Many, many people have asked my opinion on the current state of the PDF market. I decided to write things down to better organize my thoughts and figured I might as well share my conclusions.
Green Ronin’s PDF strategy has evolved over the past two years. At first we only sold at RPGNow because that was the easiest way to get up and running and the site was the market leader. At a certain point it became clear that we were making enough money from PDFs that we should start selling them direct too. We added that functionality to Green Ronin’s online store and began selling PDFs there as well. And really, I was content with that arrangement. I preferred selling from our own online store because we got 100% of revenue, but we had enough installed users at RPGNow that I didn’t want to stop selling there either. I also noticed that certain categories (notably d20 books) sold strongly at RPGNow but not as well at greenronin.com. Throughout this period I was approached by many other PDF sales sites but declined to spread out our wares. If I could get our fans buying direct from greenronin.com that’s what I wanted to do.
A couple of months ago RPGNow and DriveThruRPG announced a merger into a new company called OneBookShelf. Overnight all of GR’s PDFs were on DriveThruRPG. Many changes were announced but the biggest one for RPGNow clients was that OBS was going to be taking a bigger slice of sales (either 30% or 35% depending). If this merger was meant to unify the RPG PDF market, it seems to have had the opposite effect. Companies that never had their own PDF stores opened them and several new multi-company websites are now in the planning stages. All of them are courting Green Ronin and it falls upon me to decide what to do.
I have given this a great deal of thought and essentially there are three options. We could sell only through greenronin.com, we could sell through our store and the OneBookShelf sites, or we could sign up with a half dozen new sites and try to cast the widest possible net. For the time being I have decided to stick with my original plan. Regardless of what is going on with OBS, I would still rather make sales direct from greenronin.com. It thus doesn’t seem like it’s in our best interest to spread our sales out over a bunch of sites. I would rather train our fans to come to our website to shop for PDFs. I also must consider my staff. Right now my Director of E-Publishing only has to worry about uploading files and sales text to two sites when we put up a new product. If we went wide, repeating this over multiple sites would eat into his work time and impact his ability to work on other projects. Meanwhile, my General Manager would have a bunch of new accounts to deal with and would inevitably end up chasing after money from some of them. RPGNow always paid out in full and on time every month and that is (sadly) a big deal in the game industry. With new ventures launching, who is to say how payments would go?
So far OneBookShelf has continued RPGNow’s record of payment and that is one of the reasons I’ve decided to keep selling on those sites as well. Now after the merger of RPGNow and DriveThruRPG, we did see in a dip in our sales. However, we also didn’t have any major new releases in that period so I had to take that into consideration. With the release of Time of Vengeance and Agents of Freedom for Mutants & Masterminds, we’ve seen sales on both OBS sites combine to match what we typically made on RPGNow before the merger. While an actual sales bump would have been nice, maintaining our previous sales isn’t a bad outcome either.
All my analysis has ultimately led me back to where I started, so it’s business as usual for the time being. I will be monitoring sales on all sites over the next few months to see if my strategy remains the right choice. Hopefully, the PDF market will stabilize in that time period and we can all get back to running our businesses.