Monday, March 10, 2008


I was thinking about the pre-order system and how troublesome it is. It works like this: You, as a customer, do research and use your psychic powers to place an order ahead of time with your retailer, who you know and trust and who is NOT going out of business any time soon. You do this rather than buying it online, where you probably found all this useful information, since almost no game manufacturer advertises.

I, as the retailer, with this invaluable knowledge and intuition based on unstated demand, place my order with the distributor, provided the distributor will be carrying the product and informed me in a 5 page spreadsheet or order booklet three months before. They will hold me to this order, sending me this product even if it's a year late, printed on toilet paper, or has been sold for weeks or months at Target, sucking up all the product demand.

The distributor, who is on the ball, not behind on their payments to the manufacturer (and can thus get the product), not being bought or reorganized, and certainly not staffed by incompetents, then tells the manufacturer my magic number plus some overage for those who don't pre-order and subsequent restocks.

The publisher, who always makes high quality product without defects that could dilute the desire for pre-orders, calls his printer, who he has paid diligently, orders product based on this pre-order number, plus a reasonable amount of overage. He times this so that he'll hit the street date he has diligently promised to both retailers and fans (which is why they've placed their pre-order), somehow accounting for his Chinese shipping container of product getting stopped for an unknown number of days or weeks by the Department of Homeland Security.

It works fabulously.

Alright, this is a slight exaggeration. Lets look at my retailer position a little more closely. If five people express mild interest in an upcoming product what does that mean? First, those five people expressed interest because I personally talked to them. I know them and what they play. This method of gaging interest is pretty much all I have. So with five people interested, you might think you can do some math. Hmm, five people, say 50% chance of buying it, rounded up, means three copies. However, customers express so little interest in new releases that five people is actually a HUGE number. Perhaps those five people are game masters for an RPG group, and actually represent 25 people, one book for each of their players. We had one pre-order for Dark Heresy and five people expressing interest and we sold 28 copies before the distributors ran dry. I pre-ordered 20 of those copies because I had advanced warning of the short print run. The other 8 copies were scrounged from distributors after the fact, made worse by retailers who didn't pre-order any. If I hadn't known it was a short print run, I probably would have ordered maybe 5 copies.

The more obscure the product, the more important it is to pre-order. A 30-day supply of a Dungeons & Dragons book by Wizards of the Coast might be 15 copies. A 30-day supply of your average RPG supplement might be 2 copies. If a product catches fire, you've got much more likelihood of finding one of those 15 copies than the 2 copies. Role-playing is the worst. The genre is stretched so thin, with so few people playing so many games, including out-of-print games, that many new RPG releases get one copy for the shelf. When a game system dies, I cheer. It's wrong maybe, perhaps evil, but for the love of god, there are too many options and too few customers.

I've actually considered dropping "one" from my ordering regimen. This is usually the number of RPG books I get for marginal games. My thinking goes like this: Buying one is gambling on such a small group of people that there's no certainty to the order. Buying two usually means I can at least think of one person likely to buy it. Buying one copy is intuition, a crap shoot, a prayer in the wind, habit. Role playing games are primarily ordered in ones and you can look at my discount shelf to see where many end up. Part of my intuition game is knowing when to re-order zero, almost as important as ordering zero to begin with. Here's a truth for you: The difference between retail success and failure is zero and one.

Despite all the pre-order problems, it works very well for me. No, really. I pre-order everything, even those pesky "one" items, often put there as a place-holder to remind me to get a product. Maybe I up my order from one to two if I've heard something on the grape vine, or maybe I attempt to weasel my way out of my one copy, if I know it will suck. Usually when retailers are bitching about product outages, I'm comfortably reading it from the store with a shelf full of product. It works for me because I participate, unfortunately it's still very troublesome for the other two tiers.


  1. I always pre-ordered. But that is because I was also a comic shop, and if you don't pre-order in comics, you die. (Die-mond, get it :-p)

    The other side of that coin was that I had some capital and some credit cushion to accept my pre-orders if they all came on the same day.

    Others don't have that luxury.

  2. Almost all my pre-orders fit on a credit card. Unless something really bad happens, I've usually sold through the product before the credit card bill is due.

  3. The key is tracking and communicating pre-orders properly.

    Like the Seinfeld episode with the car rental "Anyone can TAKE a reservation, but I pay you to KEEP a reservation".

  4. We require payment in advance on most pre-orders, a deposit if it's something big, like the D&D 4 gift set. I have customers who balk at this. Some accuse me of not trusting them. Trust has nothing to do with it.

    I explain that I have customers who pre-pay and STILL don't pick up their product. Sometimes people NEVER pick up their product after paying. I have had FRIENDS who pre-order without paying and don't pick up their order. I would only take one without payment if it was a sure thing, but at that point I probably would wave off the pre-order.

    I can point to our little shelf caddy with a bunch of misc. product that people haven't picked up. This one here is from two months ago, this one from three weeks. This box over there on the shelf was a special order from nine months ago; we gave up on the guy. All these people pre-paid and didn't pick their stuff up.

    The only time I don't actively take a pre-order is for something really big or something small. If you want to pre-order a $100 box of cards, I'll happily oblige. If you want one theme deck out of a box of 12 on a big new release, we'll I'll most likely assure you we'll have it in stock when you show up.

  5. You are freaking hilarious.