Monday, April 13, 2009

Paizo vs. RPGNOW (aka DriveThruRPG): Two Different Ways to Satisfy Consumers

When Wizards of the Coast decided to remove all availability to purchase their gaming products (past, present, and future) as PDF files, the decision left ripples throughout the gaming industry. Wizards left due to rampant piracy of their products and the effects that piracy was having on physical (and digital) sales. Last week, I wrote that I thought this was both a good and bad decision by Wizards -- good on the new products and bad on back catalog.

I also argued that this would be a good thing for the gaming industry overall. It was my belief that gaming companies would look to take advantage of the void left in the wake of Wizards leaving the market. This occurred rather quickly with several publisher joining in a Celebration of PDFs, where they offer their current PDF products at a significant discount. This has had mixed reviews from the brick and mortar retailers, but I think it is a smart move. You can read some of the brick and mortar reactions here, here, and here.

What I didn't expect, and maybe should have, was the different ways that different online stores would respond.

Stewart Wieck and Sean Patrick Fannon of RpgNow (and DriveThruRpg), who shut down access to Wizards pdfs instantly (earlier than he was requested), went quick to work negotiating limited access for his customers who had previously purchased products from the Wizards catalog from his sites. He notified his customers that starting tomorrow customers will be able to download previously purchased Wizards pdfs for a 24 hour period. After that period, all the material will be gone for good. Stewart was seeking to both satisfy his customers, who had previously paid for access to material, while adhering to Wizards' wishes. Kudos to you Stewart and Sean.

Paizo, on the other hand, appears to have made no such offering to their customers and it looks unlikely that they will do so. Where RpgNow left dead links of my former products, so that I could at least see what I had purchased -- and so they could negotiate the deal they negotiated, Paizo removed all references to Wizards products I purchased from their website. This not only demonstrates that it is unlikely that Paizo is negotiating a deal with Wizards, it exhibits three weaknesses in Paizo's customer service.

First, it hinders my attempts to draft a letter to Wizards demonstrating how they have benefited from my digital consumership (I will have to go through my files to manually figure out which I purchased from Paizo and which from RpgNow). Second, it demonstrates a lack of foresight that Wizards might be up for some negotiations. Third, it demonstrates that Paizo cares more about its own publisher business than it does about any business revenue it acquires as a digital game store -- a short sighted view in my opinion.

Paizo is a very successful publisher, but I have found that they are a poor retailer. Physical orders from their site take inordinate amounts of time to be fulfilled as they seem to carry very little inventory. Rather it appears that they use your order as the basis for an order from a distributor. This causes delays in fulfillment and exhibits poor command supply chain dynamics. Their pdf response seems to exhibit this same poor command.

Their response to Wizards removal of pdf was two fold. First, they discounted their "in house" pdfs by 35% (all of the products they publish are discounted). This is a smart move by a smart publisher. Second, they removed the Wizards pdf -- apparently without negotiating with Wizards to have an "Download Recovery Day." This is a bad move by an online retailer.

The problem here is that where RpgNow (and DriveThruRPG) are viewing me as a consumer of all the products they offer, Paizo seems to be viewing me primarily as a consumer of their in house products and not of their store in general. This is a mistake that runs the risk of alienating me as a customer, since it appears they only want my business when it directly benefits them and not when they only receive a percentage of the proceeds.

Paizo should offer a recovery day as well. Failure to do so will not cost them my business, I am a loyal Superscriber, but it might cost them other consumers who are on the fence.

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