Monday, January 26

How Many Copies?

How big to make a print run is a classic publisher conundrum - where you're publishing board games, books or pretty much anything else where the cost is largely made up of the components of the finished article (unlike computer games where the cost is mostly development, not production).

If you make too many then you're going to be left holding the ball. You'll be paying the costs for warehousing your stock, you're unlikely to break-even and hence will end up out of pocket and it'll be very demoralising.

Conversely, if you make too few, the cost per item will increase, possibly pricing your product out of the market or significantly reducing your margins. Even if your product is affordable and you sell out of your print run - do you do another printing? Will the demand that appears to be there evaporate before the re-print reaches the market?

You've got to hit the sweet-spot, where your product is competitively priced, your margins are enough for you to run your business on and you ideally sell out of the whole print run. But where is that sweet spot? That's really hard question to answer.

I don't have a really good grip on the market yet, I'm too new to it. So instead I'm doing the smallest runs I can afford - possibly a mistake, but it's the least risky route to take and at the moment I can't afford too much risk.

The way I determine the print run size is to price up the cost of the components, artwork, playtesting materials and designer's royalties. On top of that I add my cut which includes: marketing, my salary (hopefully at some point!), warehousing and transportation. This is the wholesale price. Wholesale is approximately 40% of retail (the distributors and shops need to make a cut too), so multiply that figure by 2.5 to get the retail price. Now we have a problem. It's a £25 game and the price I've just got from my calculations is £250. Hmmm. Needs some work. So then I try to bring the cost down. I can change the components for cheaper ones (though I'm loathe to end up with something that feels cheap - I think the quality of Carpe Astra is just right), cut the art budget or make more copies.

Making more copies makes things cheaper for two reasons: fixed costs and variable costs. Fixed costs are things like artwork, the artist will charge the same whether you make 10 copies or 250,000 copies. If they charge £2,000 and you make 10 copies the art adds £200 to the price of the game (times 2.5!), if you make 250,000 copies it adds 0.8 pence to the cost. The variable costs are things like printing and components. It costs more to print 250,000 copies than 10 copies. But the increase is not proportional. Modern factory manufacturing is at its best when it's churning out loads of the same things. There are set-up costs and labour costs associated with changing tasks. So the more you make of something the cheaper each one gets. So printing 250,000 games is cheaper (per copy) than printing 10 copies.

So the aim is to make as many copies as I can to reduce costs. But wait a minute, a minute ago I said that making lots of copies is too risky. If I make too many I'm stuffed, I'll lose money - not make it. And, there's another problem: Capital.

When I made It's Alive! and Carpe Astra that was my first time dealing with two different manufacturing companies. I had to pay half the estimated price up front (you pay for way they deliver - which can be within 10% of what you asked for, e.g. if I asked for 2,000 copies they can deliver and charge for anywhere between 1,800 and 2,200). The other half was due around the time the games were delivered. This time round I'm a known quantity, so I get slightly better treatment (I've got a month to pay after invoicing - around the time of delivery). Still, I'll not get a chance to recoup much money before the manufacturing bill is due. Pre-orders pay when the games are ready, but most of my sales go to distributors on 30 days payment terms - I'll get no money from them until after I pay for the manufacturing. So in addition to not wanting to make too many games, I can only make as many games as I can afford to pay for before I start selling the game itself.

It's a fine line to walk. The real money is in big print runs, but I'm not yet in a position to do those, so I have to stay small. This means smaller margins and more expensive games. Hopefully, I'll get a winner that I can re-print confidently soon.


Mal said...

So how do you get from where you are now, doing pretty small print runs, to world domination? Is it going to have to be small steps, or do you think it might be possible to make a bigger leap with the right game and, dare I say it, venture capital?

Jack said...

I think I can only do it in small steps realistically. I can't go for a big first print run, especially while I'm still a newcomer - it's really hard to work out whether something that my playtesters and I love will be a great success. If the first print run sells out quickly then I can do a second (if I think that will sell). Second runs are generally cheaper (the art is already done, if you're quick enough you can re-use printing plates and die-cuts) and judging by the success of the first run a second run you've got some information to gauge popularity on.



Eric Hanuise said...

Out of curios, what were the print runs sizes for border reivers, it's alive and carpe astra ?
What were the minimum the manufactor would consider ?

Jack said...

Hiya Eric,

I made 100 copies of Border Reivers by hand, then 300 copies of It's Alive! by hand.

I think a manufacturing run is going to be 1,000 at an absolute minimum, I've done 3,000 It's Alive! (I knew it was popular) and 2,000 Carpe Astra.



Eric hanuise said...

Thanks for the info !