Why OneBookShelf is the best digital RPG storefront.

| Friday, December 2nd, 2011 | No Comments »

I’ve been toying around with the idea for this post for a while.  I’ve said it before in other forums, but with the advent of DriveThruFiction I thought it would be a good time to lay it all out in one mega-post.

OneBookShelf (OBS) and its child sites, RPGNow and DriveThruRPG are the hands down winners in the digital RPG market.  Whats more, they are so far ahead of everyone else, I don’t ever see Paizo, WOTC or other publishers/storefronts ever catching up.

I’ll even go one step further, and say that by carrying over the features they offer to RPG publishers to DriveThruFiction; they offer advantages even Amazon, Apple and B&N can’t touch.

Big words, I know.  Lets break it down…

Money.  Let’s talk %’s people.  When OBS merged and they changed the payout numbers there was *a lot* of bitching in our tiny little industry.  A few big names even left the site if I recall correctly.  Now, I was not a big fan of making less per sale, but the promise of a bigger market was what OBS said to justify the fees.  Fast forward a few years and what do we have?  A bigger market?  I’d say yes to that score.  Also, since then we have Apple, Amazon, B&N and Smashwords all in essentially the same business except for the focus on RPG content.  What is the average % of each sale these online retailers take?

  • Apple: 30%
  • B&N: 35%
  • Amazon: 30%
  • Smashwords: 15% (On top of whatever the stores charge.)
  • OBS: 35%
  • Paizo 25%

Notice a pattern there?  That’s right!  OBS has been charging about the same all along as what the big guns in the publishing industry decided they needed to charge to remain competitive.  And they were a few years ahead of the game.

Since we are on the topic of money, lets talk about getting paid.  OBS is hands down the absolute winner in this category, even when you factor in the “Big Dogs” like Amazon and Apple.  With OBS I can get paid as often as I want.  Go ahead and read that again.  As. Often. As. I. Want.  I can cash out my royalties any time I darn well please, have it transferred directly to my PayPal account and since I have a PayPal debit card I can hit the ATM and have *cash* in my hand within a few minutes.  No one else even comes close. (Yes, there is a 1$ fee from PayPal but I’ll take that over having to wait for the post office to bring me a check that I then have to sign and haul to my bank, or waiting about a month for a direct deposit to hit.)

Paizo: They send me a dead-tree paper check every 30 days or so. Seriously, get with the program and start using PayPal Paizo! :-)

Amazon, Apple and all the rest are also in the pay-every-30-days camp.  (Unless some of them pay quarterly, I haven’t bothered to dig into it too deeply.)

Oh, and OBS also lets me set up royalty payments that are auto-magically directed to the person.  That is *HUGE*.  That means collaboration is seamless since it gets you out of the accounting business, having to work out the amount due and sending it along.  Paizo doesn’t do that, heck Amazon doesn’t even do that.

In summary OBS is very competitive on the % of funds they earn from each sale.  They are hands-down the industry leader in getting earnings to the publisher/author.

I could end this post here, but there is so much more to cover!  Let’s continue…

Promotion. Let’s talk about getting the word out about your product, making it look good when you do manage to hijack some eyeballs and helping you build your brand.

On OBS I have near complete control over the sales listing.  I can massage the text, the layout, add images and I’ve even toyed around with embedding video and audio into the listing.  I can change the listing as needed just by logging in and editing the entry.

They stole borrowed my implementation of the flash flip book and audio commentary feature.  What’s more, what took me hours and hours of monkeying around and fiddling with they turned into a plug-and-play feature that every publisher can use to their benefit. Let that sink it for a second.  I am an IT professional in my full time job, so I know my way around things like web scripting, Flash and web hosting.  I managed to hack together Flash flip books of my product, record and audio commentary to go along with it and start putting those on my listings.  I can’t begin to tell you time and labor intensive it was.  OBS saw the idea, recognized it was a good one and made it *easy* for everyone to use.  They are innovating on behalf of publishers who would otherwise not have the time or expertise to experiment on their own.

Not to let OBS off the hook entirely, as I think they could improve their flip-book code to make it work with longer books.  Once you get over about twenty pages it just seems to choke.  I have never had a large book preview work right out of the box.  Also, I *hate* the measly three or four page default preview.  Should be longer.  Publishers; make your previews as large as possible.  At a retail store I can open a book and flip through the pages.  The online flip-books are there to re-create that process, so let customers see what they are buying! ( Now that is just my opinion, and it is hardly OBS’s fault, but I figured I’d stick that in there for all to see.)

Also, tied in with the look of the sales listing are the header and footer tools.  If you check out one of Skortched Urf’ Studios sales listings you will see a footer we spent a little time tweaking that includes links to our various categories, a pointer to this blog as well as a scrolling banner with a selection of our titles that links to them.  I can change the footer, create different ones for different categories and even stack different footers!  (I haven’t messed with the headers as much as I would like, but I assume I have as much freedom there as I do with the footers.)

Lets continue with promotion and talk about email.  OBS lets me email anyone who has ever purchased one of my products.  They let me email people who have one of my products in their wishlist.  I can sort, refine and finesse the report to people interested in a specific title, line or genre. Want to know what that kind of customer interaction costs?  If you wanted to do it on your own it would cost you about $20 bucks a month.  How do I know that?  Because that’s what it costs me to have a aweber account. OBS includes most of what aweber does for free just for having a publisher account.

There are also email newsletters sent out by OBS, banner ads on the OBS sites you can take advantage of and none of them will cost you money.  Just use your Publisher Promotion Points (PPP).

True, their featured reviewers are hit-or-miss.  Not on the actual reviews, but in getting them to post a review of everything they download.

Lets finish off the promotion section with how easy it is to create special discounts, send free copies and create bundles or even subscriptions. (More on the subscription option when we start talking about DrveThruFiction.)

Information.  Now lets talk about the data OBS gives me from my sales. I can run sales reports for the month all the way back to when I first started publishing.  I can sort the sales by how many per month or lump them into one big overall view.  This makes it easy to see what is selling the best, what lines need support and what just plain isn’t working.

That’s all well and good, but what about trying to wring more sales out of my existing catalog?  OBS has me covered there too.  I ran a report on Campaign Overlay: Fantasy Firearms and found out the following:

PENDING PURCHASES: 43 in wish lists
1 in shopping carts
86.3% potential growth

There are 43 people out there with that title in their wish list, and one fine fellow with it in his shopping cart.  Given that I have already sold 51 copies of the PDF that leaves 86.3% growth if I get all of those people to actually buy the title.  If I so choose, I can now create a special discount code and send it out to *just those* people with it in their wishlist!  So I did.  Several of them have chosen not to receive emails from the OBS system, but I still managed to get a discount code into the hands of 32 of those people who showed enough interest in that title to put it on their wish list!

The OBS email summary:

Sent 32 emails (out of 43 matching customers, 32 accepting mail).

So on the one hand I can blast an email to over 7,000 people when I target anyone who ever purchased one of my titles.  (Including free PDF’s I donated to the various charity bundles.) or I can narrow down my focus to an individual title and email a few dozen targeted customers.  Honestly, that is a very  impressive marketing infrastructure.

(Oh, and if anyone reading this wants to pick up a copy of Campaign Overlay: Fantasy Firearms for half off, click HERE.)

I can run a product analysis on any individual title, as well as see how many page views each title has and how many page views per sale the average is.  I know how many times I need to get eyeballs on a sales listing to convert it into a sale!  Did you know that for every six people I get to look at Black Tokyo -Tales of the Tatakama I make one sale?  That is my best preforming title so far as page views to sales goes.  My worst product takes over 2,000 page views to become a sale! That is a clear indicator that I need to take a closer look at the cover, description, sales listing, category filters and other metrics to increase that.

Summary.  So, putting all of that information together I have no problem saying that OBS is the hands-down winner when it comes to the RPG digital market.  Why don’t I think Paizo or WOTC will catch up?  Simply put; the OBS staff.  They didn’t put up a standard, off the shelf online store and run with it.  They have invested in coders who tweak and improve and add real-value features like the ones I’ve mentioned above.  Sure, it *could* happen but to me it would be like B&N catching Amazon; I just don’t see it.

[Yes, I know I haven’t covered the print program at all.  I’m still getting my feet wet in that area so I don’t have enough experience there yet.  The fact that they have the program is a big “Win” in my book, though.]

Areas for improvement. No, OBS doesn’t do everything right, no one does.  So what would I like to see them add or improve?  I love the product and publisher discussion forums integrated into the Paizo storefront.  I’d love to see something like that implemented into OBS.  Their staff and featured reviewers program needs a major overhaul.  The one best thing about Amazon is their reviews.  That sets them apart from just about all other online stores.  It builds a sense of community at Amazon.  I’d really like to see us capture something like that on the OBS sites.  I think the “discussion board” feature Paizo has might help along those lines.

DriveThruFiction. OK, I know they merged a couple of the niche prose sites into the new DriveThruFiction and I think its awesome!  Ebooks are exploding, and gaming related sci-fi, fantasy and horror is a natural fit. So what will help DriveThruFiction stand out from Amazon and the other “big dog” storefronts?  The same stuff I already talked about above!  Amazon doesn’t pay you whenever you want.  They don’t let you email customers with your book in their wish list. Another thing Amazon doesn’t do is let you buy books in a serialized or subscription format.  Think War of the Burning Sky or War of the Dead.  Now transfer that idea over into a serialized novel.

It seems to be working for these guys, why not DriveThruFiction authors? Add in the royalty auto-payment tools and collaborations between authors is now easier than ever.

No, I don’t think that OBS will give Amazon a run for their money in e-publishing.  But I do think that they can carve out a nice piece of the market for themselves akin to what Baen is doing with their sci-fi and fantasy storefront.

A word of caution to early DriveThruFiction publishers.  I have noticed that some of the covers are pretty lousy.  Some of the descriptions are far too sparse.  It’s the same problem many small RPG publishers have too.  A good looking cover doesn’t have to cost a lot of dough.  Be creative.  Or, here’s an idea, go ahead and spend a little dough to get a decent looking cover!  With freelance artists all over the web, stock art sites like iStockPhoto and plenty of other resources a good cover really isn’t that hard or expensive.  I’d hate to see DriveThruFiction’s growth suffer because a bunch of “gold rush” companies sling up any crappy cover that belongs on a refrigerator rather than a book.

I’m excited for all the OBS has done in the past, and can’t wait to start using DriveThruFiction in conjunction with Amazon, Smashwords and other sites to get our fiction releases into the market.

These are exciting times to be a writer, a publisher and a fan in our industry!

-Mark Cathro
Skortched Urf’ Studios

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