Monday, April 30, 2012


As retail store owners, we are not dinosaurs. We use the Internet for marketing, have sophisticated point of sale machines, and generally keep up on business trends. Yet, we are inescapably middle-men. There are ways we can innovate how we operate our business, but inevitably, we're about providing excellent service and waiting for other people to be innovative so we can extend product to the public.

This leads to some anxiety as the world moves to more digital media. PDFs, mobile applications and distribution methods like Kickstarter regularly make end runs around our tier as producers of work sell directly to customers. Technologies move increasingly fast, like how 3D printers threaten to go from devices owned by universities and large corporations to inexpensive household appliances nearly instantaneously. How many years did it take photocopiers or the Internet to threaten publishing? Well over a decade at least.

The tendency as a retailer is to want to get in on the action. How can I sell PDF products too, perhaps when customers buy print products? How can I create a print kiosk or buy my own 3D printer to better serve my customers and avoid obsolescence? There is no future in historical models, bridge scorepads and jigsaw puzzles, as we see every day. so we want desperately to avoid being left behind.

Publishers tend to hedge too, with their denial of the importance of Internet content (Wizards of the Coast), or an attempt to subvert digital piracy by making their game supremely physical (FFG with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay). These are all wrong answers to the question. When these technologies threaten the existing paradigm, the answer is elsewhere, in pivoting, in taking a very good model, be it publishing or retailing, and doing something other than riding coattails or ameliorating a terminal problem.

For stores, this might mean a level of diversification so wide that the death of a segment is not a danger to the organization. Most stores nowadays could walk away entirely from role-playing games, and many have, while in decades past such walking away would be unthinkable. We stock tens of thousands of dollars of miniatures on our walls, yet could we conceive of a model where a 3D printer would make them all obsolete? What are we doing right now to prepare for that?

It might mean a business model that pivots to services. Although I don't see a bowling alley model working for game stores, where a significant amount of money is generated from renting game space, I do see the appeal of the coffee shop game store or the cafe game store. I think that's a very dangerous road to go down, as game stores have nothing to do with the hybrid business in question, but I get it.

This pivot is also why I'm constantly on the look out for signs of potential in selling toys, hobby supplies, model trains, Frisbee golf, and as one of my business partners joked one time, women's shoes. When your dominant paradigm is being subverted, the tendency is to think everything is up for grabs, right or wrong.

All this speculation comes from the anxiety about the future and the fact that we're middle-men, and besides doing our existing job better, we're primarily reacting to what a fairly hostile and often resentful trade sends our way. They regularly bite the hand that feeds. I don't have the answers, but I don't see myself selling women's shoes in 10 years or slinging mochas.

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