One thing that I’ve seen a few times here and there is surprise that the goal for the project is set so high. One commenter even likened it to exortion – buy our stuff or GURPS will get it’s throat cut, mwa ha ha!
Maybe I would have thought that, too, once. But my recent examination of pricing for just the books for my own kickstarter and RPG project has changed my mind. I actually expect my own Kickstarter to require more than the DF one, because while +Sean Punch has estimated about 250,000 words for the GURPS DF compilation, mine is 400,000 words (roughly 100,000 of which are monsters – the SRD5.1 has a lot of monsters in it, and I’ve not finished culling them out).
Anyway, the final books come in at 408 pages. That’s 612 words per page, smearing it out over every page. As an interesting note, that’s almost exactly the wordcount per page of The Book of Heroes. So I feel like I’m not in crazy town.
But I digress. These things are expensive to put together, because very clearly, SJG is working off of their experience on “how not to get utterly floored by your own Kickstarter.”
They have limited stretch goals, zero commits to “out of the box extras,” and have given the shipping costs to Backerkit to manage as an extra. They have not done the project KS until the writing was done, and maybe the layout too. Art is still being worked.
This is all fantastic news. It drastically limits the risks for the vendor, and that means the risks to the customer are also minimized.
And I’ll say it again, though +Phil Reed has said it frequently and well: International shipping sucks. It’s terrifying and terrifyingly expensive. Sending individual books overseas can easily be multiples of the cost per book. The only way around that is either to to have them printed and distributed from within the target market zone, or to ship pallets of books to try and average out the shipping. Both require perfect knowledge of who’s ordering your product, and are not predictable ahead of time.
But let’s get back to it. In a KS, or any business, you should seek to cover all of your costs – including “sunk” costs like staff writing and editing, because if Sean isn’t writing DF, he’s writing something else. Also, writing and editing are two different jobs, best handled by two different people. There’s a reason I’m going to outsource editing to an industry pro and pay him, in his own words “an adult wage.”
Anyway, let’s do this:
Note: I’m making lots of very specific assumptions here about quality, quantity, and form factor. Can a game be published for less than what my numbers suggest? Sure! But read on, and you’ll see what I’ve done is provide “middle of the road” estimates for things.
- Writing and editing each range from 3-8 cents per word. Lets book 5 cents each.
- Indexing is ballparked at $10 per 1,000 words.
- Art is ballparked at $250 per full-page, but could be much more, for full color. You want 1 piece of art every 2-4 pages. Or at 625 words per page, about 1 piece of art every 1,800 words. Each piece in my experience tends to average about 1/3 page: $80.
- Layout is harder to find benchmarks for – let’s say a penny per 200 words. That may be wrong.
So for a 250/400K project, you’re looking at
$25,000 and $40,000 in writing and editing
$2500 or $4000 in indexing
$1250 or $2,000 in layout
$14,000 or $20,000 in artwork – oh, add another flat grand or two for cover art, which is more expensive.
That means that for first order, costs to make a 250,000-word PDF ready to send to a printer is about $43,000, and for my project it might be $66,000. Roughly a dollar for every 6-7 words of the project!
And that’s not including printing costs. But my reading of things is that to cover taxes, Kickstarter fees, and backerkit, plus incidentals that come up during the project, you’d best raise at least 1.5x your projected costs. Maybe double.
Note this gets the smaller project – with no extras, to about $65,000 with no printing costs. Price breaks for this sorta stuff don’t even start until you hit 1,000 books. And this is not one book, but five, and smaller. But using the PrintNinja estimator, 1000 x 8×10 books at 128 pages, softcover perfect bound are $5 per book, and down to $3 per book if you order 2,000. Less then $2 for 5,000 copies. So let’s go with $10 to print all five books. So $10,000 just to get some scale for the books alone. Then there’s the adventurer screen and dice. No idea there. But based on the price point for the game and PDFs, I’m going to estimate $10-14 as total cost of materials, including the box. So cost of materials, including gross-up for fees and incidentals, will run $30,000-$55,000.
So look – $95K to $120K target for the DF boxed set, “just” to get 2,000 copies made in a fashion that the customers are demanding – high production value, boxed set, all in.
So don’t be surprised by requests for $100-200,000 for getting a game launched in a way that emulates the Big Dogs. If I were to be selling a 304-page hardback with 188,000 words in it, expect costs on the order of $41,000, and a Kickstarter ask of $60-80K per book.
Note I expect long-time industry pros with go-to contacts in the industry – and especially in China – might be able to do better. But my point here is that there’s nothing extortionate about the funding level here, and in fact is likely just the bare requirement to make money on the project. Note how I left off “profit” from the equation? That’s not a valid business model. So whatever savings a set of experienced pros can do off of my numbers, that goes into “yes, this is a viable investment we should repeat.”
Edited to Add: Now, consider what happens when you add shipping into the mix. Media mail for a single book is the only well-known quantity. If your package is a book that weighs 4lbs or less, you can get anywhere in the USA for $5. If it’s more, you can do some sort of flat-rate box.
Internationally, it’s a total crapshoot, and ranges from $20-90 per package. so let’s take a lower-end but not unrealistic value. $30. For 1,500 backers, you would have to add on another $45,000 x fees and taxes (KS revenue is taxed as income) – probably another $60K, because you don’t want to take a bath on shipping. That turns an average requirement for print-only from about $65 to about $105 pretty fast. If you didn’t account for it, it can take your notional profit, or your salary for writing and editing your own work, to zero pretty fast, and it’s easy to see how a run-away successful kickstarter from the revenue perspective can bankrupt a company.
 Buy in for D&D5 is something like over $100 for PHB, DMG, and Monster Manual. The Dracula Dossier and Delta Green Agent’s Handbook are ful-color, high value books. All are going like gangbusters in their market. The market demands high quality books.