The Gassy Gnoll – RPGNow/DriveThruRPG’s POD vs. Lulu

Paper is more than simply a material upon which to find the printed word. Good paper engages the senses. For example, there are tactile qualities to great paper, difficult to quantify but easy to describe such as a rough, grainy or thready. Old books have a particular smell, evoking images of old libraries and dusty tomes. There’s even an art to the binding itself, such as some books using slightly offset pages to give the space between covers even more of a shape or design…

So though this Gnoll has adapted to PDFs, he still prefers the feel of real paper. But the recent move of online stores such as RPGNow/DriveThruRPG to offer Print-on-Demand (POD) copies of PDFs gave me an opportunity to bridge the gap between bits and hardcopy pages.

Having used Lulu.com myself (for the Moebius Adventures Core Rules book), I knew that Lulu offered a solid way to provide soft- or hard-bound copies of electronic books. And honestly, I was impressed by the quality of the options in deciding how to assemble printed versions as well as the final result. More recently, I’d acquired copies of the two volumes of Open Game Table, which are also printed by Lulu and thought they were great.

At the beginning of 2011, RPGNow/DriveThruRPG partnered with Lightning Source to offer POD versions of many PDF products available on their virtual shelves. With the huge selection of electronic products available (and more appearing every day), this would be a boon to customers looking for more gaming material to put on their physical shelves as well.

As a result, I couldn’t help but pick up a hardcopy of one of the books I recently reviewed in PDF form – Tales of the Old Margreve by Tom & Eileen Connors and Open Design. Would the printed copy of the book hold up to the Lulu standard?

Well… Mostly yes. Comparing the printed, softcover version of Tales of the Old Margreve from RPGNow’s
POD service through Lightning Source with the printed, softcover version of Open game Table: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, Volume 2 through Lulu, I’ll rate the books here on a few categories. And then we’ll see where we stand.

First, cover-wise and paper-wise I didn’t really see much of a difference. Both seem to be about the same weight of cardstock with a shiny coating over the cover picture. Both have good detail and bright colors, though a bit darker than the cover images in the PDFs. Both use a good weight of paper for the interior pages. Edge: None

Second, print-quality… Honestly, both were clear and bright. Though the beige colors of the Tales of the Old Margreve PDF turned gray in the printed copy, I found the type to be legible and crisp for the most part (I find italicized text to be a bit difficult to read with my bifocals these days) and the shaded background images never interfered with the text. The maps were a bit darker than in the PDF version simply by virtue of grayscale printing, but still legible. Edge: None

Third, it was a tad more expensive than I would have liked. At $25.95 for the 111 page softcover book, vs. $22.95 for the 158 page softcover book of Open game Table: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs, Volume 2 through Lulu. I’m not knocking the price really, but around $0.23 per page vs. $0.15 per page is a bit of a steep difference, so I’ll need to make sure I really want to invest in the books I order POD through RPGNow. Edge: Lulu

Lastly, as far as product selection goes, Lulu doesn’t have the sheer number of products for roleplayers that RPGNow/DriveThruRPG does. Doing a quick search at Lulu on “roleplaying game” today I ended up with more than 1300 products. The same search in RPGNow came up with more than 2100 products. Edge: RPGNow

Ultimately, based on those criteria, it’s a dead heat between RPGNow/DriveThruRPG and Lulu. As with everything else, it pays to do a bit of shopping around when you’re looking for a book. I think I’ll probably buy more POD products through both sites and do more testing down the line, but I’m glad to see that the quality hasn’t suffered either way.

Got a beef with the Gassy Gnoll? Drop him a line at gassy(at)gameknightreviews(dot)com.

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