When doing a small print run, just as with a large print run, there are three variables you need to balance against each other: total cost, cost per game and quality.
The three are tightly linked: better quality increases both total cost and cost per game; a bigger print run increases total cost but decreases cost per game due to economies of scale; reducing cost per game lets you increase quality or decrease total cost.
As a hobby publisher who has publicly eschewed KickStarter, all three of these are very important:
- Total cost: this plus some money for the overheads is my stake in the gamble of running a company. It's coming out of our family's savings, so I don't want this to be too high or I'd be being very irresponsible. First time round there was just The Wife and I in full time employment, and we had some money from an unexpected windfall to invest, but it's different once you've got a kid - priorities change. So low total cost is important to me.
- Cost per game: in addition to the manufacturing cost I need to pay for: a website, advertising, PayPal fees, convention attendance and many other things. I've previously stated that I want to keep cost per game around 50% of retail so that the sales will cover the other things and hopefully make a small profit. I'm not going to take a salary (again!) but I want the company to at least pay for itself, and if I make a profit I'll have more money to invest in potential future games. Keeping the game price low is also important for boosting sales, especially in other countries. I'm aiming to make the game retail at around £10, which is in the same ballpark as 6 Nimmt! and other similar games in the UK. But that's $15.50 at today's exchange rate in America or 13,80€ in Europe both or which are quite high for that type of game, plus there's shipping on top to make it more expensive still for people outside the UK. Clearly with a small print run I'll be selling directly - there's not enough margin for shops or distributors to take a cut.
- Quality: I'm aiming for a similar quality to Border Reivers, the first game I self-published back in my Reiver Games days. The cards were on decent card stock and professionally laminated to protect the ink, the box was a tray and lid one with wrap-around artwork, that looked similar to, if not quite up to spec of, a professional game. With a small print run you don't have enough copies to amortise the cost of an artist, so I'm doing it myself (an obvious weakness in the quality). The cards will be cut out by hand but at least the corners will be rounded, so again, it looks of reasonable quality.
Bearing all this in mind I've priced up the cost of box card and printing for 50, 100, 150, 200 and 300 copies. I made 100 copies of Border Reivers by hand and then 300 copies of the first print run of It's Alive! again by hand, so these numbers aren't ridiculous. I've used the same print company as for those two games so I know what quality to expect. I reckon I could sell 50 copies pretty effortlessly - I've already got 8 pre-orders from people who didn't know which game I was going to make or what price I was going to charge! When my friends and family find out I'm sure I can get a few more sales and then a minimal amount of advertising on BGG would wrap up the rest. 100 is a bit more of a stretch, I managed it with Border Reivers, but I had more time to devote to it back then and went to several conventions to raise awareness, which will be a trickier now that I've got a kid. 150 or 200 would be hard work this time round I think and 300 really hard. I managed it with It's Alive! But at that point I'd been doing it for a year or so and had a decent following and a mailing list and everything, none of which I have any more. So it's all down to the numbers:
50: £7.84 per copy, total price £392, profit (if I sell them all at full price and before expenses mentioned above) £108
100: £5.28 per copy, total price £528, profit £472
150: £4.44 per copy, total price £666, profit £834
200: £4.11 per copy, total price £822, profit £1,178
300: £3.66 per copy, total price £1,097, profit £1,903
50 copies is not going to break even once the overheads are accounted for, they'll almost certainly come to more than £108. 100 copies is much better, but at 150 it gets interesting. I'm willing to invest/risk £1,000 in this venture (plus a bot-load of my time for free!), and 150 copies falls well within that. So that's a tick (check for Americans). £4.44 is less than half of £10, but also actually less than half of £9. £9 retail would reduce the cost for Americans by $1.55 and Europeans by 1,38€. It would also shave £150 off my potential profits, but £684 is still plenty for the overheads I'm expecting and should leave some money behind so that I've got more money to invest in another game if I want to in the future. Tick!
We have a plan! Now I've just got to get the artwork done and get all the company stuff set up...
P.S. Anyone want a lovingly hand-crafted, limited edition copy of Zombology for only £9 plus postage and packing? ;-)