Saturday, July 02, 2011

Distribute Your Product, Please!

One of the drawbacks of being a fan of a niche industry is that it can sometimes be hard to locate product. There are a lot of really good game designs out there that at some point in their history have been really hard to track down. When I first got Diaspora it was only available as a print-on-demand (PoD) book from When podcasts were first gushing about the Alien Frontiers board game, it turned out that it was completely unavailable, having only been released as part of a project.

If a product is good enough, these things tend to eventually resolve themselves. Diaspora now gets distribution through Evil Hat, and even when it was only PoD you could still get it if you were aware of it. Alien Frontiers' second printing is now sold out, but a third printing is in the works and it should be available through normal distribution channels when it comes out (it may even be out already, I haven't been following it closely since I got a copy of the second printing).

Then there are the exceptions.

The first type of exception is the "limited edition." This is where the product is advertised as having a limited run and if you don't get in on it before it's gone then you will never get it. I generally assume one of two things when this is the case: either they are lying, or the product is crap. In the first case they are going to publish it again if it sells out. Maybe they'll change the cover, but it will essentially be the same product. In the second the product is such crap that they need the extra hype to try to sell what they have before people catch on.

I don't think that all "limited edition" products fall into one of those categories, but the fact that I immediately assume that one probably does brings this particular marketing technique into question, at least as far as I'm concerned.

Then comes the second category: a traditionally published game that simply isn't distributed. The only way to get this game is through the publisher. This is a model that I am rapidly losing patience with. At least with one-source options like, the one source is a specialist in delivering product to customers. Whoever wrote a book on Lulu, and whatever its quality of writing, I know that if I order it I will get what I order in a timely manner, and that the physical quality of the book will be acceptable, because that's what Lulu does.

When I order from an independent publisher it's always a crapshoot. Sometimes I get what I ordered in a timely manner. Just as often I get the wrong thing, or a partial order, or I have to follow up because it's been a month and I've received no information aside from a paypal receipt informing me that my card has been charged.

It's a real hit or miss proposition, and is increasingly becoming a barrier to my desire to seek out and purchase such products. Most of these operations don't even have a single full time employee. Thus, even if the people doing order fulfillment want to do a good job, they often don't have the time to do so.

This is why more of these smaller companies should look into some form of distribution. While it takes a cut of their profits, it also eliminates some of their overhead, and makes for a more pleasant experience for their paying customers. I have not done any real research into the options, but I know that Indie Press Revolution has been expanding the number and types of products that they distribute, and I think they probably represent a viable alternative.

In addition to making things easier for a customer, it also makes things easier for those retail stores that are still willing to take a chance on the occasional obscure product. They're probably more likely to do so if they can add it to an order they are already going to make, than if they have to place a special order.

So, if you are a game company that only sells direct to consumers, please consider finding at least one more method of distribution. I ask this as one of those consumers who might just want to buy your product, but can't find it.

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