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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 33 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Indie Sales Numbers  (Read 7747 times)
drkrash
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Posts: 49


« on: October 19, 2010, 07:40:18 AM »

Hey, all.  I haven't posted here in a long time because, well, I've been working on my game.  But I was curious about something I read this week.

I released my "core" book in March.  It has been well-reviewed, has found a small but dedicated audience, and has sold exponentially more copies than I budgeted for.  So I'm very happy.  As an important point to establish at the outset: I understand that if I'm happy, it's all good.  Having established that, let me move on to my question.

Some anecdotal wisdom I found here at some point suggested (according to my memory) that 200 sales in the first year for an indie game, and/or 500 sales in a couple-three years, indicated a pretty decent success in the indie RPG market.  Based on these numbers, I'm doing pretty well.

But this week, I saw sales figures on Fred Hicks' blog.  Dresden Files jumped out at me: almost 7000 sales since its release not that long ago.  Now, I understand we're dealing with a well-established designer, a known and loved property, a system that seems to enjoy some sort of darling-status at the moment, and a build-up that was years in the making.  I get all that.  I'm not expecting sales like this...ever.

But still: there's a big discrepency between 500 in 2 years and 6000 in 6 months.

So my question is: is my anecdotal wisdom totally offbase? Or is it more or less accurate and Dresden is a totally special case?  I don't need hard facts - just well-informed impressions will do just fine.  Thanks.

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Adam Dray
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« Reply #1 on: October 19, 2010, 07:58:09 AM »

My (limited, no-special-access) understanding is that Dresden Files RPG is a special case. It's a hot property and Fred and team know what the hell they're doing.

Fred routinely posts sales figures for his other games. They're nowhere near as high. You should also be able to find sales figures for other indie games if you poke around. Ralph just posted lifetime numbers for Universalis. I think Paul Czege has posted figures for My Life with Master etc.

Selling a dozen or two games at GenCon is a really good weekend. Selling 50-100 copies in a year is a smashing success.

Really, though, define success on your own terms and do what it takes to reach your goals. If your idea of success is 6000 sales in six months, then make sure you have a product, market, and plan that will accomplish that.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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Mathew E. Reuther
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« Reply #2 on: October 19, 2010, 10:13:56 AM »

You need to remember that it's a series of books with a large following that has been made into a TV show on a fairly prominent network. It has a fairly serious market going for it.

If you look at the sales numbers that other people have posted, you'll see that yes, it is indeed a pretty large aberration for those reasons.

So unless you manage to get the rights to something similar (and remember, Jim Butcher and probably his agent is/are making money on every copy sold, so there's a price to be paid for the success) you're unlikely to ever see anything close to that from a product.

I've seen mentions of runs of 50 to a few thousand over the course of years of sales for more "normal" products. I wouldn't go planning any runs of 5000 right off the bat. :)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: October 19, 2010, 10:23:05 AM »

Hiya,

There's also a distinct difference between sales to distributors vs. sales to end customers. Moving books to distribution is a "sale" in most publishing parlance, without reference to whether anyone actually buys the book as a reader or user.

I'm not writing this to diminish the significance of the Dresden Files sales, but to clarify that a direct copies comparison of 7000 to 500 does not represent what is commercially happening in market terms.

Best, Ron
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drkrash
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Posts: 49


« Reply #4 on: October 19, 2010, 11:43:16 AM »

Thanks, guys.  I certainly would like to hear any other anecdotal evidence of what sales numbers you've been experiencing yourselves or that you may have seen elsewhere.

To re-iterate two things I said in my 1st post: I am very happy with my own numbers.  I have honestly made more money than I ever imagined I would.  So I'm not complaining about my own numbers compared to anyone else.  Also, I assumed Dresden was not the norm - which is why I was looking for what indie publishers seemed to be experiencing as some sort of "norm."

I'd even be interested to hear what publishers and would-be publishers realistically hope they will achieve in sales.  For my core product, I hoped for about 30 copies sold.  When I did that in two weeks, I was pretty happy.  It's been quite a few more since then. :)
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Valamir
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« Reply #5 on: October 20, 2010, 05:56:25 AM »

Ron, I'm not following your distinction.

The difference between a sale to an end consumer and to a distributor is the price received per unit and whether or not there is recourse, where you might be forced to buy back unsold copies (Not common in game distribution, but I understand can happen with sales to the big chain book stores).

Once money is owed on a transaction a sale is registered.

Whether those books get years of enjoyment in the hands of an avid fan or sit on a dusty shelf for years before being mulched is an important issue (in the sense we want more of the former and less of the latter) but has nothing to do with registering a sale.  500 sales means:  I have or am obligated to deliver 500 copies for which I have received or am owed payment for 500 copies.  7000 sales means:  I have or am obligated to deliver 7000 copies for which I have received or am owed payment for 7000 copies.  The revenue is going to be different depending on who the sale is to, but the sale is the sale.

That said, in answer to the original question.  Yeah, Dresden is a huge success.  A ton of super hard work over alot of years by a team of guys who really have their act together; combined with a licensed property that is hugely popular whose fanbase has alot of overlap with gamerdom; paired with, as you say, the darling system du jour = lightning captured in a bottle.  Stupendous and they deserve every bit of success.  But not really a valid yard stick to measure other efforts by.
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Mathew E. Reuther
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« Reply #6 on: October 20, 2010, 07:12:37 AM »

I suppose it depends on who they sold to . . . there's always the chance that some of those copies will be returnable should they languish.

Hard to know without being part of the EH operation. ;)
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Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: October 20, 2010, 06:16:07 PM »

I think the attribution of sales to a teams efforts is a little missplaced - unless you think that by having a tight act you can blow a whistle and make the market jump and backflip at your bidding. Otherwise you can have a tight act, but by the random elements of the market, simply not do as well. Success <> absolute control of whether one is successful. Some people roll a nat 20, so to speak - there's nothing special in what they did prior that lead to that.


Ralph, it depends on whether you wanna make sales and get out or make sales in the long run. If everyone else copies the "sell tons to retailers, few are bought" model, it does terrible things to the long term market. Or atleast by my estimate.
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Gryffudd
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Posts: 81

Just another designer


« Reply #8 on: October 22, 2010, 07:56:54 AM »

Hm, I suppose the distinction to me is what information you are looking for in the sales numbers. If you're looking at how much money is likely to be made, then total sales numbers, whoever they go to, would be the important bit, regardless whether they languish on shelves or not. If you're looking for information on the size of the game-buying market, then the numbers of games reaching gamers' hands is the key bit. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of information out there on either set of numbers.

I'd be interested either way, but I suppose people have their reasons for not divulging sales levels, so I'll have to largely remain in the dark.

Pat
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: November 01, 2010, 05:30:57 PM »

Took me a while to get back to this.

Ralph, that post is full of shit. I mean, it simply is.

1. Financial. If I sell a book to a guy, and he pays me every cent of the MSRP, and I have spent X on printing, and Y on shipping, and Z on whatever other costs, every bit over that total cost goes into my pocket. If I sell it to a distributor, then I get 40% of that MSRP, 50% if it's direct to a retailer, to offset that same cost.

So, on direct sale for a copy of Sorcerer, I make about $12. On a distributor sale, I make about $3. I don't call that the same thing.

2. End-user status. If I sell a book to a guy, he has the book. If I sell it to a distributor, it could get lifted by a light-fingered assistant, molder in the ex-wife's garage he laughably calls his warehouse, get sold to another distributor (or basically junkman like Crazy Eddie) in a manner suspiciously like unto mortgage bundling, forgotten under a pile of Silver Age Sentinels supplements, or basically find any number of other ways to be useless litter. One is a transaction; the other is a potential transaction. I don't call that the same thing either.

There is simply no comparison in units of copies. Dollars, sure - one business model may be better for a given game at a given time, in terms of dollars - in fact I'd be astounded it it weren't. But units of copies? Horse shit. "A sale is a sale" is a classic example of begging the question, sub-par sophomore logic - not something I expect from you at this site.

Best, Ron
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Valamir
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« Reply #10 on: November 01, 2010, 08:59:11 PM »

Ron, the fact that I understand the distinction your'e trying to make is clear when I say "The difference between a sale to an end consumer and to a distributor is the price received per unit"

But that distinction is utterly irrelevant to the issue of sales totals and units sold.  Sales are sales is not only not sub par logic...its basic business 101.  When a unit leaves your inventory, and you receive payment for it (or a receivable for future payment) that is a sale.  Period.  Whether you receive full MSRP or 1 penny is relevant to how much revenue you book from the sale.  But it is NOT relevant to how many sales you book.  Sorry.  Not horse shit.  Basic accounting.

Also your aside as to end user status is likewise irrelevant to the question of sales.  Its very important to OTHER issues (like how much actual play is occuring) but when a business books a sale, they book a sale.  Whether that sale is to a wholesaler, retailer, or end customer again...impacts the revenue...does not impact the sales number.  Isn't relevant at all.  And here at all includes when half the total sales get mulched by a wholesaler who couldn't sell them.  From the perspective of the business...sold is sold.  The exception here is when the buyer has recourse and can force you to take unsold copies back.  In proper accounting this is treated with a special reserve account that reduces your earned revenue by the amount of the reserve.  In that case, a sale isn't necessarily a sale because it can be "unsold" so to speak.  But in that case there is a proper accounting treatment to handle that.

You also in your points neglect to account for the increase in revenue that increased volume provides.  If you sell 200 units direct you get to pocket 100% of your Revenue less your cost of goods sold.  If you sell 7000 units into distribution your per unit revenue is much less.  But I guarentee your per unit cost of goods sold is much less also.  So the deep discount isn't quite as deep as it looks when you do the math.  From my own experience simply going  from 100 copies to 1000 reduced my cost by nearly 5$ per unit.  On a $20 book that's 25% towards reducing that discount. 

I had thought perhaps you had a different point to make which is why I wasn't following your logic.  But after your clarification I just have to conclude your logic is just wrong.

Recording units sold based on when revenue is earned is standard operating procedure for pretty much every business in the world that deals in inventory.  Some sales generate more revenue than others, true.  That's what Profit Margin is designed to track. But units sold are units sold.
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Mathew E. Reuther
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I came, I saw, I ordered the burrito . . .


« Reply #11 on: November 01, 2010, 10:40:06 PM »

That's in line with what I was saying earlier, that the units that are sold can be sent back if there's a deal in place which allows it. In that case, those units are not actually sold until they reach the customer's hands and pass the return policy of the reseller.

In particular there are major resellers that if they stock your book, will generally only do so because you as a publisher have set a book's buyback option.

You may think, well, simple, just eliminate the problem by not offering it . . .

But if you could get a title into a major brick and mortar store, you might sell far more units than you otherwise could count on, making buyback an attractive option.

So in that case, books are sold when they are sold to customers, not when they hit the distributor, or the reseller.

In the case of the Dresden files, we cannot tell you what their policy is. I have not seen the RPG available from one of those major stores, but that's not proof of anything . . .

Sales numbers are important, but only tell a part of the story. Being a bestselling author generally means your book is sold places like Walmart . . . any idea what kind of a deep discount THAT store looks for? :)
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drkrash
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« Reply #12 on: November 02, 2010, 03:06:48 AM »

Golly.  I was just looking for projections of what sales numbers people were individually happy with for their own work. :)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: November 02, 2010, 10:25:55 AM »

Ralph, this is the same double-speak I got from the RPG publishers back in the mid 1990s, all of whose companies have failed in the interim. You can quote all the B-school text you want, but none of it is actually saying what you claim it is. You can say "you are wrong" loud and clear, but that doesn't make it so when your backup is nothing but circular reasoning.

To say that accounting terms 10 books leaving my stock is 10 books, always, is trivial. Of course it is, just as $10 in my pocket is $10 no matter how it got there. But none of that - or repeating it or waving "101" at me - actually challenges my points. In business terms, which is to say, to me as creator, publisher, investor, financier, and chief executive, the crucial question is how the variables interrelate. And the 10 books leaving my stock in the context of direct sales doesn't relate to any aspect of marketing, profits, effort in the same way as 10 books leaving it in the context of distributor sales.

I cannot believe you of all people are perpetuating the old Brooklyn Bridge line about lowered print cost to offset high print run costs. True: there is clearly a sweet spot where per-unit print cost meets print run size cost, specific to any particular project at a particular time for a particular printer. A big part of choosing a printer is finding the one who can provide it. But: too many times, RPG publishers get enchanted by "more more more" when they find out that unit cost drops sharply, and go past that sweet spot. Loading yourself with huge stock and congratulating yourself on the deal you've cut per book, is exactly what tanked so many RPG companies in the 1990s. The per-unit deal is only a deal if those copies actually move out of your stockpile - otherwise it's a deadly trap, especially when tax time rolls around. You yourself exemplify the smart strategy: shorter print runs sized and timed to pay for the next, within the sweet spot to be sure but never loading yourself with oh-so-cheap but mountainous inventory that won't sell fast enough and becomes a drag on the financial cycle.

To anyone reading this, I am not posting in advocacy of only doing direct sales. I am calling attention to understanding what is happening in your own business and making decisions about what to do next that make real sense to you. And not to gaze at some company with stars in your eyes because they look so successful to the naive consumer. D&D's financial history is a series of train wrecks. White Wolf's design and business model tanked when it encountered an actual marketplace and had to be severely revised.

Regarding buyback, that's a detail which cannot be automatically associated with direct vs. distributor sale dichotomy. Either way, you offer it or you don't. For example, for me, it's actually a benefit of distributor-free publisher-to-store sales, that the publisher has absolute personal control over it. I offer full buyback to the stores right up-front, which enhances my cred with them and also enhances the chances that every book actually gets into a user's hands. I don't think it loses me money at all; I know that the direct sales would in the fullness of time move all my books if they had to, and the retailer side of it is augmentation.

Best, Ron
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Gregor Hutton
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« Reply #14 on: November 02, 2010, 10:58:46 AM »

For numbers there is a great article, based on real numbers, at the Collective Endeavour website: Small Press Publishing: Expected First Year Sales.

Oh, and I know of at least one "real" RPG publisher who tried to piss on those numbers online and imply they weren't very illustrative of gaming in general. I don't buy that.

To counter that opinion I will say this: I strongly believe the data in that article to be very accurate and realistic. I also note that when you look at 3:16's numbers and cross-reference it with The RPG Countdown Top 100 for 2008 (3:16 at #24) you can see where those numbers lie in regard to other products in the market.

In my opinion Dresden has been a huge hit, built solidly on a strong IP, a popular system and a lot of effort put in by people who know their market very well. Dresden numbers should not be expected by anyone under normal circumstances (but they are achievable as the Evil Hat guys have shown). And I tip my hat to them.
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