ePulp

I was a bookish child and adolescent.

A large part of my near-constant diet of reading were “trash paperbacks” — the last gasp of the pulps. The pulps of the 30s and 40s morphed in the post-WW2 years into the Men’s Adventure magazine, but gradually those magazines evolved into skin mags with the loosening of decency laws, and the pulp jumped into another format: The paperback.

The pulp paperback was the realm of hardboiled detectives, action heroes, horror, fantasy and science fiction — a lot of it, initially, reprinted from the classic pulps, alongside a wave of original content. Much of this was never published in the more “respectable” hardcover format — the pulp fiction paperback was disposable entertainment. In many ways, they were like comic books for grown-ups.

Through the 1960s and into the 1980s, the pulp paperback was found in every drug store, grocery, stationery store and newsstand — a spinner rack of cheap entertainment. A lot of it was pretty bad (pretty much just like the pulps — let’s be honest), but some of it was good. All of it was fun. It was in these pages that I first encountered Doc Savage and The Shadow, first thrilled to the adventures of Modesty Blaise, and more.

Unfortunately, as time went on, paper costs rose and publishing became much more expensive — perhaps too expensive to “waste money” on disposable fare. The pulp fiction paperback essentially died out. (Some might argue that today’s genre paperbacks are the successor, but I’d disagree — those are not really the same thing. For one thing, publishers charge a comparatively hefty price for them. Some of the serial, “disposable” lines still exist, but it’s nowhere near as ubiquitous as it once was.

Recently, I’ve been reading J.A. Konrath’s blog, where he talks about his success in the electronic publishing market (specifically for the Amazon Kindle). He writes thrillers, and contrary to the trend among publishers, he prices his releases as impulse buys — often less than $2.00 each. Many of his releases hit the genre best-seller lists for the Kindle, driven by the convenience and the pricing.

It got me thinking.

I’ve spent 6 years now in the electronic publishing field. I’ve learned a lot. Most of what I’ve learned, I’ve put into practice. Some things, however, I’m still too much of a coward to try full-time. For example: twice per year, in November and March, I hold one-week sales on the products that I release through Adamant Entertainment. I drop the prices of every PDF in our entire catalog to $1.00…. and here’s the thing: I make more in those two week-long sales than I do in 4 months of regular sales.

It’s something I’ve considered doing full-time — but it scares me. One, I’m worried that the phenomenal results of those sales are because of the narrow window, and that making it a constant would negate those results. Two (and this is the big one): If I’m wrong, I could end up not only killing my own income, but also devaluing the entire PDF segment of the RPG industry, killing other folks’ incomes as well. So I shy away from it, and stick to the two sales per year model.

And yet….

It occurs to me that Konrath’s experience could be combined with what I’ve seen in the past half-decade-plus of electronic publishing. Impulse-priced adventure entertainment. The return of the pulp fiction paperback, reborn for the digital age.

Adventure fiction, thrilling tales (ahem), easily purchased, easily downloadable. Hitting the quick-reading sweet spot: somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 to 80K words — perfect for the EPUB format… and most importantly, priced to move. A novel for the same price as a monthly comic book.

It’s worth trying, I think.

9 Replies to “ePulp”

  1. We thought long and hard about PDF pricing before we dived into the Pathfinder market. We decided to release a product a week, usually no more than 10 pages, for no more than $3, a lot of it no more than $2. I’ll admit that we were pretty nervous, but the past 5 months have been crazy and more successful than we thought it would be.

    That’s my $0.02 at least.

  2. Oh, don’t get me wrong — I do a TON of short PDFs in that price range, and have done for years. That forms most of my income. What I’m talking about with those two sales is everything, regardless of length, being $1.00. Even the full-length stuff. That’s the leap that I can’t take full-time, for the reasons I cite.

  3. It’s a huge leap and I don’t know if we could do it either. :) Although I will admit that I often get tempted to put some of my older titles at a buck just to see what would happen.

  4. I too miss the pulps and eagerly look forward to their ressurection.

    I’d also like to see more direct sales of short stories, since the genre anthology and collection markets also seem to be (relatively) forgotten markets.

    [In my case I do think the limited sale windows do help your sales, simply because they give me a reminder to go visit your shop site and pick up a few products. If the prices were consistently low I’d have to be specifically reminded that new product was out, and then the OBS policy on low-price-point sales works against making a single item impulse buy (even if it is a minor additional fee, by bundling it with something else I can negate it, so I will, but by the time I find something else I’ve moved away from your shop in both time and virtual space and would have to remember to go back there). If all that actually makes sense to you.]

  5. “Phoenix Force” and “Able Team” – was buying those from issue #1 (sadly, all now long since given away). Thanks for the blast from the past, Gareth!

    Kudos for considering your peers and competitors before making such a dramatic price policy change.

    Still, you’re driving at the economics of digital content, where the emphasis is on the margin. If it costs you nothing to sell your next unit, then your margin is 100%. You know that, and luckily, you’re smart enough to experiment with price elasticity (and happily, digital content is ideal for this kind of experimentation – immediate feedback, no price-change-related expenses, etc.).

    Looking forward to seeing how all of this plays out, since I’m making plans this year to begin offering digital and physical content for sale at Runes of Gallidon…it’s always good to have some veterans in the field willing to share their experiences.

  6. I’ll have an iPad by the middle of May, so if you need anyone to test what something looks like on it, I’m at your service.

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