2013-09-26 Free Stuff

Recently, Skeeter Green talked about the race to the bottom regarding the pricing of PDF products in the RPG hobby on Google+. He basically said that digital products require an effort to be made and are thus not “free”. He also said that buying music on iTunes illustrates the point: we’re not getting a tangible product and yet we pay the money because of the content. Thus, why the unwillingness to pay for PDFs?

One could argue that capitalism is inherently unfair. The idea that the price of a product should relate to the effort spent in producing it sounds Marxist to me. These days, it’s supply and demand that determine the price. Here’s what I said in reply to Skeeter Green’s post.

I think there are many factors that come into play. On one level, if many offerings are available for free, then that sets expectations. You can only ask for money if the thing you are publishing is significantly better than what is available for free. If it is only marginally better, then customers are only willing to pay very little. From my point of view, for example, very small dungeons, simple hex maps, old school character classes, price lists and spell lists all have very little monetary value because so many of them are available for free, and I love it.

Another factor is that Free Software has slowly prepared us to accept that a product which can be copied effortlessly is only worth a donation. The thing that really costs money is customization—it’s the service that I’m paying for. Thus, I’m prepared to pay for the act of customizing something for me, joining a Kickstarter, paying an artist to draw a character portrait, and so on. I’m less willing to pay for something that is already there and only needs to be copied. I think that’s also one of the reasons why Kickstarter-as-prepayment “works” for customers. Once the thing is made, I’m more reluctant to spend my money on it.

As for iTunes, I can tell you what I’d prefer: I’d prefer to pay $5 to artists directly via a button on their web page because I don’t feel like supporting the infrastructure and middle-men. The reason I’m willing to pay a few dollars on iTunes is that piracy also comes with a cost: the quality of the download, the quality of the tags, the wait, the smut. Avoiding this is worth a bit of money to me.

As for the value of physical media: Once you start ordering from Lulu you realize that the media, the shipping, the last mile of home delivery is in fact quite expensive. I’m willing to pay $10 to $40 for shipping and handling of something such as the Tome of Horrors or Slumbering Tsar because I know it would cost me a similar amount if I ordered it from Lulu using my PDF.

In this climate, a traditional business model with an intangible product is simply hard to pull off.



I think you’ve really nailed a few things here – the perceived value of digital vs. physical products, the (comparatively) inflated value of artistry, and the consumer’s desire to “cut out the middle man” when it comes to these types of products.

...Though I think I may have inferred more than what you said. ^^;;;

Dither 2013-09-26 17:24 UTC

I think it’s a fair summary. :)

AlexSchroeder 2013-09-26 17:46 UTC

For me, a digital product is worth more than a printed product. If it’s properly index, bookmarked and hyperinked it’s worth a lot more. I simply don’t want to lug books around, store them and have to deal with them. And PDF’s can be searched and bookmarked and annotated.

Looking at it as merely the cost of duplication and media is a little 20th century. After all, movies and music can be copied digitally for nearly no expense either.

I look on products and think about how much use I’m going to get out of them. A module might only be good for a few nights worth of entertainment, but a game system or major supplment will be used for years.

– Philo Pharynx 2013-09-26 21:31 UTC

I’m with Philo. I find a PDF to be MORE useful than most rulebooks, IF the PDF is properly indexed, bookmarked, and hyperlinked. Far too many of them aren’t, betraying the amateur approach of their publishers. Nor are they properly layered or compressed. I typically spend 10-30 minutes on many of the PDFs I download, both for free and for pay, getting them into the shape they should have been in before I clicked the Download button. I look forward to the day when enough publishers understand what can be done with PDFs and how to do it that I no longer need to do their work for them to make their publications really useful.

Steve Winter 2013-09-27 00:42 UTC

I’m not sure what to make of this. I agree with the benefits you listed—and the sometimes lacking implementation thereof. How do you explain the perceived unwillingness for people to pay for expensive PDFs? Is the observation simply not true? Or do these people not value them as much as you do? Or do you value your PDFs but end up not being willing to pay twenty, thirty or more Dollars for a PDF? Questions, questions, as I’m trying to understand the PDF market. :)

AlexSchroeder 2013-09-27 09:18 UTC

I buy based on content. If I like what you offer enough I’ll pay $20-$30 bucks for it. I recently bought Numenera for $20. Less than a nickel a page. Okay, I don’t expect to get that kind of deal often. I’ve bought Paizo’s Pathfinder, and they provide their PDF products in four formats when you buy them. Standard, Standard 1 pdf per chapter, Low ink, and Low Ink 1 pdf per chapter. If they’d add a landscape formatted version, I’d marry the company. By the way, Numenera mentioned that the PDF was fully linked. A couple words in the description adds a lot of value to it for people like Steve and I

– PhiloPharynx 2013-09-27 13:00 UTC

I think consumers are still adjusting to the digital market as well – indexing, bookmarking, and hyperlinking are all important organizational tools that accompany content processing in the same capacity as copyediting. Every work stands to benefit from a good editor the same way every digital work stands to benefit from indexing, etc.

That’s probably where a degree of “artistry” can influence the value of the product. The PDF industry needs a Stan Lee to tote the heroics of the editor.

Dither 2013-09-27 15:59 UTC

I found another discussion on Google+, this time by Joe Naylor. He wondered “I’d like to know what you think is a reasonable price for a PDF.” Once again I couldn’t stop myself from commenting. :)

I wrote: “I’m willing to pay more–a lot more–for things that aren’t available for free. In other words, practically nothing for OSR rules, classes, spells, small dungeons. Then there’s a big gap and I’m willing to pay $10–$20 for mini-campaigns and adventures and up to $30–$40 for a megadungeon I think I might want to run such as Rappan Athuk. The reason I’m willing to pay so much for the PDF is that buying them in print and shipping them to Switzerland will cost me $100–$120… Thus, if I am willing to buy the PDF, is still right: half the price of the print product. It’s just that I’m not willing to spend much on the low end of the scale as there is so much quality free stuff available.”

AlexSchroeder 2013-10-11 09:27 UTC

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