The Hows and Whys of the Green Ronin Pre-Order Plus Program

Earlier this year Green Ronin experimented with some pre-order bundle deals in which you got the PDF of the title for free if you pre-ordered the book. Starting with DC Adventures, we’ve modified that so you can get the PDF for only $5 when you pre-order the book. While this is still a savings of $10 to $15, we’ve had several people ask about the change. This post will explain how and why we settled on the new standard. I will warn you that it’s long and involves a lot of business talk. If that doesn’t interest you, you’ll probably want to skip this post.

So let’s start many years ago when Green Ronin first started to sell PDF versions of our products. We treated the PDF and the book as entirely separate products. If you wanted both, you paid full price for both. We viewed this like a novel and its audio version. Same book, yes, but different formats. No one argues that you should get a free audio book with the purchase of the physical book.

That was the state of affairs for years. It wasn’t until the Dragon Age pre-order that we tried using the freebie PDF as a premium. That worked really well, but it was not without consequences. We were concerned that in the long term our PDFs would be devalued, that they would be seen as giveaways and not something with intrinsic worth. We also got complaints from retailers about the deal. They said that such a deal was unfair to them because they could not match it. It encouraged direct orders and dissuaded gamers from supporting their local stores.

Now I love a good game store and Green Ronin has always tried to treat our retail partners with respect and fairness. Some of them thought we should simply extend the freebie PDF offer to them but that wouldn’t have been great for us. As I explained, our original standard was that PDFs and books were separate products. We had a fair number of customers that would buy them both, so when we did the freebie offer we were knowingly losing some revenue in order to encourage sales of the print version. We felt OK eating that to get the full MSRP on the book. However, we do not get full MSRP when a retailer sells one of our books. We get 40% of the cover price at best. So I posed the question to some of my retailer friends. “We are giving up revenue from some PDF sales when we make this offer. What are you willing to give up to get the same deal?” Their honest answer was nothing. Retailers are just as strapped as everyone else so they weren’t willing to make sacrifices on their end, particularly in a category (RPGs) that is shrinking in many stores. I realized at a certain point this was a nut I was going to have to crack myself.

A secondary problem to the revenue was delivery of a PDF to a customer who ordered something in a retail store. The folks at Evil Hat just give PDFs to retailers via Dropbox and let them hand the files out in any convenient way. With the licenses we have, that simply wasn’t an option. We needed a method that could be tracked and reported.

So ultimately what I needed was a deal that was still attractive to customers that could also be offered to retailers without causing us to lose revenue and whose sales I could track precisely. Trying to meet all these criteria is how the current deal took shape. Evan Sass, Green Ronin’s hard workin’ webmaster, solved the technology end of the problem. He told me he could generate one use codes for our webstore that would provide a discount on a PDF. Since all this traffic would then flow through the webstore, it could be tracked for reports.

Now it was also important the retailers have access to the same deal that we offered. If we gave away free PDFs but they had to charge $5 for theirs, that wouldn’t be real attractive to them. We decided that $5 was a fair price for customers to pay for the PDF when pre-ordering a book. The products we are talking about typically have a PDF price of $13.50 to $20, so getting one for $5 is still a deal. That $5 we get for the PDF makes it financially sensible for us to offer the pre-order deal through retail stores. So retailers can match the deal we have in our webstore and customers can choose to order through us or support their local stores. The ideal outcome is happy customers, happy retailers, and happy Green Ronin.

With the ideas hammered out, I decided to create a formal program, which we call GR Pre-Order Plus. In its final form, it works like this. When we have a final PDF of a book or boxed set that’s ready for sale, Evan generates webstore discount codes and sends them to Bill Bodden, our sales guy. Hal Mangold or Marc Schmalz creates a flier about the deal that retailers can print out and put up in their stores. Evan puts that in the Retailer Support section of our website, so it can be downloaded. Bill then sends out an e-mail to the retailers in the program, telling them about the new title and pointing them towards the flier. He then sends 10 unique codes to interested retailers (and they can get more if they need them). While that’s going on, Marc preps the final PDF files and then Evan uploads them to our website. Everything is now ready.

On release day Evan posts an announcement on and any of our other sites that make senses ( for M&M books, for example). This message relays the basic deal: pre-order the new product and get the PDF of same for $5. We point out you can get that deal from us or participating retailers. On their end retailers make the offer in their stores and hopefully use the fliers we have created. When they take an order, they give the purchaser one of the codes we provided. The buyer can then take that home and use the code to buy the PDF for $5 in our online store.

You will note that for a simple deal it actually requires a fair bit of work and coordination to pull off. We are willing to do that because we believe retail stores are a valuable part of the gaming ecosystem and we want to support them and their gaming communities. At the same time we want to assure a reasonable return on all the hard work we’ve put into our games. I believe this program is a fair one that still offers a good deal to gamers at the end of the day.

If your local store is not participating, point them here for more info:

We currently have two items up for pre-order, Blood in Ferelden for the Dragon Age RPG and the Freeport Companion: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Edition. They will be joined shortly by Aces & Jokers, the final book in the M&M 2nd Edition line. You can find out more at

Originally published on LiveJournal on August 24, 2010.

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