The Gassy Gnoll: The Scan Scam

The Gassy Gnoll is a fan boy sometimes. He even jumps at opportunities once in a while that he probably shouldn’t because he wants something so badly. His Kickstarter addiction is a perfect example. It’s amazing how quickly spending gets out of control if you don’t watch it, even as an adult.

So when Wizards of the Coast announced that they’d be reprinting the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks – The Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual – back in January 2012, I knew there had to be a catch.

The first catch was the price – $34.95 each for the PHB and MM and $44.95 for the DMG. But ok, this is for a good cause – supporting the Gygax Memorial Fund – and it’s largely meant to hit all the folks (like myself)
with a little money to burn for our beloved hobby. So though I could get past this, I decided I didn’t need to pitch $100+ for the three books WotC‘s way until I saw the books.

I cooled my jets and waited. I’m glad I did.

Because the second catch – this kind of stuff – just pisses me off. If you’re going to do something, do it right. Don’t do it half-assed. This is why scans done without being done right (i.e. a book taken apart at the binding, scanned page by page, text OCRed, images cleaned up, and then the whole thing basically put back together digitally) are a waste of time. Sure, it’s quick and dirty – but worth $50?? Come on.

And this just confirms for me what I’ve suspected is holding WotC back from releasing their huge back-catalog after all this time. First, they didn’t know if there was a market. And second, they didn’t know how they were going to pull it off.

To do it right will require time, money, and resources. To really do it right might even require them to un-bind a book, scan each page to the N-th degree, and clean it up a page at a time. Now think about how many hundreds of products TSR produced between 1974 and 1997. I’m guessing computers didn’t enter the press process until the 1980s at the earliest, so there are no digital pre-press copies of those books. And that doesn’t even bring into account the different box sets, maps, and all the other bits and pieces TSR put together.

This isn’t the worst digital reproduction I’ve seen. But you’d think that if they were doing this to honor Gary Gygax‘s memory and contributions to the hobby, they’d want to get it right.

And now they want to reproduce the 3.5 edition books? Why? They probably have the digital copies of those, but… why? They can’t compete with Paizo – everything I’ve seen printed (or electronic) from them has been gorgeous. So comparing quality-to-quality of the older products to today just can’t be done.

Dang… I’m glad I still have my AD&D books from the early 1980s.

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4 comments to The Gassy Gnoll: The Scan Scam

  • Philo Pharynx

    Here’s the thing, how much time do you spend on each page? If every page is gone over until it’s absolutely perfect, then the book would need to cost much more than $45, even before you factor in a donation to the EGGman’s fund. How many pages did you compare? How many were equal to the original? How many were better than the original?

    I agree with you 100% on the back catalog. The most popular products would probably be profitable, but there’s a lot of stuff that wouldn’t make any money if you do it right. Especially when you add that digital form products should have OCR conversion and bookmarking/hyperlinking.

    Another point on digital layout, even if they did start with digital layout in the 80’s, what did they store the files on? If it’s floppy disks or magnetic tape, there’s likely some data loss. And even if we have the files uncorrupted, what format did they use? Can they get a program that can read or convert those files?

    I like the idea of being able to access the whole back catalog. I just don’t think it’s likely to happen.

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