on Google+ and the regulars on the D&D Facebook communities may vaguely recall the name of my blog... maybe. But really, I don't get a lot of traffic compared to some more "famous" bloggers. Last year, a really active month was 15,000 to 20,000 page views for the whole month. Lately, a good month is in the mid to upper 20's.

In one day the PDF "press release" article got about 13,000 page views in ONE DAY. That's more than half of my monthly traffic from all of February, and about 45% of the March total.

So, clearly, it got a lot more attention in the community than a typical post. So what does that tell me?

People really want those f@&%ing PDFs to be a reality.

So why doesn't Wizards of the Coast sell the rulebook PDFs?


The fact is, it makes no f@&%ing sense that they would not. The pirated PDFs are out there and super easy to find. One Google search away. Hell, even Bing has them in the search engine. Bing!!!

Not selling the PDFs has not stopped piracy of the books at all.

Let me repeat that for the back row. Not selling the rule book PDFs has not stopped the piracy of them.

This means that Wizards of the Coast is literally leaving the easiest revenue they could possibly make unclaimed. They are walking away from a sure thing. People want to buy the legal PDFs of the books. How do I know?  Hundreds of comments and reactions on Facebook and Google+... and as I note, I am a tiny sample size of the RPG community, yet I saw an overwhelming reaction to my post.

There is ample evidence that this works fabulously for other RPG companies. Paizo, Pelgrane Press, Troll Lord Games, Steve Jackson Games, Goodman Games, Monte Cook Games, Catalyst, Evil Hat... Hell, Fred Hicks gives FATE away and people still pay him for copies. Basically, every other publisher in the industry offers PDFs of their rules and supplements.

So why the hell is Wizards not grabbing what is essentially free money for them? They have the sales infrastructure through DM's Guild. They have the digital files (which they had to re-layout for the Basic rules PDF). It would be sooooo easy.

That leaves only 2 possible business explanations:

1) They are idiots.

I don't believe this. As much shit as I give WotC on this blog, I know they understand the market.

2) They want to make it hard to have a legal digital copy.

This is more likely. Why #2?  Because that means we will pay $50 to have a digital copy of the PHB in Fantasy Grounds or Roll 20... and then we might pay another $50 to have all the PHB content (not just the SRD which is missing a bunch of shit) within D&D Beyond... and maybe even a subscription... and perhaps even more money in another app elsewhere.

Basically, by making the digital content as hard to use as possible, they hope we are re-buying the same content across multiple platforms instead of paying for a PDF that is portable to multiple operating systems and hardware form factors.

The Wizards of the Coast business model in action.

That is the only business reason I can come up with... and yet it is still filled with stupidity because the pirated PDFs are already out there, and we will use them given no legal alternative (which we are more than willing to pay for).

[UPDATE: I thought of the other reason: non-competition with the Friendly Local Game Store... but there are options that could be explored through brick and mortor channels to mitigate this issue.Jon Lemich notes the "Bits & Mortar" program as one of them.]

Let's do some back-of-the-napkin math... Let's say, out of the 13,000 readers (now nearly 15,000), 1/10th of my readers might actually be serious about purchasing one of the rulebook PDFs. That's 1500 people... Likely a tiny fraction of the number of actual potential customers.

At $50 per PDF, 1500 copies is $75,000 in revenue... That pays for one year's salary of a low-level editor (including benefits) that could put together that PDF from the existing publishing files in a matter of days. But we know 1300 is an unrealistically low number of the people that would buy one of those $50 PDFs.

Let's say that it's more like 10,000 customers. That $500,000 in revenue. Half a million for several days work of an editor.

Now, to be even somewhat competitive, Wizards should be offering some discount on the PDF price. Unlike a hard back, you have no printing cost. The distribution cost is negligible because of DM's Guild, and the amount of editing required to make the existing digital files have all the bookmarks and other PDF niceties is really not all that much work... so even at a $20 to $30 PDF price, you are still making crap loads of profit, and very likely increasing the number of customers to make up for the lower price. Hell, the hardbacks are less than $30 through Amazon and we all know how well those books did when they were first released. A PDF priced at $25 would probably make a million in revenue the first week or two.

So Wizards... Seriously... WTF?

For Pete's sake, Chris Cocks and Mike Mearls -- Talk to Hasbro and tell them how stupid it is to leave all this money on the table. What more evidence do you need? Put out one of those damn Survey Monkey questionnaires you love so much.

Q1: Would you pay for a legal PDF of the Player's Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide?

A: Yes.
B: Hell yes.
C: Seriously? You are finally asking this 3 years late?

Q2: How much would you be willing to pay?

A: $49.95
B: $24.95
C: Oh, Jesus Christ... Every other f@cking RPG company already does this. You mean you don't know how to reasonably price PDFs? Oh, right.... You're Wizards of the Coast.

Final Thought


I find it a bit ironic that you can play AD&D, D&D 3.x and 4e using PDF books and modules purchased through DM's Guild, but still not 5th Edition... I love that they are supporting older versions of the game digitally, but that makes 5e an even bigger mystery.

P.S. -- Chris Cocks, Apparently, based on my other joke article, a multitude of people also like the idea of Wizardry in VR... Make it happen.
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