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Author Topic: There *is* a problem: PoD distro into retail  (Read 15411 times)
chadu
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« on: November 24, 2005, 09:29:56 PM »

The previous thread was closed before I read it and could comment. As I understand the process, here, I have started a new thread. This may be especially apt, as my point is tangential.

Despite our differences in style and hot-buttons, I am seeing a crucial consensus among Ralph, Luke, Clinton, Keith, me, and others. It is:

Given POD printing and internet ordering, as well as useful fulfilment houses, there is no reason for further centralization of any step of the current model.

Which means tossing POD into the hands of a single distributor is no "solution" - because there's no current problem, at least not for us, nor for anyone who wants to do what we do.

(snip)

The "solution" is nothing but a barrel of unnecessary and disastrous problems, the more so because no actual problem exists. Printing has never been easier, nor capable of such great-looking product for so little money. What I see in your "solution," Sean, is that distributors are desperate to make themselves relevant in some way, now that they've effectively become obsolete. So, they have a problem. Not us.

The "problem" I've been seeing as a publisher of PDFs and PoDs is that there is a certain sector of gaming consumers who will not buy PDF/PoD products, despite an interest and desire specific not just to the genre or style of the product in question, but that actual product itself.

These consumers wish to enter a game store, see the desired product on the shelf, and purchase said product from game store.

Often, this is due to:
A. The customer wishing to leaf through the product;
B. The customer wishing to have the instant gratification of purchase (of professionally printed and bound product);
C. The customer wishing to support their game store;
D. The customer being unable to purchase a PDF/PoD game due to lack of credit card or paypal;
E. The customer being philosophically opposed to purchasing a PDF/PoD on general principles; or
F. Two or more of the above factors.

I cannot tell you how many potential customers have told me they would purchase Dead Inside or Truth & Justice from their game store if they saw it; I stopped counting at two dozen for each product.

(Up until very recently, however, the economic and the social aspects of entering distribution, however, have been more trouble than they were worth in terms of profit from until sales. Things are slowly looking up; there's potential there, which is growing greater.)

The possible "problem" I can see here is that there are customers who would (theoretically) buy the product if it were on the shelf. An economic PDF/PoD distro solution could help that, if the retailers order the products.

To sum up, that's one "theoretical", one "could", and one "if."

Now, while I'd love to get my products in the hands of the consumers who are suffering from issues A through F above, I cannot see any way to do such without actually entering distro. (Extensive previews won't satisfy the As, near instantaneous email and self-printing doesn't satisfy the Bs, nothing but the game on the shelf satisfies Cs, etc.)

However, I've got to assure that doing so at the very least doesn't cost me money/pays for itself, and preferably provides some profit.

At least, that's how it appears to me.


CU
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Chad Underkoffler [chadu@yahoo.com]

Atomic Sock Monkey Press

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Keith Senkowski
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« Reply #1 on: November 25, 2005, 05:32:28 AM »

Hey Chad,

You got a good point, but it is being answered to a certain extent.  I know over at IPR we have begun selling directly to retailers and that seems to be pretty successful so far.  A lot of the publishers there are hawking POD products.  Also, it bypasses the distributor and consolidates a whole bunch of publishers into one area for ordering purposes.  For myself it makes me less money if someone buys from me online, but it is still profitable and it gets the game into the hands of people that fall into those criteria you mentioned, making it worthwhile.

Keith
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: November 25, 2005, 07:59:26 AM »

Brennan's nailed it.

Since distribution is unreliable, exactly as Ryan described in the parent thread, it typically fails even to meet the needs you've stated. Chad, you rightly point out that we can't rely on a "would" statement from people, as in they "would have" bought the game from the store, as if it were rock solid. But I do agree that they might be real needs, at least to a small extent, for a few people, I completely agree that having my books in stores which (a) can stock them reliably and (b) re-order them once sold is a fine thing, although as I've stated, not a make-or-break issue.

Basically, I like to cut retailers inclined to do (b) into the existing functional publisher/customer loop. At the moment, both IPR and Key 20 are doing a good job at getting them the (a) they need. Oddly enough, these also tend to be the retailers who don't mind a little extra step in ordering, as long as it pays off, who do monitor what their customers actually like rather than merely brainwashing them, and who pay attention to the attractive look & feel of their store rather than being Weird Bob's Grognard Retreat. So it's a win-win when it happens.

But there's no traditional distributor in that picture. Looks right, looks left, looks under chair ... nope, not there.

Best,
Ron

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chadu
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« Reply #3 on: November 25, 2005, 08:18:48 AM »

You got a good point, but it is being answered to a certain extent.  I know over at IPR we have begun selling directly to retailers and that seems to be pretty successful so far.  A lot of the publishers there are hawking POD products.  Also, it bypasses the distributor and consolidates a whole bunch of publishers into one area for ordering purposes.

That's good to hear. (Myself, I'm interested in seeing how the RPGNow distro endeavor works out. If it doesn't, I might explore other avenues. Eventually.)

Hm. I'd really like to hear how IPR's direct to retailer project is going -- amount of product moved, number of participant retailers, and number of retailers who are resisting.


CU
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Chad Underkoffler [chadu@yahoo.com]

Atomic Sock Monkey Press

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chadu
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« Reply #4 on: November 25, 2005, 08:32:59 AM »

Since distribution is unreliable, exactly as Ryan described in the parent thread, it typically fails even to meet the needs you've stated. Chad, you rightly point out that we can't rely on a "would" statement from people, as in they "would have" bought the game from the store, as if it were rock solid. But I do agree that they might be real needs, at least to a small extent, for a few people, I completely agree that having my books in stores which (a) can stock them reliably and (b) re-order them once sold is a fine thing, although as I've stated, not a make-or-break issue.

Agreed.

Ultimately, this "problem" is two-fold, and really has little to do with the publisher:
1. Customer only wants to buy product on his terms, maybe, possibly.
2. Retailer only wants to deal with a single distributor.

Now, I have slightly more empathy for #1. As I customer, I often go to B&N or Borders looking for a book, and if I cannot find it there, refuse to order it through them. That's if I want instant gratification or have another immediate need.

However, if I really want/need the book, I then go and order it online when it becomes clear that it's not physically availabe in my area. Furthermore, when regarding products that have such a short shelf-life, like games (90 day sell cycle rant snipped), I often don't hestitate

On the other hand, #2 is one of the overarching problems of the three-tier system, and is completely releated to product-hobbyists opening stores without thinking the business through. Take, or example, the hobbies of book-reading and book-collecting/dealing. I'd be dollars to donuts that the latter hobbyist has a better chance of running a successful used book store.

I don't bring up business hobbyists, because I doubt a businessman would open a game, comic book, or non-used bookstore (or mom 'n pop supermarket) in today's market.

But there's no traditional distributor in that picture. Looks right, looks left, looks under chair ... nope, not there.

The only place that a tradistional distributor fits is to cover #2 above... and, trickledown, those people in #1, served by number #2 stroes, who cannot or will not order online.

I am 100% agreed that it'd be nice, and is definitely not a make-or-break. At least not at our sector/layer/sales numbers of the industry.

I can envision a certain point of visibility and sales and marketing where retailers are a necessity for a product, but -- as I think you are often fond of saying -- as a marketing expense. I'd go further: if you have come up with the equivalet of Apples to Apples, a game with massive crossover appeal, and cannot crack the standard mainstream game distros to Toys R Us and Kmart and such, the gaming industry distro system is a very viable stepping-stone.

IMAO, of course.


CU
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Chad Underkoffler [chadu@yahoo.com]

Atomic Sock Monkey Press

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: November 25, 2005, 08:50:45 AM »

H'm. I guess I'm not seeing the same opening/window you are, or maybe we're not communicating well ...

As I see it, the retailers who refuse to consider anything but looking in GCQ or their single distributor's order-list are the same ones who would not benefit us, or any publisher really, through ordering. They order what their weird little rumor-community considers hot at the moment, plus slush-piles with a little extra cash once in a while, and do not re-order specific titles from those slush-piles based on sales. This is not hearsay or speculation on my part. These guys brag about this.

So I see zero return in expanding store-presence beyond those retailers who do the (a-b) I described before. Those guys are serving their customers and me; the other guys are not, so any effort to get into those stores is wasted. A sale through such a store isn't worth much because it's not followed by an immediate, reliable re-order.

Chad, it seems to me that you're advocating making that extra effort which I am saying isn't worth it. All for the benefit of what seems to me very iffy, very few, very low-return, unsustained sales.

If a guy comes up and says, "I woulda bought your game, but it wasn't in my store," and flatly resists any and all other avenues, it seems to me he doesn't really want my game, and the "woulda" is highly dubious from the start. That's the iffy. Your "two dozen per title" is a very low number in terms of sales, definitely under the radar for "problem to solve," as I see it, and considering I'd be making (for Sorcerer) $2-3 profit per book, also under the financial radar. What, two dozen at $2.50? I "lost" $60? And really that's no loss at all, since those same copies are about to sell on-line, to others, for a profit more like $14 per book.

I think the reliable and business-savvy store presence can be thoroughly met by that core of excellent retailers who do (a-b). It seems to me as if your primary concern would be solved simply by identifying and getting to them, either directly or through Key 20 or IPR, and that any and all concern with the "other" stores can be jettisoned with no loss.

Best,
Ron
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chadu
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« Reply #6 on: November 25, 2005, 09:06:27 AM »

H'm. I guess I'm not seeing the same opening/window you are, or maybe we're not communicating well ...

As I see it, the retailers who refuse to consider anything but looking in GCQ or their single distributor's order-list are the same ones who would not benefit us, or any publisher really, through ordering. They order what their weird little rumor-community considers hot at the moment, plus slush-piles with a little extra cash once in a while, and do not re-order specific titles from those slush-piles based on sales. This is not hearsay or speculation on my part. These guys brag about this.

So I see zero return in expanding store-presence beyond those retailers who do the (a-b) I described before. Those guys are serving their customers and me; the other guys are not, so any effort to get into those stores is wasted. A sale through such a store isn't worth much because it's not followed by an immediate, reliable re-order.

Chad, it seems to me that you're advocating making that extra effort which I am saying isn't worth it. All for the benefit of what seems to me very iffy, very few, very low-return, unsustained sales.

Ron, we are not in disagreement, save in the amount of return we see for expanding store-presence. Where you see zero return, I see "more than zero, but less than one" return, if that makes any sense.

I'm not advocating making that extra effort for the sales. Not at all.

If anything, I'm advocating making a mild effort (once systems/processes come online to make this much more trivial, like IPR and the RPGNow distro entry) for marketing purposes -- game on shelves, game in minds. Serving those cloistered customers and retailers is a side-effect.

If the system or process doesn't cost me money -- or better yet earns me something -- it's a better deal than buying advertising space somewhere, strictly in terms of a marketing effort.

Would you agree in that light that there is some mild value in the distro system?

I guess the question is if there's a marketing idea that works better than that for cheaper (or in this case, pays me more for taking advantage of).


CU
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Chad Underkoffler [chadu@yahoo.com]

Atomic Sock Monkey Press

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Andy Kitkowski
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« Reply #7 on: November 25, 2005, 09:40:24 AM »

Would you agree in that light that there is some mild value in the distro system?

Hey Chad, very interesting topic, I was about to branch off a topic specifically to talk about this:

C. The customer wishing to support their game store
Coupled with a new one:
G: Customer is new to the hobby or casual gamer, who is open to new games but hasn't made the leap to researching or talking about games on the internet (so he doesn't know about the bigger world out there). In other words, the dream scenario for a lot of people that do keep the fingers in the doors of traditional distribution: The traditional gamer dude that walks into the game store to see what's new, ends up leafing through a copy of Sorcerer or Dead Inside or CoS or whatever, and goes "Holy Fuck!  THIS IS WHAT I'VE BEEN MISSING!!!", and begins playing again.

I think everyone here on the Forge wants to keep that door open to G.

The problem is that, with all this talk of making more money by ignoring trad distro, we essentially cut C and G out of the equasion for most game stores. Which is, of course, a little saddening.  Pardon the metaphor, but it's kinda like saying, "Hey, here's your (gaming) salvation, you just have to tirelessly hunt for it (on the internet) to realize it exists."

Thing is, what Ron was saying above really clicked: A lot of the factors that prevent us from getting the game to customers C and G are largely the fault of the folks who (mis)manage their gaming store, whether they realize they're at fault or not.  The reason that Ron is reluctant to get involved is because, to affect lasting change, and to not simply throw thimbles of water on a maddening fire, you can't simply shuffle your products into standard distro yourself (even if you find an easy way to shuffle your products into the standard distro system).  Rather, you have to train and re-educate game store retailers.  You have to teach them about this market, make them receptive to it by showing them how it will make them money, and basically get them off their duffs to help themselves. You have to teach poor retailers (the majority of game store owners, from my own experience) how to be good retailers; you have to teach them how to do their jobs.

That's an unholy amount of work just to get a few copies of your book in the hands of customers C and G.  I think that I've been seeing a 4-year trend by game publishers on the Forge to rather pray that customers C and G start looking up games on the internet, and react accordingly by making their games accessible and understandable once thos potentials reach the internet. It's paying off now and all, which is fine and good, but still... wouldn't it be nicer to reach a few other less internet-driven customers?

It would be, but that would require us again to find retailers, tell them what they've been doing for the last X years is pretty much misguided and/or wrong, and train them how to do their jobs properly.  After reading this thread, I, too, have come to the conclusion that it's too high of a time investment for too little a return.

-Andy
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #8 on: November 25, 2005, 09:46:49 AM »

Chad, I bought Dead Inside from a retailer, but I bought it because of your name on it (having read a lot of GURPS stuff) and even at that point, several years ago and before I found The Forge, I was looking for independent RPGs (just like I look for other indie media). So my reasons to buy were probably fairly unusual.

Anyway, I'm eagerly reading along with this thread and not taking sides until I've thought about it a lot.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

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Andy Kitkowski
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« Reply #9 on: November 25, 2005, 09:48:46 AM »

Sorry, I wanted to explain this point better:
Quote from: me
"The reason that Ron is reluctant to get involved is because, to affect lasting change, and to not simply throw thimbles of water on a maddening fire, you can't simply shuffle your products into standard distro yourself (even if you find an easy way to shuffle your products into the standard distro system)."

I was basing this off of what you said here:

If anything, I'm advocating making a mild effort (once systems/processes come online to make this much more trivial, like IPR and the RPGNow distro entry) for marketing purposes -- game on shelves, game in minds. Serving those cloistered customers and retailers is a side-effect.

If the system or process doesn't cost me money -- or better yet earns me something -- it's a better deal than buying advertising space somewhere, strictly in terms of a marketing effort.

Now, I'm wondering if you could explain that further, maybe with an example?  I might be misunderstanding here, but what I thought when I wrote the above is this:

If you advertise or spend money into marketing your game, or hire someone to do it for you, then you'll probably see a bump in sales for your product.  The problem is, since most LGS retailers suck at their chosen job, all you will see is a small bump in sales for that product; the next product you release? Unless you had an ad for your upcoming product in the back of your last product's book, then you're going to have to repeat your work again, and again, for each time you release another product, to keep it in the sight and mind of the retailer, customer, etc.  Repeat and rinse until you run out of cash, or until you become one of the few; the Shit that Sticks (Palladium, Mongoose, WW, other consistent sellers who spent enough early on to become fully ingrained in the retailer's psyche).

I'm starting to think the best advice is "Let it Burn; Watch it Die".  The good/smart/cooperative retailers are selling small press stuff well, not just the "fluff cash to bargain bin" purchase process.  We can hope that more follow their example.  Or go belly-up.

-Andy
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Luke
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« Reply #10 on: November 25, 2005, 10:16:06 AM »

Chad,

What's the harm in printing up a 100 or so of your books and slipping them into distro to see what happens? Distributers don't order more than a couple of dozen of small press stuff, so there's no danger of needing to print more or of having back stock. Distribution can be an excellent advertising opportunity -- especially since you stand to make money doing it.

As Andy said, those "G" kids are out there. They are pining over the barren shelves of their local game store. They are looking for your game even if they don't know it.

Personally, I have a great one on one relationship with three retailers in my area -- one down the street, two within 200 miles of my house. Yes, 200. One orders directly from me. That's fun. One orders direct from my fulfillment house. That's cool. And one orders my stuff via Alliance. Which is fine by me. There are two extremely beneficial sides to this: first, they expose kids to BW who otherwise would have never heard of it. And, they keep reordering -- which makes getting into retailers and selling at a discount 100% worth it. My game continues to grow via their efforts! And using them as a test case, I feel it's perfectly acceptable to deal with the hassle of distro.

-L
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: November 25, 2005, 10:41:16 AM »

I'm squinting a little. How did I get cast into the role of the "no store ever ever" guy? I'm the one saying get into the stores, for exactly the reason you're saying, Chad. But I'm also saying, pick and choose which stores, and never mind the ones who aren't going to make good on their side of the deal. Which also includes most distributors.

It's getting frustrating to talk about this, because I personally represented all the independent games, as a principle and unique community, at the GTS in 2001, 2002, and 2003. The reason our games are in some stores, consistently and well, is because I did that. That's how Pandemonium in Cambridge, MA, even knows we exist, Luke. That's how IPR and Key 20 are able to do what they do at all, relative to stores, because I spent three years representing and following up and emailing, as well as participating in the "industry" lists and forums. You guys don't know much about that. I paved that road.

Incidentally, there are actually a couple of good-guy distributors out there. They are smaller, fairly regional, and treated like poor relations by most stores. And since their model of success is "become like Alliance one day," they tend to make decisions that break my heart, as they drive their real success into the ground, rather than help themselves or me. But I do want to acknowledge them a little.

Chad, the more I read over this thread, the more it seems to me as if you didn't really know what IPR and Key 20 are doing. That's not a slam; I'm trying to show you a whole world of opportunity, for direct sales as well as store sales. I think if you follow up on their sites and email them, Brennan and Jason, respectively, will be happy to tell you how their companies work. You can be in the stores, and not at random, either, but with reliable expectations of sales.

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: November 25, 2005, 10:45:13 AM »

Hello again,

OK, I think I'm seeing it. I've already expanded into the retailer zone that you are talking about expanding into. So when I say "no more expansion necessary," that doesn't work for you because you are looking into the zone I'm in, and saying, hey, that could work.

Yes, it works. I really want to help you expand into the functional retailer zone you're speculating about, because I know it's real - I'm in it.

But expanding past that, way out there, into non-functional retailer zone, is a bad idea. I'm trying to help you see the difference between the two and see how you can step into the zone that works.

Best,
Ron
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rpghost
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« Reply #13 on: November 25, 2005, 02:26:04 PM »

I don't know any of the inside info at IPR and I would hope some would share it... but at RPGMall we found out point blank that retailers would NOT buy from us unless pricing was near 50% off and low or free shipping costs. IPR offers 42%... that's about what RPGMall was offering and we got a grand total of about 4 retailers to signup.

I also found out that it would require SERIOUS sales force effort to call all the retailers to get them to even try the system. They all wanted to work with their main distributors and don't want the hassle of dealing with another account. They point blank said it's not worth their bother when many of these game stores admit to activly supporting indie publishers when they can.

In short, if IPR is actaully reaching any significant number of retailers (50+) then I'd be extreamly surprised.

However, if you enter distribution you reach over several thousand retailers though their solicitation publications and of them probably a hundred or so would actually order your book. Many of which do NOT use the internet at all or have any clue about IPR or your indie websites (nor, if they are decent store owners, have to time to do so).

I own a store. I do what I can to support the indie press. We had a section/shelf in the store full of it. We maybe sold one book a month from there and eventually it got taken down. Just not a wise use of space we pay rent on. I'm sure many retailers (esp these days) are also very cautious of what they stock and take much less risks.

Now, what RPGNow is doing is an attempt to tackle many of these problems while serving all those gamers out there that want a book in their hands TODAY and wish to support their FLGS. We are:

1) working on consignment with our distrubotrs (4 to start that cover 80+% of the nation). This has several advantages. The main one is that you're not subject to some distributor's buyer being caution on ordering your product and never reordering in time to meet demand. You product is ALWAYS in stock at the distros and we make sure they keep getting enough to put on their floor. We use POD methods so there is no secondary warehousing involved. So a store tries your product, surprising to him someone bought it a week later. What would typically happen at this point is he'd call his distro and try to order another - finding out that they are out of stock (or worse told it's out of print which is usually a lazy lie). But with our system, they get the book and we just print another. Steve Jackson Games and several others use this method. Unlike key20 which behaves like a typical fulfillment house with spotty restocking orders (not fault of theirs).

2) We get paid bi-monthly so you get your payments on time. Many distros have gone 90+days on debt and or put you on the bottom of the list to get paid. Why not. Well we're a larger company and doing fullfilment on consignment, so they have to deal with us differently. We get the FASTEST payment process they have. Unlike key20 again which is paid 60 days out usually.

3) We are only selling _PROVEN_ products. We are promoting this fact through solicitation and attendence at GTS and conventions. We'll also be putting out demo CD's and contacting our 80,000 or so customer base with RPGNow and RPGShop to get them to order. When a retailer sees our rather familiar name and the fact that all products going to distro have already proven themselves as top sellers, they will be much more likely to order a print product from us.

4) We make it easy on the publishers. We handle the POD and shipping to distros and solicitation and simply send them checks. Allowing you to do what you do best which is make games not hassle over unpaid bills or missing shippments.

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is come early spring we should start seeing if this is all enough to make some strides into the "old" distribution system in a new way. This new way should create more customers, sell more product, and make you some money - that you are very likely just missing out of at this point (eg new customers).

James Mathe
http://www.RPGNow.com
P.S. Sorry if this sounds like an ad. I just think that way all the time.

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guildofblades
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« Reply #14 on: November 25, 2005, 02:31:44 PM »

>>The problem is that, with all this talk of making more money by ignoring trad distro, we essentially cut C and G out of the equasion for most game stores. Which is, of course, a little saddening.  Pardon the metaphor, but it's kinda like saying, "Hey, here's your (gaming) salvation, you just have to tirelessly hunt for it (on the internet) to realize it exists."<<

I am a big supporter of the idea of getting your game out there in as many ways as possible. However, if your intent is to ru a profitable business, and an efficient one where you build upon todays progress so you have have a larger and more fiscally successful business tomarrow, you can go about trying to put your game out there "at all costs".

Some methods are just not functional. The 3 tier distribution system is a prime example of that. It is a terrible waste of money to spend so much marketing and PR effort winning stores over to the idea of stocking ad selling your products, only to have large numbers of them fail to actuallt stock the thing because the distributors have zeroed it out in their warehouse. And if your consumer marketing attempts to "support" retailers in general on the premise that most retailers could (in theory) stock and sell your games because your distributors (in theory) are out there trying to sell it to them, then all you really have done is drive a bunch of potential consumers on a wild goose chase. And after many of them have done that, you dramtically reduce the chance that they will endevour onto another one in an attempt to actually find a place where they can buy your product.

For each and ever product that distributors claim to carry, but dramtically under service, and on most products that manufacturers produce "to pre orders", with no intend to reprint and support over the long haul, and every retailer that won't go that extra mile to hunt down a source for a product the customer wants, the stability of the hobby game industry itself gets hurt. You lose sales, the retailer loses the premise of offering utility value to their consumers, and we all manage to piss off consumers who can't find what they want and are given false hope by everyone in the 3 tier channel that special orders and whatnot will still manage to service their needs. And entire industrythat fails to fill the consumers needs will soon find it has no consumers.

No. I won't support a distribution methodology that is driving the industry into the ground with very short sighted thinking. Now will I support retail stores that are so blinded by what those companies are telling them, they won't think outside of the box when it comes to trying to service their local customers' needs.

That being said, there are a number of good retailers out there and I am by no means advocating cutting them out of the system. We are working hard to identify who those stores and are making very attractive wholesale programs for them to utilize. We even offer them the same discount that we use to offer our distributors, so long as the enroll into a specific program we have set up. The net result tends to be that each retailer on the program generates invoice amounts equal to what our distributors use to order. Two or three such retailers generate more total revenue than the average distributor use to. But more, it is a RELIABLE distribution method. And that is what counts.
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Ryan S. Johnson
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