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A Failed Experiment

Posted by on April 4th, 2011 with 53 Comments

I know that a lot of people have been watching Adamant’s recent shift to an “app-pricing” model, where everything we released in PDF was priced at $1.99.

Well, I’m not going to bury the lede here: The experiment was a failure. I don’t believe that the model is a sustainable one in this market.


As I reported earlier, the experiment started strongly. Actual dollar income was up more than 200% in both January and February (223% in January, 218% in February). Adamant was making twice as much money as we had at the same period last year. On the surface, that’s great news — and seemed to indicate that we were on the right track. More money = better model, after all.

Unfortunately, the situation wasn’t that simple. March took a nose-dive (more on that in a minute), and while wondering aloud on Twitter about the data I was getting, John Rogers asked if I was cross-referencing with release frequency data.

They say that the devil is in the details. Well, that’s where this particular devil was lurking. The missing piece that I wasn’t seeing.

Yes, January and February were up, making twice as much as we’d done last year. Last year, however, we had barely released any product during that period –a THRILLING TALES adventure in January, and a THRILLING TALES serial video in February. The adventure, which moved OK, was priced at $5.00. The video, which didn’t move that well (to the point where I haven’t bothered to finish releasing the series) was only priced at $2.00.

In January and February of this year, Adamant released 2 products for ICONS — our hottest line, whose releases (whether through Adamant or via Adamant’s licensees) are always in the top 20 “hot products” lists), AND a release for PATHFINDER, and a THRILLING TALES adventure. All priced at $1.99.

In other words — we released twice as much product. The 200+% began to look more like a function of release, than pricing. (And that’s not even taking into account the popularity of the ICONS titles).

I said earlier that March took a nose-dive. Traditionally, the first week of March is when we participate in the “GM’s Day” sale — and for the past few years, the overwhelming response to that sale (where we would drop our prices down to $1.00 from their regular levels) would earn Adamant as much in one week as we normally make in more than three months of regular sales. That one week has been enough to make March our second-highest sales period of year, behind only the week following Thanksgiving (when we run our Black Friday/Adamant Anniversary sale).

This year? In order to be listed as a GM’s Day participant, we had to actually run a sale — even from the $1.99 app-pricing which we now occupied. So everything was priced at $1.49 — 25% off. We participated, as we do every year, with dozens of other publishers.

The result? That week made barely 20% of last year’s take.

My stomach sank. I began to suspect that having our regular pricing at $1.99 had made the Event Sale largely meaningless. We had, essentially, cut our own throats. No March windfall.

The rest of the month? We released two hot ICONS adventures, and an adventure for MARS. Last March, we had only released one installment of the video series for THRILLING TALES, priced at $2.00, to disappointing sales. Yet even with that — the non-sale weeks for March 2011 were only 35% higher than the non-sale weeks for March 2010. Three times as many releases, and only a 35% increase in income.

It’s become pretty obvious to me that the app-pricing model doesn’t really work for us — perhaps the consumer pool is too small in this market to drive the kind of numbers where it would work. Perhaps Adamant’s audience base is fairly static, and we’d move roughly the same number of units regardless of our pricing. Who knows. The number of units moved in a month by ICONS adventures under the app-pricing model weren’t massively higher, on average, than the number of units that ICONS products would move in a month under the old pricing. It was higher, yes — but not as much as you’d expect.

The only inescapable fact is that the increases we were seeing were explainable by increased releases over the similar period, not by pricing. And even worse, by engaging in this experiment during the month of March, we made a huge mistake — completely taking the wind out of the sales of our second-best sales period of year, completely removing a much-needed cash influx. Even worse, it’s entirely possible that we could’ve have moved similar unit numbers, at the old pricing… which means that for every sale, we were essentially leaving an average of $3.00 on the table.

None of this is certain. I’ve got data — sales, income, release, etc., but it’s far from conclusive. I can only play my gut here. I’ve got bills to pay and freelancers who need payment as well, though, so I can’t really afford to extend this further than I’ve already done.

There’s an old saying that goes: “When you find yourself in a hole, Stop Digging.” So that’s where I’m at right now. Everything seems to be pointing me at the conclusion that this model just doesn’t work for us. Maybe it’s just not for Adamant — but my hunch right now is that it’s market-wide. I think tabletop games may be too small of a niche for the model to work as intended. Again, that’s just a hunch — I can’t afford to keep up the experiment to prove it one way or another.

Maybe I’m wrong, and another company will make a go of it, and it will work for them. But it won’t be Adamant.

As of today, our prices will be returning to their usual levels.

Thanks for reading.

53 Comments

  1. Marcus says:

    I purchased Thrillng Tales and MARS simply because it was on app price before my vacation which started on the 1st of April.
    I would never have bought either at 10+ Dollars, simply because my interest in the Genres is not that big. I read both and was really excited for thrilling tales, and after my return today I wanted to get the rest of he stuff and saw that the PDFs are up in price again. Now I will have to wait on a sale again as I am a tad unwilling to spend 5 Bucks on a PDF adventure I will just read for kicks and never DM anyway. But this might change, on 2 dollars a piece they would be all mine already. I know it doesn’t make sense as i Could buy 1-2 at the price of 5 Dollars still. But that’s kind of the point of my rambling: at 2 Dollars a pop I just cram everything in the basket and buy all at once. If I cannot do that due to pricing (for fringe products like Thrilling tales is for me) I tend to forget and never buy again.

    Thank you for trying the pricing, it made me open up to a whole new RPG genre (Pulp) !

  2. […] Gareth-Michael Skarka posted some great thoughts on his app-pricing model experiment, and why he&#82… Really great stuff here. […]

  3. […] working in the short term. This is difficult. Long-time readers will remember that two years ago, I nearly buried my company by shifting to an “app-pricing” model, which completely torpedoed my income. I stuck […]

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