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Soapbox: About the Industry

The Other Magic: Niche Hobbies and Other Markets

Sandy Antunes
April 6, 2001
 

This soapbox is about another hobby of mine, and starts a short run on comparing the RPG market to other niche hobby markets. We'll tackle today a hobby that runs similar to the way RPGs evolved from wargaming. And perhaps, shows a path the RPG industry might return to. It's called Magic.

No, not the card game. Not the occult stuff. The bunny stuff-- and the card tricks, stage illusions, Houdini stuff. Many people enjoy watching magic in theaters, on television, and all over the place at Las Vegas. A smaller number of folks dabble in it-- know a card trick or two. And a very small group actually practice it avidly.

Extending the analogy to gaming, we can equate those who merely watch as 'fantasy fans'. Folks who know a trick or two as CCG players or people who played a game or two in school. And practitioners-- that's us gamers. With magic, dabbles at this level translate to RPG's 'players', while the professional term really fits 'GMs'.

Let's look at what Practitioners do. They buy gear. They buy books. Ah, books, that's what I'll focus on-- how the magic industry book trade compares with RPGs.

The way magic writers stay in the magic book business is by appealing to the core customers-- those who buy large quantities of materials. There are really only two main magic-book-buying groups: the dilettantes who get a mass market book or two for a present, and the serious dabbler or professional who buys an entire shelfs' worth on a given sub-niche or topic.

First off, for magic Content is King. Most magic books are rules books. They give tricks and presentations and patter, in an orderly fashion. A book may be praised for having 'useful illustrations' that better define what is happening, but rarely is the art commented on in an aesthetic sense. Indexes are luxuries. Sometimes, spell-checkers are luxuries. In many ways, this echoes the earlier days of RPGs, when a photocopies set of rules was 'a viable product'.

In a similar fashion, items one step up from photocopied pamphlets are still standard items. Most other books are limited run small press. They have very high prices and small quantities. They often sell directly from the author. We're talking runs as small as 250 books, at maybe 48 pages, selling for $30.

And then there are completists' dreams-- multi-volume sets fully collecting a given magicians work. These are still usually limited runs, but with higher production values-- and costs that start at $50/book and go up.

Compare this with RPGs: print runs of 2000 are standard, costs are typically under $30 for 128 page books, and art and layout are considered critical. Let's see... 2000 times a profit of maybe $6/book for an RPG, versus 250 times a profit of maybe $20/book. Woah... sell out a couple o' smaller runs and you're competitive!

Magic books are, like RPGs, hard to find. Unlike RPGs, though, this is intentional. There's a lore-like aspect to finding a good magic book. You may rely on magazine reviews-- but more likely, you're pointed to it by the folks at the local magic shop (which exists in most larger cities). Getting to these shops is often tricky.

Email lists and web sites provide a bit more leads on good books, but you still have to hunt. And word of mouth is still the best way to learn of items.

Magic books sell by aiming mostly at "GMs", with "players" being slightly secondary and everyone else ignored. Which is kinda how the RPG trade started. My goodness. Imagine going back to the days when gamers were actively seeking out the latest arcane product. When rules and systems, err, ruled. When production values paled next to "The Idea", that grant concept which the book was based on. When print costs were low and prices were high.

Now, it's evolved into glossier reading material. Most RPG books (it's generally estimated) are never actually used for a game session, simply read and collected. We've shifted from a Content (and Non-Fiction) market to an Entertainment (and Fiction IP) market. Shifting back would involve alienating a small market-- would there be enough core customers in the end to make it worth doing?

In some ways, it would be interesting to see a return to the old Content days. Hogshead's "New Line" games actually hinted in this direction-- publishing shorter works by name designers in a straightforward format at reasonable price. And hey, given the distribution market at the time, they were hard to find-- just like magic books!

Right now, new companies in the RPG industry seem to have a hard time getting into stores; stores have a hard time staying open; people think tabletop RPGers are a shrinking market. While I don't think the magic market model is viable for RPGs anymore-- gamers are too used to high production values-- I do think it's useful to look at other niches.

Regardless of whether Hasbro drops WotC, or if distribution changes, or if some other massive change hits, RPG gaming itself will survive. If it starts to slide underground, the magic hobby shows that such niches can still provide a viable income to its writers (though less so to 'companies').

That would involve a shift from the current IP market back to something closer to RPG's roots: the wargaming/rulebook/neat idea market. Ironically, it seems that pure ideas can be sold for a higher prices than actually fleshing out that idea. But such can only be sold to fewer people. Such is how the RPG market evolved. We're now entertainment.

In my next column, I'll continue cross-market comparisons by looking at RPGs versus pornography. Which is also (I'm told) entertainment.

Until next month,
Sandy TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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All Soapboxes

  • See What Sticks by Sandy Antunes, 06jan06
  • Simple Gifts for Pre-Gamers by Sandy Antunes, 09dec05
  • Col vs Blog by Sandy Antunes, 04nov05
  • Running a First RPG for Kids by Sandy Antunes, 07oct05
  • Making It Pay by Sandy Antunes, 02sep05
  • The Hazards of Non-Combat Gaming by Sandy Antunes, 05aug05
  • Just-in-Time Pre-order Hell by Sandy Antunes, 01jul05
  • Cassandra's Industry Report by Sandy Antunes, 03jun05
  • Fiction or Non-Fiction by Sandy Antunes, 05may05
  • I am not a Storyteller by Sandy Antunes, 08apr05
  • A Better Job by Sandy Antunes, 01apr05
  • Advice For Working Writers by Sandy Antunes, 04mar05
  • Startup Fever by Sandy Antunes, 04feb05
  • Why Blogging is Lame by Sandy Antunes, 07jan05
  • Being a Pro Writer by Sandy Antunes, 10dec04
  • Viral Marketing Invitational by Sandy Antunes, 05nov04
  • The 24 Hour RPG Challenge by Sandy Antunes, 08oct04
  • A Decade of Distilled Advice by Sandy Antunes, 03sep04
  • Go Ahead, Hit Me! by Sandy Antunes, 06aug04
  • Promoting Yourself by Sandy Antunes, 09jul04
  • 10 Hurdles to Selling Your Game by Sandy Antunes, 11jun04
  • Let's Team Up! by Sandy Antunes, 07may04
  • Beyond Role and Pla(t)y(pus) by Sandy Antunes, 08apr04
  • Slow Improv and the Post-Kilgallon by Sandy Antunes, 05mar04
  • Paradox Redux by Sandy Antunes, 06feb04
  • Mad Scientists and the Kilgallon Paradox by Sandy Antunes, 09jan04
  • It's Not Your World, It's Mine by Sandy Antunes, 05dec03
  • Murphy's Law for Adventure Writers by Sandy Antunes, 07nov03
  • Eigentesting by Sandy Antunes, 09oct03
  • Atomic by Sandy Antunes, 05sep03
  • Is Writing a Commodity? by Sandy Antunes, 06aug03
  • Designing Amidst the Tides of Gaming History by Sandy Antunes, 08jul03
  • Buy This Book by Sandy Antunes, 05jun03
  • Hobbies by Sandy Antunes, 08may03
  • The Websites That Wouldn't Die by Sandy Antunes, 10apr03
  • The Path to Atrocities by Sandy Antunes, 06mar03
  • Cattle Mutilation: The Game Design by Sandy Antunes, 06feb03
  • Gaming With Children by Sandy Antunes, 09jan03
  • How To Be An Industry Poser, Part 1 by Sandy Antunes, 05dec02
  • all i game with, i learned from kids books by Sandy Antunes, 19nov02
  • TCG: The Total Cost of Gaming by Sandy Antunes, 10oct02
  • Game Publishing & The Law by Sandy Antunes, 06sep02
  • Standing on the Shoulders of Giants by Sandy Antunes, 01aug02
  • Buying Time by Sandy Antunes, 04jul02
  • April 10, 2002 13 New FAQs
  • March 1, 2002 Give Me A Closet
  • January 2, 2002 Let's Go Shopping?!?
  • December 13, 2001 Conflict, Ethics, Winning, and Money
  • November 13, 2001 Secret RPGnet Operations Document Leaked!
  • October 16, 2001 Leadership and D&D
  • September 4, 2001 Leading Industry Site Reports Secret: Sex Sells!
  • August 7, 2001 Any, Anyone Can Be an Internet Success-- Why Aren't You?
  • July 3, 2001 Fine Print, Part U
  • June 5, 2001 Fine Print, Part I
  • May 8, 2001 Pushing Limits
  • May 4, 2001 RPGnet State of the Union special feature
  • April 6, 2001 The Other Magic: Niche Hobbies and Other Markets
  • May 9, 2000 Running a Business as an Old Style D&D Party
  • April 14, 2000 First to Market
  • March 20, 2000 Labor Pains
  • February 15, 2000 One Trick Pony
  • January 6, 2000 Creativity is Bad, Hard to Sell, and Great for Business
  • December 14, 1999 Oranges versus Bananas: Entertainment Costs
  • November 2, 1999 Why Editors Lie
  • October 5, 1999 How to publish a quality game, accept criticism gracefully, and lead a happy life: Pick Any Two
  • September 7, 1999 It Takes a Village (to publish an RPG)
  • August 3, 1999 All Gamer Money Isn't Equal
  • July 6, 1999 Tides of Cash Flow
  • June 1, 1999 Ad-itudes
  • May 4, 1999 Who, What, Give me a Guiness
  • April 6, 1999 The GAMA Trade Show '99
  • March 2, 1999 Roleplaying would have saved Millions
  • February 2, 1999 Games That Won't Suck
  • January 5, 1999 Dangerous Games
  • December 1, 1998 Making Gamers the Old Fashioned Way
  • November 3, 1998 The $1K Company
  • October 1, 1998 So You Want to Start Your Own Company...
  • September 1, 1998 Holy Grails and Marching Morons
  • August 4, 1998 Gamers Must Die!
  • July 7, 1998 Profit versus Prophet
  • June 2, 1998 Acquire! Acquire!
  • May 5, 1998 Power
  • April 21, 1998 The GAMA Trade Show Report, Part 2 (eventually)
  • April 7, 1998 Schroedinger Games, or, the GAMA Report
  • March 3, 1998 Culling the Herd
  • February 3, 1998 Horatio Hornblower's RPG Company
  • January 6, 1998 Double Feature (Us and Them/A Clash of Images)
  • December 2, 1997 "How to Scam Games for Free"
  • November 4, 1997 "Women in Gaming?"
  • October 2, 1997 "Fear of a Gaming Planet" (Welcome to the RPG ghetto?)
  • September 2, 1997 "Rush" (fame and adoration in lieu of pay)
  • August 2, 1997 "For the Money" (convention mating rituals)
  • July 2, 1997 "Good Deeds" (the dearth of evil game companies)
  • June 2, 1997 "Dirty Laundry" (copyright and slander on the net)
  • May 2, 1997 "Communications Breakdown" (company and player schisms)
  • April 2, 1997 "The Quick and the Dead" (dying companies versus new ideas)
  • March 2, 1997 "It's All in the Timing" (on hype and late deliveries, and on genres)
  • February 2, 1997 "Insiders and Outsiders" (who's who and who uses the web)
  • January 2, 1997 "Fits and Starts" (web presences, print runs, live roleplaying)
  • December 2, 1996 "Procastination Season is Over" (delays and new products)
  • November 1, 1996 "Best of Times, Worst of Times" (on rumors, survival, and larps)
  • October 1, 1996 "Post-Con fallout and not that many new games"
  • September 1, 1996 "Our launch, news from GenCon, demos, new LARPS"
  • Our reason for existence

    Other columns at RPGnet

    TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg