My thoughts on PDF pricing and print + PDF bundles

In Youseph’s recent unboxing post the subject of PDF pricing came up again. He criticized that Troll Lord Games doesn’t provide free (or at least cheap) PDFs with the purchase of the hardbound books. In his reply (Editor’s notethe thread the reply was in got deleted, so the link is not working anymore) to that, Troll Lord Games CEO said, that in his opinion “publishers are realizing that giving away material is costly and pricing (is) beginning to change to reflect a more realistic digital MSRP.”

I has to respectfully disagree. What I – as a customer perceive – is the contrary. Slowly it’s becoming more and more common that publishers offer Print + PDF bundles where the PDF is for free or you just pay a few bucks. If you haven’t heard from the Bits & Mortar initiative yet, you really should check out my post about them.

I don’t expect publishers to give PDFs away for free, but don’t expect me to be willing to pay full price for the PDF either, especially when I already paid for the hardcopy. When it comes to PDF products I am willing to pay up to 15$ without any gnashing of teeth, but when it’s more than that, I have to be really, really sure it’s the only option.

I don’t think it’s very customer-friendly to ask them to pay the same or something like 3/4 of the hardcover price for a PDF. This may work in regular books but not so much in RPGs. In the case of roleplaying PDFs, you almost always have to print them out to use them properly. So in the end you may end up paying more for the PDF plus your own print costs then what you would’ve paid for the hardcopy in the first place.

I can understand that some publishers see it differently. And of course that’s ok. But as a customer I am more likely to support a publisher that offers attractive print + PDF bundles than a one who expects me to pay almost full price for the PDF.

Of course I don’t have any deeper insight into the publishing industry and I may actually be totally wrong. But I know that a couple of RPG publishers are reading this blog and perhaps some of them would be willing to comment. It would be great to read your side of the story. Do you offer free PDFs with the purchase of a hardcopy? Or do you think this is sheer folly? Your insight into the matter is highly appreciated.

P.S.: I had a discussion with @rdonoghue and @robertsongames about commodity pricing and RPGs, that made me thinking about what I have written here. I think some of my points are not as clear as I would have hoped and sometimes I sound as if I wanted to treat RPGs like a commodity, which is not the case.

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.

14 thoughts on “My thoughts on PDF pricing and print + PDF bundles”

  1. It's my thought process that I don't want a PDF that is going to be more than 9.99 ever. Any more than that, and really I feel you're gouging your customers because all of the standard costs that come with a book (printing, shipping, warehousing) are all gone.

    As for bundles, I drop that to 2 dollars maximum. I know some people give it away, and that's their prerogative, but I do feel that there should be some cost but at a great discount. A thank you for buying the book.

  2. It really baffles me that some publishers are asking full retail prices for PDFs. Even worse are offenders that offer PDF at the full price and then not even take basic steps to make it PDF friendly with bookmarks and printer friendly options. On the other hand I think many small PDF only Publishers tend to under price their original releases.
    I hope initiative like Bits&Mortar attract more publishers as it is a great service that adds incredible value and usability to the book itself. I am quiet willing to pay more for a Printed book if I know the PDF is included or at least the PDF price reduced.

    My recent post Savage Worlds Review- Temporal Probability Agency – Agents Handbook

  3. I really think Paizo has been a shining example of how to do PDF sales "right." Each major rulebook is a $9.99 PDF. Which I think heavily encourages people to buy them, even when they have very attractive online SRD options to turn to instead. On top of that, buy the book at the cover price via subscription directly from the company (in theory supporting them all the more) and you get the PDF for free? It worked on me, even when it'd be a little cheaper to get the book from Amazon and buy the $10 PDF by itself.

  4. I agree with Jonathan, $9.99 is about all I’m willing to pay for a book, and it better be a 200+pg book at that. I might go as high as $15 if the print version is not coming out for a while, or not at all, and I really, really want it.
    Paizo’s prices all their “core” book pdfs at this price and so I buy them as soon as they are released. Then when I have the extra cash I order the HC from Paizo or Amazon. Paizo’s subscription deal where you get the pdf + print book for the cost of just the print book is also a good deal. It’s little things like that, that help keep me as a Paizo fan. If WotC did stuff like that I might be more inclined to give 4e a more serious try.
    I’d probably buy more books from other publishers if I could get this kind of deal from them.

  5. I have to agree, as a GM I have LOTS of books and PDFs. I do find the PDFs easier to find info on when asked a question by my runners, but I refuse to pay more than a little bit for them. All my books are brought with me to a game, (not an easy task) but I would rather do that then pay for a book I already own.

  6. Yeah, I have to agree with most of these comments. As I finish Free Spacer and look toward publishing, there are a lot of options to consider. PDFs aren't a very good format, but digital formats are something we definitely can't ignore. What would you all be willing to pay for alternate digital formats? ( such as Kindle)
    If you don't know much about eBooks you can check out a post I made a while ago:

    1. I have to admit that I am quite happy with PDFs so far. The few epub versions of RPG products I've seen haven't really convinced me. Since I use an iPad I don't have an issue with viewing even graphic intensive PDFs.

      1. Personally I haven't found an excuse to get an iPad yet but using PDFs on my iPhone is pretty good, but most don't have proper linking or search functionality especially for charts. My big issue with PDF is functional; most other eBook formats seem to have a bit more functionality. That said, I still don't think we've found the eBook format that is good enough to be the standard.
        My recent post Attack Me! My Passive PCs

        1. We were having this discussion on 1KM1KT about epub and the like for RPGs. I don’t think there’s any problem with any of the formats, it’s the reader. e-ink readers are not well suited for looking for information. They’re amazing if you’re reading straight through a book linearly. Looking up a stat or a rule, unless you know the page number, is a chore. For looking up info it looks like the iPad and most likely the color Nook are better options. Added to that, the type in a PDF on an e-ink display tends to be very small and hard to read so you have to pan around the page to read it clearly.

  7. At max I'll pay about $10 for a PDF. Anything more than that gives me real pause. I can understand the concerns of some publishers when it comes to pricing. They have to pay the artists or any other addtional help (like editing or layout) the same whether its print or pdf. I think generally people are looking for PDF's to be price much lower than hard copies. Chances are that publishers will sell more PDF's that are reasonably priced but have a lower profit margin per unit sold. So publishers have a tough decision to make.
    My recent post Web Clip Wednesday- Playin’ D&D

  8. If they'd stop spending so much money on gunk, the publishers would have an easier time of it. I don't need full color art and garish bs on every page.

    Of course, I buy OSR stuff, so there you go.

    I don't think I've ever paid more than $10 for a pdf. I wouldn't pay more than $15.

  9. Well… I'm sure that all of you know about the Adamant Entertainment price drop experiment that "failed". Funny thing is that we (Nevermet Press) were inspired by their move enough to make the same change (all our PDFs are $2.99 and we pledge that all future PDFs will be priced at $2.99 as well). We made this decision AE switched their pricing back to their old, higher prices. Since that time – we have stuck to our guns for multiple reasons. For one – in the Ludittes vs. NewGen battle – it just seems like the right thing to do.
    My recent post Artist Spotlight- Matthew Meyer

  10. My personal use of PDFs is twofold: 1) referencing the product when I'm on the go and 2) deciding if I want to drop the money on the actual print version. I greatly dislike it when people use computers at the game table, though I haven't had tablets come up yet so the jury is out on those. I find that the majority of gamers who say having electronics at the game table isn't a distraction are very adept at lying to themselves.

    That said, I like low-cost PDFs, in the $5 – 10 range, because if I wasn't sure about the product enough to buy it straight out, I get the PDF and if I like it I buy the book. Considering every publisher and PDF retailer requires you to create YET ANOTHER unique account for purchases, it would be nice if they'd keep track of it and discount the price of a book by the cost of the already-purchased PDF, but I suppose that is asking too much.

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