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Fulfillment houses in the role-playing industry

Started by Ron Edwards, March 22, 2003, 06:42:08 PM

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Ron Edwards

Hello all,

One of the seminars that I attended at GAMA concerned the growing game-industry phenomenon of fulfillment houses. As many of you know, both Jake and I keep our books warehoused with the Tundra Sales Organization, which also handles all invoicing and shipping and promotes the books to the distributors and retailers.

One way to look at them is as a "fourth tier" in the three-tier system of publisher, distributor, and retailer. I tend not to see them as such, mainly because the fulfillment house does not actually buy the game from the publisher, but rather acts as a contracted employee, even if that term is not actually used, in handling the publisher's property physically. Sometimes, they potentially replace the distributor, in terms of direct sales to customers (which are forwarded there) or straight to the retailer.

I began a thread last year, following GenCon, in which I stated great approval of these businesses and wished for more of them, called What the industry needs (by me!). My notion was that since the distributor step in the tiers has many problems, about six to ten of businesses like Tundra would essentially replace distribution for (what I think are) the better publishers and (what are very demonstrably) the better game stores.

The neat thing is, now, a few months later, here they are. Oh, it's not my vision in action, in terms of overall effects, but it's close enough to be a serious improvement in the long-term state of affairs for role-playing publishing. Especially if distribution looks to be encountering major difficulties soon, but about that, perhaps another thread is better.

Anyway, who are we talking about?

Tundra Sales Organization, Osseum, Excelsior, and Impressions. I'll also mention Wizards Attic (Eric Rowe), although that company is a little different in its services, and the Sphinx Group (Liz Fulda), although that company operates strictly as an agent and not a warehouser.

I won't list any of their policies specifically, but I will lay out the variables that a publisher needs to consider when thinking about these guys.

1. How many clients do they currently carry? The range is four to sixty.

2. Are they exclusive, i.e., the only way to get the game? Some are and some aren't.

3. How are they paid? Some rely on commissions alone, and some on flat fees. Also, some handle the money/invoicing of sales directly, and some don't (letting the company deal direct with the distributor).

4. To whom will they sell the books? Some will sell to anyone: direct to customer (e.g. from a client's website), retailer, or distributor; others will only deal with distributors.

5. How are they otherwise operating in the industry. Some have no other role; others are actually themselves game publishers. Conceivably, although none of them do this, I can imagine even a retailer playing this role.

6. Do they accept returns from store and/or distributor? Some do, some don't, and some have selective or customized policies.

As you can see, there's some diversity in business practices, meaning (probably) that a given publisher is probably best suited to a particular one of them and not the others. If you want to learn more, then you should visit their websites and get in touch with the folks in charge. Ask lots and lots of questions; since there's more than one, they can act very selectively and so can you.

My main point is to say, Yay!, and to perceive the appearance of more fulfillment companies as a serious benefit to the hobby.