When deciding how many copies of a book to print, it’s so easy to talk yourself into overprinting. You think, “Ah, but for only a little more money we could get 1000 more books and if we sold them we’d make a much greater profit.” It’s a common trap and one I’ve fallen into more than once. It does not help that the pre-order system is completely worthless. In theory pre-orders are supposed to help you set your print numbers, but so few retailers actually pre-order RPG books these days that every print run is basically an educated guess.
Recently, I had to set the print run for the d20 Freeport Companion. This is our last D&D; 3.5 book. At first I thought if I advertised that fact it’d be a selling point. We began our crazy d20 journey with Death in Freeport and now eight years later it would end with another Freeport book. There was interest from the Freeport fan community but I didn’t see anything from the “3.5 forever” fans that made me think the book would buck the trend in d20 sales we’d seen for the past couple of years.
So I did a short print run and figured that’d cover demand. Then the orders started coming in from distributors. One order alone asked for 90% of the print run. Another distributor who had barely ordered d20 stuff in the past couple of years suddenly ordered this one. It quickly became clear that we had nowhere near enough books. I probably could have doubled the print run and still sold out. Now I face the ludicrous prospect of reprinting a 3.5 book three months before 4E comes out. The danger being that in a month when the next print run comes in the demand might not be there.
Sometimes you just can’t win.