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:
- A lot of people who start gaming are in university or younger, and don’t have a significant amount of disposable income.
- 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 6x9 rather than “full” size. Those can be priced at the entry level, giving people enough to play the game without being overwhelming.