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For the Money

by Sandy

August 2, 1997

 

As we head for GenCon, a look at the convention mating ritual of cash.

GenCon is next week, and much of the industry is in its pre-Con paralysis. All efforts are devoted to getting ready, getting product shipped, arranging demos, and figuring out logistics. This column is no different-- it's primary purpose is to give you an idea of the scale of GenCon, how companies make money, and what's in it for them.

Part of the fun of being a freelancer at GenCon is trying to scam free stuff. Review copies, copies in lieu of pay, or copies at firesale rates are part of the joys of the Con experience. In these cases, companies balance the lost of income against the hopes of good reviews, free promotion, or at least being able to avoid the hassles of shipping unsold stock back home!

In fact, you can tell who drove to GenCon, and who shipped stuff, simply by the Sunday prices. Companies that shipped generally don't want to ship much stuff home, since it costs them, so they'll take lower offers. People that drove don't have to worry, and can hold out for top dollar. Adding in to this, though, is the quantity left. If a seller has 200 copies left, they aren't going to bother trying to unload them all in the last hour, and so there's little point in discounting to save shipping. If they had only 10 copies, though, it's a given that those 10 will not be shipped home. There's always someone willing to take a free copy!

One wonders how they make money at this. Publishing a 2,000 book run will cost over $2,500 just for printing. Hiring a full-time staffer runs over $20,000. Plus there's advertising, marketing, spending money to be at a Con, etc. For example, Chaosium is paying for admission for 11 people just to support the "Cthulhu Live" demos (which Sandy is running), which is probably about the cost of 20+ copies of the book.

Yet at GenCon, the average small publisher might sale a case of each book (less than 50 copies.) The profit margin is small enough as it is, since they have to subtract printing and shipping. This would imply (*gasp*) that companies actually lose money at GenCon!

Well, this is often true. Companies don't go to GenCon to sell product. They go there to sell themselves. And, in some twisted way, because it's fun. Most of the companies are in the gaming industry because they honestly like games and gaming. They're happy to break even at GenCon. They like the community, they believe in their own product, and they're evangelical in their own way about it. And, a presence at GenCon is basically required in order to stay visible in the industry.

It's a time to show off new products, to show that they support their readers, to promote the idea of role-playing as a whole. They are selling more than a few books, they are showing that the hobby is alive, and that they (as a company) are growing and putting out cool new stuff. Think of it as a mating display among the game companies-- they are all showing their brightest color in the hopes of implanting their concepts in your mind, so that you'll carry their progeny throughout the years.

So when you see the colorful booths (plumage, to get your attention), the huge racks of books (indicating they are strong and full of resources), the cheerful and busy people behind the booth (indicating vigor and strong social skills), remember that you are their entire reason for being there. Enjoy it. Strut a bit also. Be glad you're a gamer.

We are a rare breed.

Until next time,
Sandy

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All Soapboxes

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