Poll - PDF and Print?

If new Ars books were available in both PDF and print, would you likely...

  • Buy just the print version, as you do now
  • Buy the the PDF instead of the print version, which you would otherwise have bought
  • Buy the PDF version, even if you wouldn't have bought the print version
  • Buy a PDF version in addition to print, if both are available

0 voters

A lot of publishers nowadays offer PDFs for sale of new releases, at the same time or before they offer the print version.

I'd like to get feedback from Ars fans about this general topic. If we made PDFs available for sale at the same time as print copies of books, would it affect our print sales, and if so how?

  • Would people who normally would not buy the printed book (due to availability problems, slow and costly delivery to their part of the world, etc.) buy the PDF?

  • Would people who would normally buy the printed book opt for the PDF instead?

  • Would some people buy both?

And of course, for some people it may make no difference (they'd buy print either way, and don't care if the PDF is available or not).

A separate but related topic is the issue of price. The general practice seems to be to offer a new release PDF at the same price as a print book. My inclination would be to go that route, to discourage a cannibalization of print sales; but if a lot of people wanted both, maybe there would be some way to offer combined purchase deals.

I have followed other game lines, in addition to ArM, several of which (e.g. White Wolf, Hero Games, Green Ronin) offer PDF in addition to the print run. So far my policy has been to buy PDF of products I would have not bought for the full print run price, but I find of marginal, completist interest nonetheless; I also buy PDF in addition to the print run, for products I find of overwhelming interest, and I'm not willing to wait for the delays of the international distribution system, or if the PDF version is offered with a substantial advance to the print version (i.e. it is made available as PDF when it is sent to printer). If none of these cases occur, I generally just buy the print version. The third typical case is when the book is no longer avialable as print.

So yes, I'm quite favourable to the PDF offer, and Atals would expand it busniness with me by doing it. E.g. I would surely buy TMRE and RoP:I (and I would surely have HoH:MC and HoH: TL, maybe even Covenants and RoP:D, too) first as PDF, then as print, if they would be released as soon as sent to printer.

While I really love PDFs, I couldn't give up the comfort of an ArM hardback book. So I will purchase the book.
Given that I'll purchase the book, I won't be spending more money to get the same content. So I voted on the first option - I'll buy just the book.

If the price of the PDF was EXCEPTIONALLY low, I just might purchase it as well. But that's hardly likely.
If the price of the PDF was the same as the price of the book, I'll never purchase the PDF and be pissed as well. I can often get the book for LESS than the official price, about 20% to 37$% off. WHY must I pay the full price for a PDF, which needs printing and isn't hardbound? Yeah, yeah, there are utilities the PDF has that the book doesn't. Still, such a price seems wrong to me.
The general practice I have observed is to sell a PDF at less than 2/3 of the print book's price. Regardless of when the print arrives relative to PDF. Some price fractions (PDF/Ful) from DriveThruRPG:
Price Book
0.70 World of Darkness: Second Sight (WW)
0.70 Exalted Second Edition (WW)
0.37 Iron Heroes (Malhavoc)
0.40 Arcana Evolved Spell Treasury (Malhavoc)
0.71 Shadowrun Fourth Edition
0.70 Mobile Infantry Army Book (Mongoose)
0.70 Drow War: Book III - The Darkest Hour (Mongoose)

Now I ain't saying lower yourselves to Malhavoc standards (which is a publisher based on pdf out branching into print, not the other way around). But I reckon 0.7 of the book's price is the standard.

I don't think my choice is on there:

Buy some PDFs in addition to the print version I already have to make working on my game at work easier. (This was the great thing about having 4th ed. on pdf, I had a copy on each of my computers, including my office one so I would never have to invoke Serf's Parma for being away from the text.)

The other thing I would be willing to do would be to buy smaller, more niche products (or possibly second-party products) on PDF for a cheaper price, for instance a 40-page article on pre-Hermetic magic or something.

But while I would like the option of buying the books as PDF, I imagine I will want to have hard copies of each of the "real" books. (I guess it's possible that you'll come up with a book idea that I won't really want, but I can't imagine what that would be right now, in which case I'd probably buy the PDF instead of the book, but in general I like having a complete library.)


I am not sure if this would be a good idea. As I live in Germany, of course I would appreciate the availability of pdf-versions. I would be able to discuss your new books with the rest of the board without having to wait until I finally get them here.


  • I dislike to pay the same amount of money for a pdf that I have to pay for a printed version, simply because I assume that the costs for production are smaller as well. This difference is something that I would like to effect the price. If this requirement is met, I wold probably buy those books as pdfs that I don't need at the table, but printed versions of the core rules. I would certainly not pay double - or only a small fee up to 5 € to have both versions.

  • Then there is a problem for you. - Product piracy! I am personally not really in this, but even I would only have to ask a friend to find a way to obtain a pdf version of most RPG-rules for free. This problem even arises without you selling pdfs yourself; somebody will scan a book and upload it somewhere. If you give them professionally made pdfs it is even less complicated for such fellows. I don't know whether anything effective can be done here, but as many producers loose money here and complain for years without any strong effect I doubt it.

On personal reasons of course I hope that you follow these plans in spite of any obstacles, but don't get ruined by it.

Lars Gerlach

Very true. I have a friend that has PDFs of ArM5 itself, plus a host of other works (an HP article, the Loch Legalen Tribunal, the Tempest, and more). He won't purchase anything, says he is too poor. Oh well.

I'm sure that's one of the major concerns for Atlas. Although I don't think anyone has any hard facts about how much these things hurt. Perhaps Mongoose Publishing can provide some experience - they produce games such as Babylon 5 which I think are about as niche as Ars Magica (I could be mistaken; I hope ArM5 is bigger), and have been doing PDF for some time.

I would like to reiterate what RARodger said. I frequently travel for work. I'd much rather "pack" my core ArM5 book on a USB Drive than stick the hardcover things in my luggage. I'd like to have a full library of all Ars books in my office and home, but I think my boss might give me a funny look.

I don't have a problem with full price for PDF versions. I would prefer to have some sort of discount for purchasers of the physical books, but administratively it might not be worth the extra effort on your end. The discount isn't make or break for me. I would happily buy the core book, TMRE, and the House books for my lap top. I may be in the minority, but I'd also pay more for the texts, especially if they were longer. Video games cost $50, and I get a lot more entertainment out of most Ars books than many of the video games I buy.

If you continue to sell through Warehouse 23, could SJGames's e23 be utilized to allow one stop shopping and application of a discount?

I like to hold books and I don't like to scroll through a monitor and I really don't like to print an adobe file and try to think it will hold together or last like a book. I would only consider a PDF when I can't get my hands on a book, even an out of print copy. For instance I can not find a PostModern Magic anywhere. Even on ebay. So I'm going to break down and get the PDF. But I would much prefer to track down a real book and buy that over the PDF. When I heard the new Caliebois was out of print I drove to the store and bought the copy I new was on his shelf. So books for me.

I've been thinking about buying some of the supplements available (True Lineages, Broken, Guardians) as PDFs, because I can't afford $30 per extra book. I hadn't figured out how to share with my troupe though. It looks like we'll just stick with 5e core, though, if we can pass the two copies we have around enough to get started.

I laugh at publishers who offer electronic versions at the same price as print versions. I'm not paying full price and printing costs or staring-at-a-monitor costs.

I was reading though the comments and I want to add to my own.

I used to buy into the various fanzine material and if I could afford it I would again. RaRodger suggested PDF only supplements.

I have to say, that yes as a big fan of Ars, if a particular product for whatever reason was deemed PDF worthy, but not publishable, I would buy it. I like the idea of mini books.

Something for the grogs, or something more obscure. I've noticed several smaller publishers have started to focus on PDF only supplements. I think the MetaCreator Ransom began as a discussion of methods to publish Godlike Material. I think they have several books that are PDF only. It's unlikely that this has been considered, but I guess I'm saying if PDF only material was considered. 'Mini books' if you will, I would very likely get those.

Some general thoughts on the topic of price:

We've always priced PDFs far lower than print products in the past. Also, most of our PDFs are out of print. This means a couple of things: First, they are products that already made it or didn't in the print market, in terms of recovering their original investment; PDF sales are some nice residual income, but didn't factor into our original budgeting process. Second, if the printed book is no longer available, then there is no concern about people buying the PDF because it's cheaper, leaving unsold books in my warehouse taking up space (and thus costing us money).

If we offer PDFs concurrently with new releases, the situation changes. On the upside, getting more revenue directly from these products may help keep the Ars Magica line profitable. On the downside, if print sales are hurt, that's bad for the cash flow projections. Retailers and distributors are effectively financiers; they pay for a bunch of copies of a new release right away (typically within two weeks of when we shipped the books), giving us cash to pay the printing bill, even though it may take them months to sell those books to end consumers. If PDF sales keep some of those consumers from buying the print books, our initial sales will drop by more than the number of lost customers -- they'll also drop by the re-order copies and extra shelf copies that the retailers and distributors would have picked up for the longer-term, thanks to the short term buying burst of the fans who buy right away when an item is new.

This might simply be an argument for not releasing PDFs until books are out of print. On the other hand, if there's some small number of people who would be happy to buy PDFs at the full print price -- in order to have it sooner, in order to enjoy the searchability of PDF, in order to avoid shipping costs, whatever -- then people who aren't willing to pay that are no worse off...they can still buy the print book as they always have, and no one is the worse off.

Piracy is certainly an issue. Of course, it's out there now; someone mentioned a friend having a pirate copy of ArM5 -- but we've never released that as PDF. Someone scanned and uploaded it. Would our making it available as a legit PDF increase the piracy? Maybe. Or maybe it would just give us a little more revenue, and the crooks and leeches will go on doing what they do anyway.

Anyhow...my mind is far from made up, and I'm reading all the feedback in this thread, so keep it coming. :slight_smile:

I'll qualify my "print book only" vote in a similar way as YR7. I wouldn't mind picking up some PDF books, but generally only if I can't get my hands on the book in print, and even then if only at a significantly lower price than the print version. I can't justify paying twice for the same book, and when push comes to shove, I want my hands on something physical.

That said, I think that putting out-of-print or soon-to-be-out-of-print books into PDF form for continued availability is a wonderful idea.

I much prefer a physical book to a (even cheaper) PDF, though I would (and have) buy a PDF for an out-of-print book. Considering that, so far, I've managed to keep up with 5th edition, the point is more or less moot for me. Now, PDF mini-supplements sound very attractive, but I'd like to avoid the logisitic nightmare (on my end) that comes with having part of the official rules in print and part in electronic format, though I guess I could print and bind them myself.

Seconded. There's nothing like sitting in a soft armchair with a proper book and scribbling notes or making up characters on a piece of scrap paper.
Its also extremely useful to have the rules available in a pdf for use on the various computers I use at home, work (I didn't say that, honest) or while travelling.

In addition, some of the works which have not-enough interest for me to make an effort to buy, such as ROP Divine, ROP Infernal (when it comes out) I would probably buy in a discounted pdf format for completeness.


A couple more remarks.

First, we're not presently contemplating any PDF-only publications. Our business is still built around print publishing; while we might have books that are printed in small enough quantities to sell out very quickly and then go to PDF, I don't see investing the development time and money in a product that didn't have print sales for most of its income. That could change as digital RPG sales grow, and maybe at some point we should do a product as an experiment, but it's not even on the drawing boards right now.

The second idea is that we could take a pricing-over-time approach with PDF new releases. For example, it might be full print MSRP while the printed book is brand new (to encourage people to buy the printed book, if they are otherwise on the fence); and then decline to a lower price in the future (one year after release, maybe, or simply when the printed book is sold out). It would be more work to administer changing prices, but this might be an approach to capture the most total revenue, both from those for whom having it now is most important and those willing to wait to save money -- just like traditional retail discounting older items or offering sales and rebates after selling at higher prices to the early adopters and must-have-it-now customers.

There are certain types of books that I might purchase as a pdf rather than as a print version.

Books on the Houses and the Realms I would need as printed, table copies. These are the kind of books that are used by the players on a regular basis.

A tribunal book that we are not planning to use (e.g. a tribunal other than one we intend to set a saga in) might work as a pdf -- the only problem is we might suddenly change our mind about where to set the game. A "creature book" could definitely work as a pdf, as the players do not normally need to see this. Most adventure books would work as pdfs, mainly because parts could be printed as necessary; equally, the book would have comparatively little use at the table or even re-use value.

Essentially it comes down to this for me -- if the book will primiarly see use at the game table, I will buy it as a print book. If it is primarily a background book, I am quite willing to buy it as a pdf. I already read and edit quite a bit of material on my computer, so having game books there doesn't make a lot of difference to my eyes.


I'd actually thought of suggesting that, and a falling price for PDFs does seem to make sense. The one concern might be that some people get upset at obvious price discrimination on the same product -- "I paid X! You only paid Y? Ripoff!" OTOH, as you say, time discounting exists in the real world; maybe this wouldn't be a problem for you, and it's only obviously price discrimination because I thought of it that way.

The thing to consider when selling a book via PDF is that the price is offset by what it costs the purchaser to print it. Now, if they're only going to be viewing it on screen, that's one thing, but with current ink prices, it can take up most of a black cartridge in order to print the thing, depending upon the printer/quality/etc. I would, for that reason, recommend taking $5 off the price to make the PDF more attractive.

A case in point. I recently purchased another game via PDF at a discount of roughly $10. I then printed the game, front and back (saving paper and maintaining the format), but ran through most of a $17 ink cartridge. The cost to the consumer in this case was MORE than had I simply purchased the book (which wasn't available locally).

The plain fact of the matter is Atlas would make more money, even with a discount PDF, as there are zero print costs and minimal website overhead (which I suspect you're paying anyway). Of course, you have to account for PDF piracy, which is inherent in any digital media. Rasserfrassin' pirates.

Just some thoughts,

In my home town of Oslo Atlas' books are available pretty fast after publishing, in a week or two. As it is today I would prefer to buy printed editions of Ars Magica. As it is today though a PDF bought directly from Atlas with the same price, would be 2/3 of the price I buy in the shop as with profits and freight they take 10 NOK per USD while the normal exchange rate is about 6.7 NOK per USD. It's however 1/3 I pay willingly to have a print editition.