PDF Pricing – An Epilog or How You Can Sell PDFs for $31.99

Just minutes after yesterday’s post on why the price of a PDF doesn’t matter, the Wondrous Imaging blog posted an article called Castle Keeper’s Guide: Pdf Pricing—EPIC FAIL that seems to show that the price does matter.

Here is a select quote from the article.

I got my credit card out, assuming I would have it on my screen in mere minutes.
But a pdf priced at $31.99? Seriously?
After what Paizo did, I seriously doubt anyone can ever get away with charging more than 10 bucks for a pdf again and hope to make decent sales. For 10 bucks I’ll buy anything in pdf format, sight unseen, just to take a chance. A pdf purchase is ultimately a gamble, and at 10 bucks a good one. For 32 bucks I want a goddamned hardcover book with 3-d chicks in chainmail bikinis showing me just how cold it is outside.

Is it impossible to sell a PDF $31.99 as Wondrous Imagining claim?

No, but it is hard.

Buying Should Not Be A Gamble

There is a critical quote in this post – “A pdf purchase is ultimately a gamble”.

Spending $32 on a PDF when you have no idea of the content, quality or its usefulness is certainly a gamble most of us won’t take.

But what if the last five products from the publisher had been excellent? What if you had seen reviews raving about how good the product was? What if the material was exactly what you needed to run a killer game this weekend? If these were true and the purchase stopped being a gamble then $32 for a 280 page PDF is a reasonable price. It certainly is a reasonable price given the number of man hours needed to write, play test and typeset a book of that size.

Where It Went Wrong

I know nothing about the PDF except it is called the Castle Keepers Guide and its for the Castle & Crusades system. But based on references in the original blog post and the comments, this is a long overdue product for a system that first appeared six years ago. Whether the product is late or not doesn’t matter. What matters is the customers perceives that its late. By being late, the publisher has broken a promise to the customer and that makes the customer less likely to believe other promises, such as “this product is worth $32”.

The other problem is that $32 is about the same price as many hardback 280 page books. The 144 page Castles & Crusades PHB is on Amazon for $24.99. People expect PDFs to be significantly cheaper than their print equivalent and this is not an unreasonable expectation.

This misalignment of the PDF price and the price of equivalent (or perceived to be equivalent) physical books is a sales killer.

Don’t Be Cheaper, Be Better

The problem with the PDF is not its high price but that the price is out of alignment with the potential customer perceptions. Rather than running scared for this sort of reaction and cutting prices, publishers should be working on changing people’s perceptions though better marketing.


  1. The PDF is by Troll Lord Games, and generally their products are very good, and well worth buying in hardback and softback formats, but $32 is steep. I think I’d rather pay the little extra for a hard copy. I don’t think I’ll pay more than $15 for a PDF, I just can’t see the justification for a digital version to virtually the same price as a paper copy.

    I’ve got lots of PDF rpg products and most were under $10, and I’ve gotten some great bargins and some that were low quality products, but when you’re only paying a couple of quid you don’t mind.

  2. $32 is too much, by far.

    Factor in the paper & ink cost and time required to print it out yourself and you’re looking at around $50 in total for something that looks worse than a glossy harback which was half the price.

    Yes, pdfs are convenient and have their place, but the format is not worth that price level, by a long shot.

    For anything over $15, I want to know a tree has suffered, dammit! 😀

  3. pdf’s cost a publishe almost ZERO overhead.
    It is totally impossible to ever remotely justify 30+ dollars for a dpf; when a hardcopy runs less !!

    a more reasonable pricing is about 1/3 or less than the copy of a hardcopy product.

    Pathfinder FULL COLOR HARDBACK is on amazon for 31 dollars – with FREE shipping. The pdf is 9.99

    Kenzerco got some notable flack when they startrd selling their hackmaster basic pdf for 14.99… when the hardcopy sold for 19.99.

    again; anything more than 1/3 harcopy pricing is ridiculous.

    30+ dollars for a pdf… ANY PDF is a total ripoff and nothing but unsupportable GREED from any publisher.

    Thanks; but I’ll just get mine free later.

    I WOULD have paid 9.99… but now TLG gets NOTHING from me.

  4. I just realized; you can purchase the perfect-bound softcover version of the book for *less* than they’re selling the pdf for.

    They think a pdf actually has more intrinsic value than a physical book with the same content? Especially to their audience (the older generation of gamers who, more than the younger at least, eschew having laptops at the gaming table) that would seem to be a complete inversion.

    Are they just nuts?

  5. @Jason – Thanks for the background info.

    @greywulf – PDF prices have to taking to account home printing costs at the moment but it is only a matter of time until we all have ipad / tablet / ebook readers and then it becomes irreverent.

    @anymouse – Whilst PDFs have a very low material and distribution cost, they still cost a significant amount to produce because writers and artists and typesetters and editors all need to be paid. Where as Piazo can spread this cost over 10,000s of sales, small publishers have to recoup exactly the same costs over 100s of sales. The $32 price tag is probably a fair reflection of their costs / sales equation.

    Publisher in the RPG business are not greedy, We cannot afford to be because we operate in a market where people can and will switch to other products.

    @Greyhawk Grognard – This is the key failing of their pricing. PDF’s should be cheaper than their print counterparts. It is madness.



    It is interesting that several of you focused on the pricing of this specific PDF, something the publishers clearly got wrong.

    But the article is about whether you can sell a PDFs in general for $32.

    The point being that yes you can, but not any old PDF.

    Luxury goods existing in any market. Brand names that carry extra perceived value in the consumers eyes. Firms like Apple or Chanel or Calvin Klein etc.

    All of these sell products where equivalents can be brought for a fraction of the price. Yet they still manage to be highly profitable.

    Becoming a Luxury brand is difficult and it can be done in any market. Even in the PDF market.

  6. Lets throw this into the stew. I went to buy another Troll Lord pdf only to find that I need a program to open it. That’s right. I need something called NSIS to open it. I’m done with them. I got my many back from Drive thru rpg and wiped my hands of them.

  7. @Nightstorm – That’s a great example of how not to sell a PDF at any price. It shame that good companies make these sort of mistakes.

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