Wizards of the Coast stops all PDF sales

Yesterday RPGNow announced that WotC has notified them that they no longer are allowed to sell or distribute WotC’s PDF products. That means even if you have purchased WotC PDF products over RPGNow you can’t download them again after April 7th. Today I received an email from Paizo informing me that Wizards has asked them to stop distribution of their PDF products, too.

There was some discussion on Twitter tonight about the reasons why Wizards of the Coast should cease all sales of PDF products until Fred Hicks provided us with an interesting link. And obviously they played the piracy card again. I think I’ve must have heard that somewhere before…

And I am pretty sure that’s not the real reason. Over 20% of all legal PDF sales are WotC products! Over 20%, that’s a lot. So what’s the problem with that. You’ll always have piracy even if you don’t sell the books in digital format. There are a lot of illegal scanned books floatng around on the net. So you don’t need a digital version of the book in order to distribute it over a P2P network. And I am pretty sure that this announcement will not end piracy of D&D products.

So, what’s the real reason? There may be several reasons, why Wizards slaps into the face of the customer again:

  1. Killing the competition
    They want to create their own online distribution shop, and before they do so, they want to make sure noone else sells their stuff. And even if that’s the case, they dropped the ball again!
  2. Removing all older edition material from the shops
    Perhaps they are less then happy with the fact that some of those pesky customers prefer older editions instead of buying their shiny new 4th edition. Books are aleady out-of-print, but PDFs were still available… until now!

Whatever the real reason is, it has nothing to do with piracy. Period! This excuse didn’t work for the music industry, the movie industry or the computer game industry. But it’s easy to tell the public that the evil software/music/pdf pirates are responsible when you just want to kick your customers into the proverbial nuts!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

26 thoughts on “Wizards of the Coast stops all PDF sales”

  1. Yeah, here we go again. Oh we poor, poor developers, we didn't knew that there are millions of millions of people who will think: "If I can get this for free, why should I pay?"

    WotC are playing oldest cart in the deck – like it was something they just found out about. This is whole "fun" of digital format – Copy/Paste cost nothing (not user anyway)

    The whole PDF format was a mistake from my point of view, cause it pushed professional made PDF files into P2P net – no more crappy scans, missing pages and so forth.

    Idea itself was good, but…

    … Welcome Wizards, welcome to the never-ending battlefront against mass digital piracy. Hope you enjoy staying with us.

    I would suggest start calling RIAA and MPAA now…

  2. I think WotC will just lose money by that decision. Pirated copies != Lost sales. Period. Someone who copies your stuff would have probably never bought it in the first place. But by stopping all PDF sales they lose money. And when D&D products made up for 20% of all PDF sales, then they will lose a lot of money. Where's the logic in this?

  3. Strange isn't it that lots of announcements about this, yet very little is being mentioned that WotC is not really stopping PDF sales?

    They're just requiring vendors to sign a new online PDF sale license that is about to be released.

    At worst, WotC can be said to be putting the cart before the horse by stopping sales before the new license is seen.

    <abbr><abbr>Cedrics last blog post..Social Networking sites</abbr></abbr>

  4. Here's referring to the announcement that Wizards is releasing a new Internet Sales Policy on April 6, which coincidentally dated the same day that Wizards pulled off all the PDFs off Paizo, Drivethru RPG and RPGNow shelves.


    @Cedric However, a commenter from Wizards did mention that this recent pull off has nothing to do with the Internet Sales Policy and that it was in fact piracy which had been the reason for the withdrawal.


    <abbr><abbr>Questing GMs last blog post..Word of Wizards – Wizards of the Coast Sues Eight For Copyright Infringement and Halts PDF Sales.</abbr></abbr>

    <abbr><abbr>Questing GMs last blog post..Word of Wizards – Wizards of the Coast Sues Eight For Copyright Infringement and Halts PDF Sales.</abbr></abbr>

  5. However, I'll also add that Wizards would probably announce that the PDFs are back in some form or another and any vendors would be required to sign in on the new Internet Sales Policy.

    Their press release mentioned that they are already working on something but it's a question of how long will it take for it to be back online again.

    <abbr><abbr>Questing GMs last blog post..Word of Wizards – Wizards of the Coast Sues Eight For Copyright Infringement and Halts PDF Sales.</abbr></abbr>

  6. This is about piracy, not some master plan. The players handbook, etc. are widely available online for free. No more $20 each for their revenues – they gave it all away and are trying to get the proverbial cat back in the bag.

  7. There really doesn't seem to be any connection between the Internet Sales Policy and the pdf move. The most telling reason is that teh ISP applies to Magic: The Gathering cards, as near as I can tell.

    Most likely motive, they're a bunch of control freaks and will be selling the pdfs exclusively on their own site.

    However, if they *only* end up selling pdfs of 4E material, then the conspiracy theorists who are opining that it's a move to cut off support for earlier versions will have much more of a leg to stand on.

    <abbr><abbr>Greyhawk Grognards last blog post..WotC Goodwill Campaign Continues</abbr></abbr>

  8. In an alternate universe where they were forward thinking they'd be giving away a PDF of the starter rules for free. Getting more people to look at their game means more people who might buy the print edition, subscribe to DDI, buy minis, buy accessories, etc.

    1. Giving things away for free? *gasp* That will be the downfall of western civilization… what I am saying … of all humanity!

  9. Not a big deal… It's not like I even used them anyhow… I still play a AdDnD with 30+ years of house rules. I'm not losing any sleep over it.

    It's not like any of the recent editions were worth anything anyways. 30+ years house rules is far better than any from 2nd edition through the aborted fetus they call 4th edition (can anyone say WoTC's equivalent to Microsoft's Vista?!?!?!? I knew that you could).

  10. They're correct – their PDF titles were rarely bought and frequently pirated. I have access to dozens of their PDFs and have never bought one. I will say three things in defence of the pirated PDFs however:

    1. For all the decent PDFs, I have bought the physical copies of the books.

    2. Lots of the PDFs are so poor that a person wouldn't want to waste their money on them. Having the PDFs out there is a way to hold the publishers accountable, by refusing them sales of poor books.

    3. If the publishers offered legitimate copies of their books at a reasonable price (sub-$20) people wouldn't pirate them.

    1. Hmm, from what I've heard WotC PDF products made up over 20% of all PDF sales. That's a lot. So your statement: "their PDF titles were rarely bought" doesn't sound right to me.

  11. @Xystren – Sorry you feel that way. The ADD(sic) rules were rather cumbersome IMHO. What else would you expect from an outfit like TSR? 4E makes the game more accessible to a new generation that lacks the attention span of two generations before it.

    @ the rest – And this does sound to me like a move towards cornering .pdf downloads in they're sad little DDI store. The piracy was a convenient excuse. However, if you go to Scribd and do a 3.5E or 4E search, I have heard that you will see some of it "taken down at the request of" some of the more well-known names at Wizards. Makes you wonder…

  12. @Sean – Any of the cumbersome rules were overridden by the 30+ years of house rules. Considering the group I'm playing with first started with basic D&D in the early to mid '70s, where I am the "baby of the group" having only played with them the past 15 years; attention span in our group isn't an issue.

    I did give 4E a couple tries, but just didn't find it that enjoyable. In the process of making it more "accessible", they made it "less desirable" to other. To me, it seemed like an attempt to try and capture a segment of the online WoW/WH40k type MORPGs. Is that good or a bad thing? Not good in my mind, but then again, WoTC didn't inherit myself as a customer when they took over from TSR. I always took a look at the new editions, but there was nothing "killer" enough to make us want to upgrade.

  13. @Xystren – yeah, I could see where that would work if you put 2nd Ed up on blocks and reinvented it. Maybe you guys should publish it and make it available for download. I hear there's a hole in the market now. 😉

    @all – Here's a market thought: the # of people buying these "new every month" supplements goes WAAAAY down after about three months (when the "new" thing comes out; a business model I HATE but whatever). Let Wizards offer its .pdf sales through DDI. For the first three months. After that, release the books to RPG DriveThru et al and let them sell them. Take a %. Ad infinitum. Yes, pirated copies will exist. Focus your DRM software not on the book itself but on the search functions. That will severely limit the number of people willing to pirate. Very few serious DM's want a pirated copy. They want it search-able (and readable). Its the true advantage of a clean, professional, even watermarked .pdf. Wake up WOTC!

    1. I think they have changed this. People who have purchased something in the past can now redownload the PDFs.

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