Regular work just isn’t getting done today, so in its stead here’s some insight into the difficulties facing an independent RPG author – trying to sell their work online – today.
When it comes to digital avenues, there’s a handful of bit players, but the only really worthwhile site to sell on is Onebookshelf. Onebookshelf runs a collection of sites that do pretty much the same thing, but its RPG sites RPGNow and DrivethruRPG have a de facto monopoly on digital sales in the RPG space.
I won’t give specifics, but you can bet that they – and most other sites that perform the same job with far less overall sales and visibility – charge between a quarter and a third of your cover price for being your sales front.
If you’re doing print on demand then the big player is Lulu.com, with Amazon as another player. At Lulu – and this roughly holds across the board – the production cost of a 100 page, A4 book (like my adventure seeds books) is about £3.60, after everything else you can about triple that production cost to get to a retail price of £10.80, which – as a consumer oriented sort of seller you’re going to knock that down to £9.99, biting into your own profit for saleability.
Print isn’t something you can really do yourself yet, not without a big set-up fee or early-adopter technology that just isn’t worth it yet. Digital, however you can set up yourself and run from your own website. Of course, you’re a writer, or an artist, you don’t know the first real thing about the intricacies of setup and you don’t want to be doing tech support, you want to be creating. So you have to find a service that will host your own storefront for you. This is actually pretty easy to find, and in terms of the cut they take, much better than a quarter or a third of your profit – provided you make enough money to justify it in the first place.
But wait, these service providers are themselves beholden by another party, as just about any other site is. That being payment processors. Your money isn’t yours, it’s a payment, a hiring of a service that allows people to pay each other, but unless it’s in the form of cash that transfer of value is entirely dependent on a combination of banks, merchant accounts and payment processors. They have conditions that they impose and if you don’t meet them, you don’t get to spend – or get – your money.
So, if you fall within the ever widening gyre of ‘inappropriate’ or ‘immoral’ to even the slightest degree, your options are severely narrowed. For a start you’re going to lose an extra few percentage points on transactions and costs, for another there’s only a handful of sites and processors that will handle this for you, putting you in a very, very precarious position if their policies ever change.
I have found – exactly – one path through this, and all I do is sell RPGs, card and board games that might include depictions of nudity and sex. Nothing photographic, nothing that would transgress even the increasingly draconian obscenity laws in my own country. Even so, I have to set up as though I were selling hardcore porn, and frankly, if that’s the case, I might as well.
I’m still weighing whether it’s worth it, and arranging to talk to the only bank in the UK that seems to allow this sort of business through its merchant accounts. It might be more viable if I went beyond selling my own stuff to offering to host and sell other ‘high risk’ material for other authors, but that’s not really what I’m ‘about’. It’s just the things I find interesting tend to be difficult or transgressive often enough to be a ‘problem’.
Then there’s the problem of drawing traffic to yet another site…
What do you think?