My Thoughts on PDFs
Posted by Nathan P. on July 27, 2008
PDFs are in interesting thing, aren’t they? I have very mixed feelings, as one may be able to extrapolate from my PDF versions of games that I’ve made available thus far. Also, I’ve had some very interesting conversations with people concerning both ends of the morality-vs-profit motive spectrum. My opinions on the matter gel along these lines:
First, sometimes a PDF isn’t appropriate to the artistic goal of a product. For example, there’s no PDF of carry because the physical, visceral experience of the book as an object is important to me. Now, I know for a fact that this is costing me sales. However, I am extremely sympathetic to those who would prefer the PDF, or who don’t have a good option for buying a physical book. I want to find some way to reconcile these two issues, and when I do I will make a PDF available, but until then, my artistic goals are outweighing my profit motive.
Second, what are you paying for when you buy a PDF? There’s an almost-zero amount of infrastructure, and the rest goes direct to the author, for what? A digital, reproducible file that has infinite shelf life. My friend Andrew Morris is of the opinion that what you’re actually paying for is ideas, and that its immoral to charge for ideas. Again, I’m sympathetic to this argument (witness the idea that PDF sales are “free money” to a publisher, which is basically true), but I think that the profit from PDF sales can certainly be seen as paying for enabling the author to continue making their work available. By the same token, why should books be sold for more than cost + cuts from the middleman? Same answer. (Incidentally, if you’re not up on Jonathan Walton’s new business model, you should be).
But, with that in mind, what is “right” to charge for a PDF? For Timestream, I have a PDF at $8 and a more full-featured PDF at $12, which are basically price points that “feel right” to me. I think it only makes sense that a PDF cost less than a book, because I don’t need to pay anything to get you your copy, and I get more money out of the deal. But, if it’s the same content, should I charge the retail minus the print costs? How does that effect the perception of value? Does it feel right? Or, on the other hand, should I pursue PDF sales as a core part of the business model (they generate more profit, after all)? This is a valid pusuit, I think (witness Ronin Arts).
Or, should I only charge for PDFs until all of my costs for the game are covered, and then make it free?
I think the one thing I feel pretty strongly about is that I don’t have the energy to waste trying to keep pirated PDFs from happening. I don’t like DRM, I don’t have the tech savvy to engage in locking wars, and I honestly just don’t care if people pirate my PDFs. Anyone who downloads a pirated PDF of my stuff will either like it so much they buy something legit anyway, or they would have never bought it in the first place.
These are all really sticky questions that I don’t have stock answers to (except the uselessness of DRM thing). I think the only way I can navigate this territory is make sets of decisions based on my artistic goals for each individual game, and hope for the best.