Horror roleplaying jenga isn’t available on print on demand. How can this be so! This product is both delightful and obscure and I was hinging all my geek cred on being able to show it off on my shelf. Why is it that my favourite niche tabletop RPG isn’t available as POD when that one where you play as an animal spirit that shapeshifts into child form to help an enchanted town be happier is.
Okay I’m going to stop link-dropping obscure RPGs.
Getting a product from PDF to POD is clearly harder than it first appears, but what’s actually involved?
is it worth it?
This is the first stumbling block of any potential print on demand venture and it kills more projects than you’d think.
Digital printers are the key technology that makes POD viable. Though these beasts have some impressive collating capabilities and blazing speed, they are otherwise not so dissimilar to the printer you have at home. If printing one page costs $0.30 of ink and paper, then printing a thousand pages will cost $300, it’s a pretty linear scale – as distinct from traditional offset printing that has thousands of dollars of mechanical setup before you can even print a single page.
The thing about your printer at home is that ink costs a fortune – every time I have to replace a colour cartridge, I have to sell a kidney. Unfortunately, this is true for digital printing too, only worse.
This means that while POD makes small print runs viable, it does not make them cheap. If, for example, a $12 PDF was to be made into a $24 print on demand book you might see a break up like the below.
The math here is pretty simple for the creators of your favourite obscure RPG content – they are charging you twice as much but still making substantially less per product. Every time you pay more, they get less.
Now there are a huge range of factors here – use of colour, hard cover vs soft cover, length of the book – but the printer will always be taking the largest cut of any print on demand earnings.
This doesn't mean print on demand is a lost cause. Money is money. Furthermore some people will only buy print books, and a good looking print book in someone's hands is better advertising than a thousand PDFs hidden away on mobile devices. Perhaps most importantly: your dev team want a print book, they didn't work thousands of hours just to create zeroes and ones, they want something they can hold and show their mum and say 'I wrote that bit about the drone king that makes everyone cry'.
Print on demand brings these benefits to people who don't work for Wizards of Coast or Fantasy Flight Games. It's not for everything but it does make our RPG tabletops a brighter, better place.
upcoming in pt 2
In the next part we’ll ignore boring details like ‘can this make money’ and take a look at the process of making a PDF ‘print-ready’ and as an added treat you may see a rant from me about paper weights that you won’t want to miss.
Also as a quick sidebar - we don't earn any proceeds from the links above. I mean we'd definitely accept such proceeds, we're exactly that mercenary, but in this case these were just good examples of some of the great, but niche, RPG products that we're proud to share the market with.
Except where otherwise noted, these posts are written by Stephen J Orion. Director of Scribed Starlight Press and creator of Wireless Soul Transmission.