Making Money Selling PDFs Online

Posted by on August 6, 2011

Tonight, gamefiend was kind enough to host me for one of his At-Will chats, where I talked about my experiences making money publishing RPG PDFs. Here\’s the transcript:

[11:01pm] <BrentNewhall> OK, so it\'s 7:00. We can get started, if you all would like.
[11:01pm] <BrentNewhall> gamefiend, anything you want to say?
[11:01pm] <gamefiend|upstairs> Nope. Start it up!
[11:01pm] <BrentNewhall> Okay!
[11:01pm] <BrentNewhall> I\'m comfortable with questions, so feel free to jump in.
[11:01pm] <BrentNewhall> I\'ll start by talking about what I\'ve done, the tools I\'ve used, etc.
[11:02pm] Topic changed to \"Make $$$ selling PDFs online with Brent Newhall | At-Will Chat\" by gamefiend|upstairs.
[11:02pm] <thedandmom> What, make money, you have my attention
[11:02pm] <BrentNewhall> I run Brent P. Newhall\'s Musaeum of Fantastic Wonders, which publishes a set of PDFs, primarily through
[11:02pm] <BrentNewhall> if you\'d like to peruse
[11:03pm] <BrentNewhall> I do everything with free tools (other than the computer itself, of course).
[11:03pm] <BrentNewhall> OpenOffice for documents, Inkscape and GIMP for maps and other graphics.
[11:03pm] <BrentNewhall> Plus appropriately-licensed images from Flickr.
[11:04pm] <BrentNewhall> I hit $200 in sales the first year; $200 in profits in 18 months.
[11:04pm] <PixelScum> wait what\'s going on with this topic here
[11:04pm] <PixelScum> i\'m confused
[11:04pm] <PixelScum> oh my bad i see
[11:04pm] <BrentNewhall> PixelScum: No problem. :-)
[11:05pm] <BrentNewhall> Now, as someone pointed out earlier, that doesn\'t factor in the costs of my labor. :-)
[11:05pm] <BrentNewhall> But hey, $200.
[11:05pm] <BrentNewhall> Any specific questions?
[11:06pm] <twwombat> How many pages is each supplement? What\'s your biggest seller?
[11:07pm] <BrentNewhall> Good questions.
[11:07pm] <BrentNewhall> My first was 33 pages long, though that includes both portrait and landscape versions.
[11:08pm] <OppR2nist> So you self-publish then?
[11:08pm] <BrentNewhall> My latest one is 38 pages for portrait or landscape.
[11:08pm] <BrentNewhall> My biggest sellers are always the ones that were around the longest.
[11:09pm] <BrentNewhall> OppR2nist: Yep, all through
[11:09pm] <BrentNewhall> I\'ve also toyed around with other sites, but RPGNow/DriveThruRPG seems to drive the vast majority of these sorts of sales.
[11:09pm] <BJMurray> How much are you charging per unit and how did you decide on the price, Brent?
[11:09pm] <BrentNewhall> BJMurray: $5 each. I did some research, and that looked like a reasonable mid-point for an adventure: not cheap but not expensive.
[11:10pm] <BrentNewhall> On the biggest seller: There\'s an interesting trend there.
[11:10pm] <BrentNewhall> Every PDF sells a lot its first month, then it dwindles. But I also see a smaller spike for all my other products when I launch a new one.
[11:11pm] <BrentNewhall> Welcome, all!
[11:11pm] • John_ObsCrn waves
[11:11pm] <BrentNewhall> So, each new release definitely helps the sales of previous products.
[11:13pm] <BrentNewhall> As to self-publishing: One big advantage of this is model is that I can now present myself to RPG companies and show them my actual work.
[11:13pm] <twwombat> Better to have a full stable of products for cross-marketing and impulse buys. Got it.
[11:13pm] <BrentNewhall> twwombat: Yes.
[11:13pm] <OppR2nist> Are you doing adventures mainly, or are you doing other things (settings, rule supplements, etc.)?
[11:13pm] <BrentNewhall> OppR2nist: Heh, that\'s another story.
[11:14pm] <BrentNewhall> I originally planned to write a series of adventures (The Stronghold Adventures) that could be played alone or as a sequence to form a large plot.
[11:14pm] <BrentNewhall> I\'ve since discovered that the market isn\'t so much interested in adventures as they are in adventure ideas.
[11:15pm] <BrentNewhall> So, while I started by focusing on adventures, I\'ve been broadening that a lot in recent months.
[11:15pm] <BrentNewhall> (I\'m currently working on a project that has me really excited, and is a significant departure from what I\'ve done so far.)
[11:16pm] <thedandmom> what\'s it about, or can you not say?
[11:16pm] <John_ObsCrn> Brent - what did you do for maps in adventures Brent?
[11:16pm] <OppR2nist> So, campiagn outlines? Thing like that?
[11:16pm] <BrentNewhall> John: I mainly used the GIMP, the free image editor.
[11:17pm] <BrentNewhall> I use Render > Grid to create my grid on its own layer, then new layers for each graphical element.
[11:17pm] <BrentNewhall> LOTS of layers.
[11:17pm] <John_ObsCrn> where did you source layers from?
[11:17pm] <BrentNewhall> And I\'ve built up a library of public-domain map elements, like textures and trees (I use a lot of trees).
[11:18pm] <BrentNewhall> John: That\'s a tough one. I haven\'t found a single good source.
[11:18pm] • John_ObsCrn notes Maptools might have been less painful
[11:18pm] <BrentNewhall> I\'ve had to search the web for \"public domain shrub texture\" and such things.
[11:18pm] <John_ObsCrn> Maps are the thing that have stopped me trying to actually sell stuff.
[11:19pm] <BrentNewhall> (And I\'ve had to check that the image is actually public domain, and not stolen.)
[11:19pm] <BrentNewhall> John: Cool, I didn\'t realize that all of Maptools\' images are licensed for resale.
[11:19pm] <BrentNewhall> I\'ll look into that.
[11:20pm] <thedandmom> what I do for maps is get some free textures and such from DA and overlay them on a sketch
[11:20pm] <twwombat> Good to know.
[11:20pm] <BrentNewhall> If I had more skill at drawing, I\'d love to sketch the map out and just can that in.
[11:20pm] <BrentNewhall> But digital tools work well for me.
[11:20pm] <BrentNewhall> And there are a lot of YouTube tutorials on RPG map-making.
[11:21pm] <twwombat> Nice.
[11:21pm] <BrentNewhall> (Hey, ChattyDM just won an Ennie!)
[11:22pm] <PixelScum> nice
[11:22pm] <thedandmom> wooo!
[11:22pm] <John_ObsCrn> Brent I\'m not sure they are liscenced for re-sale, however if you can get textures from public domain it does all the map stuff you can want.
[11:22pm] <BrentNewhall> John: Ah, OK.
[11:22pm] <twwombat> BrentNewhall: (Oh sure, =you= can mention the Ennies...)
[11:23pm] <BrentNewhall> (hahahaha)
[11:23pm] <thedandmom> I wish i could make that sort of money from something on the internet
[11:24pm] <BrentNewhall> thedandmom: I\'m sure you\'ll do fine once the commission business spins up a bit more. :-)
[11:24pm] <thedandmom> yeah, i should do stuff for prints too
[11:24pm] <BrentNewhall> (Heck, I know I\'ve already put you well on your way. ;-) )
[11:25pm] <BrentNewhall> RPGNow actually posted some stats on their sales recently, which were quite interesting.
[11:25pm] <BrentNewhall> For example, most sales come at around the $7 price point.
[11:25pm] <OppR2nist> So, BrentNewhall, you just approached RPGNow, and went ahead?
[11:26pm] <BrentNewhall> OppR2nist: Yep. Once I saw that they have no up-front fees, and they pay a straight percentage of each sale.
[11:26pm] <PixelScum> my problem is i cannot draw
[11:26pm] <BrentNewhall> PixelScum: That\'s exactly why I use GIMP. :-) No drawing skills required.
[11:28pm] <BrentNewhall> Also, 26% of sales come from rulebooks, and 25% from expansions/supplements; only 14% from adventures.
[11:28pm] <PixelScum> i\'m pretty bad at gimp too
[11:28pm] <BrentNewhall> So, create your systems! :-)
[11:28pm] <BrentNewhall> (That\'s across all of RPGNow, not my stuff.)
[11:29pm] <thedandmom> I actually had a system i was working on, it only used d6\'s
[11:30pm] <thedandmom> and races were grouped into types and got features from types
[11:30pm] <BrentNewhall> thedandmom: Cool!
[11:30pm] <thedandmom> never really got off the ground
[11:31pm] <BrentNewhall> Any other questions?
[11:32pm] <BJMurray> How do you market your work. Brent?
[11:32pm] <BrentNewhall> Extremely poorly.
[11:32pm] <BJMurray> haha
[11:33pm] <BrentNewhall> I post on Twitter and my blog.
[11:33pm] <BrentNewhall> That\'s…really about it, to be honest.
[11:33pm] <BrentNewhall> In all seriousness, I started this whole project partly to see just how far I could get with no advertising/marketing.
[11:34pm] • BJMurray nods
[11:34pm] <BrentNewhall> Now that it\'s something of a success, I\'m exploring ways to market it better.
[11:34pm] <BJMurray> Well with zero risk, that\'s not a drawback. :D
[11:34pm] <BrentNewhall> hahaha, exactly
[11:34pm] <BrentNewhall> I\'m looking forward to learning from all of you how to promote better. :-D
[11:35pm] <thedandmom> ask to borrow ad space on friend\'s sites?
[11:35pm] <twwombat> How often do you get sales?
[11:36pm] <BrentNewhall> twwombat: Usually, the first month I get a lot, the second month a few, then in subsequent months 0-2 per month, unless I publish something else that month.
[11:37pm] <twwombat> And all your initial sales are just from posting to Twitter?
[11:37pm] <BrentNewhall> twwombat: Yep.
[11:37pm] <BrentNewhall> And that\'s back when I only had, oh, less than 100 followers, I bet.
[11:38pm] <twwombat> Would more reviews help sales, do you think? And do you hand out review copies at all?
[11:38pm] <BrentNewhall> Great question! Yes, reviews drive sales.
[11:38pm] <BrentNewhall> I shot out review copies to a bunch of the big-name bloggers initially, but couldn\'t get much traction.
[11:38pm] <BrentNewhall> They were all really nice, but they just didn\'t have time to review Yet Another Thing.
[11:41pm] <twwombat> Cool.
[11:42pm] <BrentNewhall> I\'ve had nothing but good experiences with the RPG blogging community.
[11:42pm] <thedandmom> that\'s good
[11:42pm] <BrentNewhall> Well, except for a few people that I made sure not to interact with. :-)
[11:43pm] <twwombat> Heh.
[11:43pm] <twwombat> What would you do differently if you were to start again knowing what you know now?
[11:44pm] <BrentNewhall> Excellent question.
[11:44pm] <BrentNewhall> I\'d release more regularly.
[11:44pm] <twwombat> Monthly, maybe?
[11:44pm] <BrentNewhall> Monthly would kill me, to be honest.
[11:45pm] <BrentNewhall> But at least quarterly.
[11:45pm] <twwombat> Probably me too.
[11:46pm] <BrentNewhall> But getting that momentum seems to really help sales.
[11:46pm] <twwombat> How long does it take to develop something? How many hours a week? Does anyone edit for you?
[11:47pm] <BrentNewhall> Usually 3-4 months, 5-6 hours a week every week.
[11:48pm] <BrentNewhall> I have no editor, though I do often send each PDF out to some friends for a look-over before publishing.
[11:49pm] <BrentNewhall> It helps that I\'ve been a tech writer, editor, and proofreader in the past.
[11:50pm] <BrentNewhall> Otherwise, I\'d definitely recommend finding an editor.
[11:51pm] <twwombat> Cool.
[11:51pm] <John_ObsCrn> There is certainly a lot of scope out there at the moment for self-publishing, especially in 4E I would think
[11:51pm] <BrentNewhall> Definitely.
[11:52pm] <BrentNewhall> Free stuff gets a lot of attention, too.
[11:53pm] <twwombat> Cool.
[11:53pm] <John_ObsCrn> Yeah I have reasonable traffic at dailyencounter when posting an encounter
[11:53pm] • BrentNewhall nods.
[11:54pm] <John_ObsCrn> Though it is usually opinion pieces or DM advice that generates the most traffic.
[11:54pm] <BrentNewhall> OK, I think we\'ve covered it pretty well. I\'ll hang around to answer any other questions, but in the meantime, shall we open it up to regular chat?

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