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Self-publishing allows us all to publish stuff cheaply. Many authors would like to see their product to look good, however, and thus they need to pay artists, or they want the quality to be even better, so they need to pay editors and layout people. At first, people called this a pre-order. Pre-orders are just that: You order a product and pay for it. The author promises to start working on it and hopes that enough people will pre-order it to make it all worth while.
This is how Frog God Games is still selling their big books. It’s how they sold Slumbering Tsar as well as the Tome of Horrors Complete editions for Pathfinder and Swords & Wizardry. I have pre-ordered all three! By now I’ve received nearly all of the PDF files (some chapters of Slumbering Tsar are still missing), so things seem to be working out. Let’s hope the printed products make it across the Atlantic ocean unharmed.
Pre-order doesn’t always work out. Frog God Games is run by Bill Webb who was one of the founders of Necromancer Games. Others, with less experience, have tried to do the same thing and failed. As Jim of Lamentations of the Flame Princess says: DON’T DO PREORDERS.
I was bitten by pre-orders myself with the Razor Coast delays. The solution, apparently, is a new form of financing very similar to pre-orders. Using services like Kickstarter, customers promise to pre-order as soon as the funding goal is achieved. Thus, if the author thinks he can do it with $2000, and customers promise to pay at least that amount, then their credit cards will be charged the appropriate amount and one would hope that the project then does what it is supposed to do. But that’s in no way guaranteed.
The only benefit this system offers is that it protects everybody from unpopular projects that don’t generate enough pre-orders. Nobody gets charged when the funding goal is not met. The system does not protect customers from authors getting an awesome job. This is what happened to Nicolas Logue, author of Razor Coast.
I’m not sure what to recommend. I appreciate the ability for authors to fund their projects. I appreciate the services that automate some of the aspects of this funding process. But it doesn’t solve my main problem, namely giving me confidence in the project’s success. We as customers have to share some of the risks.
Traditionally, these two roles are separated. Authors must get venture capital from banks, friends or parents. I think I don’t like the merging of these two roles. After all, banks, friends and parents are usually better placed to get their money back eventually compared to random dudes on the Internet.
What makes this even worse is that sometimes pre-orders are basically the only way to buy the product. In the old days, if you didn’t pre-order you’d just wait for the final product and bought it then. Since authors could not accurately predict demand, they often had enough product to all risk-averse customers.
Sometimes this back-fired for authors. I remember one of the more lavish third party monster manuals for D&D 3.5 was Denizens of Avadnu by The Inner Circle. It was printed just as 4E was being announced. I saw the price fall from $39.95 to $20 to $10. It was terrible.
The physical books by Frog God Games I mentioned above are basically pre-orders only. Apparently the printers will only print in multiples of fifty, and therefore there will be between zero and 49 extra printed copies available for customers that refuse to take any risks.
And yet, it appears to be the only way to get these products made in the first place.