Friday, November 27, 2009

What Publishers Should Know

Since someone asked me this and I spent too much time responding in an email, I'll share my thoughts here:

What publishers should know about retailing:

The product. They should know how their product is likely to be displayed. This includes things like artwork and facing. How will it look on a magazine rack? Can you see the title or is it too low on the cover? How about on a bookshelf with the spine out? Does it have a spine or does it disappear? They should know how their product holds up on the shelf. How long before the cover begins to warp and bend? If it's less than 6 months, you're sunk. Is there room for a price tag? Did you print your MSRP on the book? Did you reduce the retailer margin AND print the MSRP on the book? Prices are set by retailers; that's our job.

  • Very bad example: Traveler books
  • Very good examples: The new Hero system books. 

Direct vs. In Store. Do you see the retailer as an impediment or a partner?  Selling direct to the consumer is fine, but do you play favorites? Do you sell your product early online? Do you sell it early at conventions? Do you discount online or hold sales leaving out the retailer? Is Amazon deep discounting your product? Do you openly encourage customers to buy directly from you instead of the retailer? Do you have a subscription service that does not include the retailer? Is the retailer given a margin that's less than the full 50%?

  • Very bad examples: Paizo, Hero, White Wolf.  
  • Very good example: Goodman Games, WOTC.

Marketing. What have you done to let the retailer know about your product? Do you encourage the end customer to interact with the retailer? Do you pay for any marketing to the retail tier? Do you show up at trade shows (not just conventions)? What do you do to encourage the retailer to stock all of your products and avoid the dreaded "periodical model?" What sort of organized play or volunteer program do you use? Consider quickstart rules. The goal is to get the retailer to buy the product, and more importantly, consider that product "evergreen" to keep it in stock.

  • Very bad example: Mongoose (churn, churn churn)
  • Very good example: Wizards of the Coast, Paizo. 

Some basic concepts:

Inventory is a zero-sum game. In order for me to stock your product, I must drop another product. When a new product is released, you will have to have a compelling argument for me to re-order your product. How will you compete against the new and shiny?

Retailers don't market games. We can briefly explain your product. We can make a general suggestion to a customer. You should not expect that we've played your game or will ever have time to do more than browse the back cover. That was never our jobs. Product knowledge is about 20% of what we do. Caveat: if you DO get retailers to play your game, you've got a powerful evangelist. Consider how you can make that happen. Consider demo copies for staff or potential evangelist customers.

Customers only buy what they'll play. It used to be customers would buy interesting books from systems they don't plan to play, just  to read for fun or to find new ideas. Recession purchasing found customers abandoning this practice. Books are bought for direct play. Books that will not be used in this manner, will not be bought. This was a big eye opener. If you've found your sales have dried up, consider whether you were in this category.

Know your pipeline. You tell customers your book "is out." What does that mean? Does it mean you shipped it to distributors? Does it mean you have a street date and that date is today? Know where your product is in the pipeline. Know when it will hit the street. Communicate information about the street. Nobody cares that you put it in a brown box and shipped it to a warehouse. Strongly consider street dates for your products to level the playing field. Nobody likes to hear the store across town or across the country already has their copy.

Manage your information. This is hard, but make sure it's clear to everyone that your product is a) available, b) temporarily out of stock, or c) discontinued. Use your website, the game industry network, and your social networking tools to keep everyone up to date. Relying on distributors will cause you sorrow. Consider planned obsolescence, limited editions, or a pre-determined number of source books.

Please add your own thoughts.