A footnote in yesterday’s post mentioned that one of the many reasons behind the razor-thin margins in the tradgames space is the stagnating price.

RPG books are ridiculously fucking cheap compared to books of similar production values in other areas. The price of the book has not risen in any significant proportion to the increase in costs. Instead, the increase in production price has eaten in to the margins, the amount of money that the publisher gets and uses to pay for writers and artists and game designers.

This has two drivers:

  1. A lot of people who start gaming are in university or younger, and don’t have a significant amount of disposable income.
  2. Old gamers have ossified to the point that they refuse to believe that production costs have increased by anywhere near as much as they have, and believe that a 300-page full-colour glossy hardback rulebook should cost as much as the 200-page black and white softcover that they remember from when they got started.

The target market of trad RPGs thus can’t (point 1) or can but won’t (point 2) pay a reasonable price for the books that they’re getting.

In order to pay people fairly for their labour, publishers need more available cash. One of the ways to do this is to increase prices of the premium end. Full-colour glossy hardbacks should be priced as what they are. Not even commesurate with said books of equivalent publication values in other areas, just enough to reflect the actual cost of making such a book and paying a publisher enough that they can continue putting the books out without ridiculous financial pressure.

Another way is to present rulebooks as they used to be — black and white softcovers, shorter and with less art. These days the market will happily bear them at 6×9 rather than “full” size. Those can be priced at the entry level, giving people enough to play the game without being overwhelming.


2 Responses to Wider Margins

  1. Another issue is of course the sheer quantity of material that’s already been published, which is a serious and increasing challenge for new writers.

    RPG books are great to read in their own right, there’s no doubt about that, but primarily they exist for actual play. Which can be hard to do even if one is very dedicated to gaming.

    As an example, I recall buying Rolemaster’s Vog Mur around 1984 and wantin to run it. It wasn’t until 25 years later that I actually had the chance to do so.

    • Stew says:

      That’s also very true. Personally, I think shorter games are better for actual play than big tomes, at least when starting out.

      People who started with, say, Vampire had a 200-page black&white book. That’s it, that’s what they used in actual play. As further books came out, they used or didn’t as necessary. Many of them picked up every book for the joy of reading them, but never used them in play. Then you get V20, which incorporates bits from all of those other books but that act as barriers to new players coming in because of the sheer amount of information that (it looks like) they need to take on board to play.

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