Nordic Weasel Games

The blog home of Nordic Weasel Games

Gaming finances. Part 2

People enjoyed the last post I did, so let's talk about a different topic today: The costs that go into a book.

One of the most common questions I get is why I don't put more effort into high quality artwork or get professional layout done.

There are three reasons really, but let's look at the first one: The cost.

The numbers Mason, what do they mean?

Art is expensive. If you can get interior art for 30-40 dollars you are doing quite well and the costs only go up from there, depending on complexity. Let us say you want an illustration every 4 pages (which is sparse by most publishers standards) and are paying 50 dollars per illustration. 

Renegade Scout is 200 pages or so, so we need 50 drawings. That's 2500 dollars out of pocket. And to be clear, this is assuming you get a pretty decent deal on the art and with a more sparsely illustrated book than the industry tends to. The art budget for Five Parsecs From Home (a book almost everyone praised the visuals of) was about 8000 dollars. 

But let us say we are aiming for that: 

We are going to get a drawing every 4 pages and then we'll get a nice piece of cover art, so 3000 dollars in total. 

Next up, we need professional editing and layout. Most editors charge per word and from some posts on, in the RPG industry 3-4 cents per word is typical ("real" book editors charge more btw). 

Renegade Scout is about 62000 words. At 4 cents per word thats about another 2500 dollars, so our costs are now at 5500 dollars. 

I am not done however. Editing covers our text and depending on the editor can be simple proofing or include editing for content. But we also need the book laid out to be nice and beautiful. Lets say we get someone to do it for 4 dollars per page. Its a 200 page book, so another 800 dollars gets added. 

At this point we have a nice, glossy and professional looking PDF and we are out 6300 dollars. 


At this point I should note that these rates (editing, layout, illustration) are all below, and sometimes FAR below, what those people would earn in the "real" publishing industry. Tabletop gaming just doesn't have the circulation to pay those rates. They are however rates I have been able to verify either personally or through discussions online. You can luck into a "friendship" rate of course, but my examples should be taken as a bottom level. 

Keep calm and type on

So what do I make from selling a copy of Renegade Scout? Well, it sells for 19.99 and I get 70% of that. So 13 USD and some change. Lets just say 13 since some copies are sold for a reduced amount during sales. 

How many have I sold? Just shy of 900 copies. That makes the book "Gold" on Wargame Vault, a level of sales that less than 5% of all items published on Wargame Vault reach.

In other words, I made about 11700 dollars on Renegade Scout in 6 years or about 2k a year. (Directly. Publishing the book also allowed me to sell supplements for it and brought more attention to other items I had done). Until we can do a new edition, odds are that the sales will continue trailing off so while RS will keep selling, it won't be doing any big numbers by now.

So our glossy book budget would eat half of what I can expect to make on this book. Bear in mind that this was a book with a pretty popular idea, released by someone with some name recognition and a fan base. As I noted, on Wargame Vault, 95% of books sell less than this level. 

Get the gains

But the point of the glossy book is that it will sell better, right? By spending that money, I could sell 5 times as many books and make far more money.

We can examine a pretty clear use case. Five Parsecs From Home. I sold about 3300 copies when it was an indie game and we have sold somewhere above 10.000 through Modiphius. So about triple the sales.

So that looks pretty rosy. Instead of 11k, I could make 35k on a game like Renegade Scout. Subtract our costs and we are looking at 28k or so.

But here are a few things to bear in mind: 

Five Parsecs was lavishly illustrated and laid out and cost a lot more than the examples I have given here. The artwork alone was 8000 dollars. I don't know what the costs for layout and editing were, but they are almost certainly much above the above figure.  It also had a number of advantages: It released at a point when interest in solo gaming was exploding, with an established audience and it was released with the full reach of Modiphius's distribution and customer base. We also hit at a time when "warband" gaming was getting big, but had not yet exploded. In other words, this is very much the best case scenario. 

If we are bit more cautious and say we can double the sales figures (a number people often tell me online), I am taking home about 22000 dollars in 6 years, with an upfront cost of about 6300 dollars. In the end, I come down to about 15-16k. An increase overall certainly, but not the dramatic increase that I am often assured by folks. More importantly, the 6300 dollars is all out of pocket before a single sale has been made.

You will notice that when you look at publishers like Toofatlardies that do quite well (Chain of Command having had multiple thousand copies printed) the books look very nice, but they tend to use miniatures photography instead of artwork, thus dramatically cutting the cost.

Concluding the conclusion conclusively

Now all of this is not to say it boils down this simply. Not everything might be equal investment wise. Perhaps a nice colour cover can increase sales by 25% on its own, whereas interior art may only increase it by 10%.

So if blowing 500 bucks on a great cover might earn me another 250 copies of Renegade Scout sold that might make it well worth it. 

There are also opportunity costs involved. Every person you add to a project means another point of failure and a cost in time dealing with them all. I will talk about that in a future post. 

I hope this meandering post sheds a bit of light on things. None of this means we won't experiment with things in the future, I just wanted to ground the discussion a bit more in actual numbers.