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Neil Carr
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I've stepped onto the path of being an amateur RPG publisher via Kickstarter. I want to see how far I can travel from zero-to-hero and I'm looking for help along the way. These series of posts are in part just me thinking aloud, but also asking specific questions as I put the pieces together to achieve rpg publishing victory.

I have several projects in development and they all have different specific needs and formats. One thing that I've been exploring lately with Kickstarter campaigns is when to offer a hardcover copy?

What is a pretty standard RPG Kickstarter campaign is that you'd offer three versions of your work: PDF, softcover, and hardcover. However what I was wondering is if there is a threshold at which a book becomes too short in page length to warrant a hardcover?

I've been pulling RPG books off my shelf and looking them over to see how long they are and where the “hardcover zone” seems to exist within my collection.

You're typical D&D splatbook from the 3.5 era ran from 158 to 224 pages, all of which seemed fine as a length for a hardback book, though when you compare to the bulk of my collection there was an abundance of books that fit within this page length that were softcover, such as Call of Cthulhu books.

The book with the lowest page count that was still a hardcover was the The Collected Book of Experimental Might which came in at 144 pages. It is noticeably thin for a hardcover compared to the others, but no so much that it seems unwarranted.

Beyond that, the only other hardcover I have that have very low page counts in the house are children's books. There are plenty that are only 20 pages in length, and seem completely appropriate for that market, but I can easily imagine people wondering why a length reserved for adventure modules would be wrapped up in hardback. One other key difference with children's books is that the pages seemed to be thicker than what you'd find in a standard RPG book. That likely gives a bit more thickness and heft which wouldn't exist with the typical channels of printing with 70 lb paper.

One other factor that is in play with Kickstarters is that hardcover copies can be seen as just a special perk. So that even if the book is only 32 pages in length, if it is seen by a backer as a very special item for them, or is just a way of providing more patronage dollars to the author, but getting just a little extra perk out of the process. In that regard I could see offering that up as an option. I can also see that being a complaint, but that could just be the nature of a wide internet audience.

Questions

Do people see some page length threshold for warranting a hardcover?

From the backer's side, what is generally seen (if that could even be discerned) as an appropriate use of the hardcover option?

From the author's side, are there any other factors at play in the decision to include a hardcover or not?
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Brian Cooksey
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Re: Amateur Kickstarter Question #5: To Hardcopy or not, that is the question
I like to get hardcopies of anything 32 pages or greater. I wouldn't expect a hardcover until the 128-page mark.

Hardcopies are a major factor for me when I back a Kickstarter project. I have backed PDF-only projects before but, for the most part, I'm looking for a physical object that I don't have to print myself.
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Re: Amateur Kickstarter Question #5: To Hardcopy or not, that is the question
echoota wrote:
The book with the lowest page count that was still a hardcover was the The Collected Book of Experimental Might which came in at 144 pages. It is noticeably thin for a hardback compared to the others, but no so much that it seems unwarranted.

Not sure whether this helps, but Ulisses regularly publishes hardcovers with low page counts. They seem to be quite popular, and look rather nice.

(See A184: Maskenspiele und Kabale for an 88-page example.)
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Dave Terhune
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Re: Amateur Kickstarter Question #5: To Hardcopy or not, that is the question
I like hardcopies, and rarely back anything that doesn't contain some form of printed material. (Geomorphic map tiles are an exception, because I can print exactly how many of each page I need from a PDF.)

I've been kind of dismayed by the dwindling production of softcover books for RPG products, as I've always preferred softcover to hardcover. Softcover books are more portable; you can fit more of them into a backpack for transport to a game.

I have on occasion bought a full-color hardcover version of a book to look pretty on my shelf, but I prefer to actually use black&white softcovers. (They're cheaper to replace, if nothing else.)
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Neil Carr
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Vaklam wrote:
hardcover


Heh... thanks. That terminology drift completely passed over my head.
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Eloy Lasanta
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If you can produce a good-looking PDF, it's not too much harder to make it suitable for printing. And with as easy as PoD services are nowadays, you'd be silly not to have SOME kind of print copy available for your game.

That's my 2 cents.

-Eloy
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DMSamuel
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Like others, I want a hardcopy option available.

I am not sure there is a minimum page limit for me in terms of hardcover book. The shortest hardcover book I own is The Dungeon Alphabet, which weighs in at 48 pages plus two facing pages without page numbers, so 50 pages total. It works for the product, which has whimsical art and a very light cover (weight-wise). if the cover was very heavy, I think it would feel out of place.

Having said that, I am not sure a hardcover is necessary - I would rather see other perks added than simply pdf --> softcover --> hardcover.

Of course, I would also probably actually buy the hardcover, so take my opinion for what it is, an opinion.
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Neil Carr
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First Oni wrote:
If you can produce a good-looking PDF, it's not too much harder to make it suitable for printing. And with as easy as PoD services are nowadays, you'd be silly not to have SOME kind of print copy available for your game.


Oh yeah, you definitely want to do at least a softcover option. It looks like the standard pattern is $10 PDF, $25 softcover, and $50 hardcover. At a certain page length there isn't any debate over warranting a hardcover, but what happens when you project is only a 32 page book?

I guess my question is in part stemming from the rather elaborate philosophical debates that have occurred over on the BGG side with Kickstarter projects. People seem to have wildly different views on the point of crowdfunding, and some get quite vocal about what they will and will not fund.

The RPG market is smaller, and perhaps culturally more forgiving, and so those rifts in where and how money is being used isn't as intense. I guess I'm just imagining someone coming along saying, "What? $50 for a 32 page book? How dare you offer such a reward bracket! Who do you think you are?"
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Rishi A.
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echoota wrote:
I guess my question is in part stemming from the rather elaborate philosophical debates that have occurred over on the BGG side with Kickstarter projects. People seem to have wildly different views on the point of crowdfunding, and some get quite vocal about what they will and will not fund.

The RPG market is smaller, and perhaps culturally more forgiving, and so those rifts in where and how money is being used isn't as intense. I guess I'm just imagining someone coming along saying, "What? $50 for a 32 page book? How dare you offer such a reward bracket! Who do you think you are?"


I sometimes see ridiculous and undesirable awards at upper levels, but it doesn't bug me at all. If I'm interested in the product, I will fund it at a lower level and ignore the big rewards.

Of course, I'm significantly more forgiving with an RPG Kickstarter than a board game Kickstarter. For me, personally, I feel like I get something out of reading an RPG even if I never get to play it. For a board game, I feel that owning a game is practically pointless unless I'm going to play it.
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So it goes
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Another vote for hardcover. Personally I can't stand sifting through PDFs, the feel of the book in my hands just feels 'right' to me. Besides, when GMing, the thud of a book on the table gets attention. Can't do that with my laptop.
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DMSamuel
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Rishi wrote:
I sometimes see ridiculous and undesirable awards at upper levels, but it doesn't bug me at all. If I'm interested in the product, I will fund it at a lower level and ignore the big rewards.

Of course, I'm significantly more forgiving with an RPG Kickstarter than a board game Kickstarter. For me, personally, I feel like I get something out of reading an RPG even if I never get to play it. For a board game, I feel that owning a game is practically pointless unless I'm going to play it.


This. Exactly what I was thinking.

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Melissa Gay
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Hardcovers are way easier to stuff into a backpack without having to worry that they will deform or otherwise get messed up in the course of con-going or whatnot. I like them, personally, but conversely I don't hold it against publishers who do softcover, as long as it's a quality binding.
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Jacob Wood
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I'm a little torn on this tone too. I did some price estimating on Create Space, and it looks as though hardcover books are *significantly* more costly to print on demand than softcover. That means passing the cost on to the customer and potentially accepting lower margins for yourself.

Example: Psi-punk is going to be roughly 190 pages (possibly a tad more) once published. That's a fine range for a hardcover book, I think, especially since most of the D&D 3.5 splatbooks fall into taht range and are all hardcoer (but Wizards has more money to throw at things like that than I do).

From the estimates on Create Space, I can offer a 190-page B&W softcover for $20 and accept an $8 margin, or a $30 hardcover and accept only a $5 margin. Not only does it cost the customer $10 more, but I make $3 less per hardcover sold. Margins can be off-set by increasing the cost of the hardcover to, say, $35, but who's going to pay $15 extra for a hardcover version as compared to the $20 softcover?

Also, if my internal art is all B&W, does a hardcover matter? Should hardcovers be reserved for full-color art, or do some hardcovers have B&W art inside?

Just from glancing at my own shelf, I don't see any hardcover products with B&W art. From what I've seen so far, color art costs about double that of B&W, which further increases the cost of the product (or at least the budget/funding goal).

What are people's thoughts on hardcovers with color vs. B&W art? Also, how much more would the hardcover-inclined be willing to pay for the feature?
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Brian Leet
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The original AD&D books were all black and white interior art and hardcover...

DCC RPG is going to be over 400 pages in a hardcover format with all black and white art.

Star Wars Second Edition is an interesting case. They have hard cover and primarily black and white interior art with a handful of four page color "inserts" on a different paper stock and somewhat put together to look like advertisements appropriate to the setting. Not sure I'm fond of this, but it is a little different.

One thing I really dislike about most color book interiors is that it tends towards a smooth finish clay paper. I really like the touch of paper with a bit more tooth that is appropriate to black and white art. End of day, I'll evaluate quality on the value I see in the whole production: RPG content, art, paper and binding, hard or soft cover.

Personally, I like hard cover for folio sized books and/or core rules. I'm fine with softcover for less frequently used books or smaller formats.
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Anthony Friedman
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echoota wrote:
The RPG market is smaller, and perhaps culturally more forgiving, and so those rifts in where and how money is being used isn't as intense. I guess I'm just imagining someone coming along saying, "What? $50 for a 32 page book? How dare you offer such a reward bracket! Who do you think you are?"
You can consider me one of those people who would snub their noses at such a price point.

Personally, I like that you're asking all these kickstarter questions (since I too am considering releasing an RPG through its channels), but I think you are looking at this portion of the big picture through the wrong lens. How you should price your rewards is really a question all to its own, independent of pdf/softcover/hardcover. I wouldn't worry about reward tiers until much later.


As for addressing the hardcover issue, you should first determine if this the form you expect your RPG to have. Do you see your RPG as being just a PDF, a soft cover, or a hardcover book? If you're thinking to yourself, "If I had all the money in the world, then I would publish this as a nice hard cover book" then go for that. Make that your price point, and your ultimate kickstarter goal (to see your product in hardcover print).

If you find yourself saying, "Really, this is a softcover product" then aim for that. You can always worry about special rewards (like hardcovers, limited edition covers, signed editions, etc) later.
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Neil Carr
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Stix_Remix wrote:
Personally, I like that you're asking all these kickstarter questions (since I too am considering releasing an RPG through its channels), but I think you are looking at this portion of the big picture through the wrong lens. How you should price your rewards is really a question all to its own, independent of pdf/softcover/hardcover. I wouldn't worry about reward tiers until much later.


I guess I'm just not seeing that. In order to pull off the funding you need to make a compelling product and so what you end up creating needs to fit with what people are willing to back.

In the research that I've done there is a real limitation on what you can raise if you're aiming for only PDF levels of pricing. It seems pretty clear that at least a softcover product is needed for you to raise enough funds to reach funding goals. So in that regard you would want to avoid aiming to only create, say a 10 page document and only plan to release it as a PDF.


Stix_Remix wrote:
As for addressing the hardcover issue, you should first determine if this the form you expect your RPG to have. Do you see your RPG as being just a PDF, a soft cover, or a hardcover book? If you're thinking to yourself, "If I had all the money in the world, then I would publish this as a nice hard cover book" then go for that. Make that your price point, and your ultimate kickstarter goal (to see your product in hardcover print).


The way I'm seeing it is that POD is effectively blurring the lines between any of these distinctions. I'm not envisioning funding being there to create a print run, it would just be there to pay for art, layout and whatever other little bits of production are needed to get it to a clean product. Once the backer rewards go out then the main avenue of getting the book would be via RPGNow and other types of sites. I guess if the demand was there then I could go to RPGNow, make a POD print run and then get it sent out to distributors, but that would be the distributor paying for product. The older model of economies of scale and risking money on inventory wouldn't really exist. The amount of books being bought from the market would be the amount being printed.

So in that regard the differences between PDF, softcover and hardcover becomes an individual aesthetic choice on the buyer's part. It isn't something that I would be involved with directly.

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Chad Bowser
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echoota wrote:

So in that regard the differences between PDF, softcover and hardcover becomes an individual aesthetic choice on the buyer's part. It isn't something that I would be involved with directly.



I think you've answered your own questions with this statement. Since you're not outlaying any cash for print runs up front, you don't have to make the judgement call over what length warrants boards vs. softcover. You offer all the options at appropriate levels and your backers choose which one they want. Then you POD that number. A 32-page book might look weird covered in boards, but if that's what the buyer wants, you can provide it.
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Rishi A.
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By the way, I forgot to mention that I read a lot of poetry. A volume of contemporary poetry in hardcover is generally only 60-70 pages. And they look just fine.
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Hal Greenberg
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HC or soft a BIG thing to remember is make sure you build into your costs and profits the difference to produce AND SHIP them, shipping will be much more expensive from the printer to you as well as you to the consumer.
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Just Hal wrote:
HC or soft a BIG thing to remember is make sure you build into your costs and profits the difference to produce AND SHIP them, shipping will be much more expensive from the printer to you as well as you to the consumer.

QFT. The question should not be "how many pages to make a hard cover necessary?" It should be "Can I afford to print both a hard cover and a soft cover with the money I raise?" because the printing cost is almost entirely independent and you're talking about needing to raise substantially more to cover the cost of print the hard covers - many non-POD places are going to require minimal orders of 250-500 books for each print run. So are you going to raise enough funds at the hard cover level to cover the additional costs? Remember, your hard cover funding level is poaching the people who would cover the costs of your soft cover print run.

In my opinion, I think it makes more sense to aim for a soft cover and then set the hard cover as a stretch goal: "If I reach x amount of funding, I will print a hard cover book instead." Otherwise, in all likelihood, you're going to have boxes of unsold books in your garage, and you'll be lucky to break even after you get done paying for everything.
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Halfjack wrote:
No opinions here, since you're using a totally different business model than we do (oh okay there are some opinions too):

Diaspora is 256 pages long, 6x9 format with fairly small type (around 100k words, very limited art). The hardcover was the first thing we offered and there were no other options for at least 6 months. It sold like crazy. We didn't cover shipping, we didn't pre-print, and we didn't warehouse anything. All direct sales, making about $13 a pop after costs. That's about 10-15% more per unit than our softcover.

The hardcover remains a significant fraction of our sales even though the softcover is now available all over the world in actual stores and the hardcover is only available by direct mail order. I take this to mean that hardcovers are desirable but softcovers are essential. If you have to pick one and only one, I would pick the softcover (as I have done on other projects).

However, the Diaspora book was deliberately designed to be like a text book and so the hardcover was a design choice, a deliberate aesthetic. I would consider that carefully as well -- make a hardcover if there are aesthetic demands that are well served by a hardcover.


I have to admit, we have the softcover Diaspora and I still covet the hardcover.
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