My how product sizes have changed. When this Gassy Gnoll started gaming, all the books were huge hardcovers. Yes, they were from TSR and cost a pretty penny even in the 1980s, but they could be used to do some serious damage in hand to hand combat and that was something.
These days it’s rare for me to see the inside of a physical game store. There are three within 5-10 miles of my house, but it’s rare for me to find something on store shelves worth picking up. Even if by some strange chance I should find something to buy, it’s typically a softcover book. Hardcovers even now are pricey and out of reach for the most part.
So the virtual halls of stores such as RPGNow, Paizo, and Kobold Quarterly get more of my attention… But even as I occasionally review huge tomes such as the nearly 300 page Battlelords of the Twenty-Third Century PDF from SSDC, I was struck how many more products are being released with smaller page counts. Without the burden of physical printing constraints and with simpler requirements of Print-On-Demand (POD), electronic copies can be produced much more freely and cheaply than longer documents.
Let’s take a look at the top 15 hot items on RPGNow to look at page counts. A few products (such as EZ-Tiles: Wilderness Ruins and Realms of the Dwarf Lords: Mountains & Cliffs from Fat Dragon Games and Forgotten Ruins from Lord Zsezse Works) don’t really have a page count, so we’ll just look at the products that do:
- Distant Vistas by Draken Games – 64 pages
- ICONS: Hero Pack 1 from Adamant Entertainment – 90 pages
- Rapture: The End of Days. Theological Sci-Fi Horror from StoryWeaver – 118 pages
- ICONS: Danger in Dunsmouth from Adamant Entertainment – 23 pages
- Sword Noir from Sword’s Edge Publishing – 71 pages
- ICONS: The Aotearoa Gambit from Adamant Entertainment – 25 pages
- Realms of Crawling Chaos from Goblinoid Games – 64 pages
- Sexcraft: A Little Game with a Lot of Sex from John Wick Presents – 10 pages
- Future Armada: Midnight Rose from Ki Ryn Studios – 73 pages
- Stellar Wind from Higher Dimension Games – 254 pages
- Icons from Adamant Entertainment – 128 pages
- Ursa Carrien from Nightfall Games – 6 pages
That’s an average page count of 77 and a median page count of 64. Pretty consistent and well below 100 pages except in a couple of cases.
Now let’s look at Amazon’s top 15 games in the Books ->Science Fiction & Fantasy -> Gaming category, which is mostly dominated by Paizo and Wizards of the Coast. We’ll just look at individual books and skip box sets and accessories, which boils down to eight books:
- Player’s Option: Heroes of Shadow – A 4th Edition D&D Supplement from Wizards of the Coast – 160 pages
- Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Core Rulebook from Paizo – 576 pages
- Pathfinder Campaign Setting World Guide: The Inner Sea from Paizo Publishing – 320 pages
- Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: The Pathfinder Bestiary from Paizo Publishing – 320 pages
- Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Advanced Player’s Guide from Paizo Publishing – 320 pages
- Player’s Handbook 2: A 4th Edition D&D Core Rulebook (Book 2) from Wizards of the Coast – 224 pages
- Monster Vault: An Essential Dungeons & Dragons Kit (4th Edition D&D) from Wizards of the Coast – 192 pages
- Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: GameMastery Guide from Paizo Publishing – 320 pages
(Note that the links lead to Barnes & Noble’s online store simply because Amazon won’t let me be an affiliate in Colorado any longer.)
As you can see, the page counts on these books is much higher. Here we have a 304 page count average and a median of 320 pages.
Now what can we ascertain from these numbers?
- Both Wizards of the Coast and Paizo Publishing typically have more people working on their books than smaller publishers do. Duh.
- Both Wizards of the Coast and Paizo typically have a much longer lead time for books – 18 months on average from what I’ve seen discussed elsewhere. So from the start of a project to the end, they have more time and resources than small publishers though are also juggling more (large) projects on a regular basis.
- As a result of points 1 and 2, Wizards of the Coast and Paizo Publishing can generate bigger, more elaborate books but can’t shift gears quickly. It takes longer to turn a battleship than a dinghy.
- Small publishers can generate smaller projects in a number of weeks or months and thus release more frequently than their bigger counterparts.
- Electronic publishing presents more agile tools and is geared for quickly producing and distributing products than is the hardcopy printing industry.
- Note however that with POD the gap is closing and with efforts such as the “Now in Print!” program from OneBookShelf (RPGNow/DriveThruRPG) we are seeing a much quicker turnaround with an individual print run than bigger companies can get with huge product release efforts.
Note that these are my Gassy opinions, so you can take ’em or leave ’em. But I suspect that even though most small publishers are not rolling in the dough, with the move to PDF we’re all happier with more products in the marketplace.
Though there’s plenty of room in the market for publishers big and small, I have to wonder how big publishers will continue to stay in business producing huge print runs of giant products while small publishers can see a need and produce products to meet the need in a very short time frame.
Question: For all you publishers – big and small – what do you think about the huge difference in product creation philosophies between the giant tomes of old and the small books meeting a specific need today? Is this merely a case of players in the market taking advantage of the long tail? Discuss your thoughts below, I’d love to hear your opinions!
Got a beef with the Gassy Gnoll? Drop him a line at gassy(at)gameknightreviews(dot)com.
- Knowledge Illuminates March Sales from Gothridge Manor (gothridgemanor.blogspot.com)
- Kobold Quarterly #17 Now Available from Kobold Quarterly (koboldquarterly.com)