A Month of Celestial Boogaloo
A.K.A. “The Math of Being Financially Nonviable”
I joke that my imprint’s tagline will be “Making financially nonviable games since YOUR FACE,” since I take a more or less devil-gives-a-fuck approach to making games now that I can. I mean, I do have a budget and I have to not be a moron about it, lest I run out of money I can use for other stupid art projects, but I’m not super serious about the financial side of my self-publishing endeavors. I like making things, I know they cost money to make, and I have to be cautious of what resources—money, time, energy, relationships—I put into those projects with respect to what I get out of them.
Let’s talk about my most recent project, Katanas & Trenchcoats, Episode 7: Celestial Boogaloo. I released this on October 21st, a month ago. The sales have tapered off enough to be worth talking about, I think.
This post is mostly a data dump, for those curious about how my numbers work out and what small conclusions I draw from them.
A Month of Sales
Celestial Boogaloo, being a supplement for a joke-ish game, sold 63 copies in the first month. 18 of those sales were on day 1, 15 on day two, 6 on day three, and it never gets higher than 3 a day after that. Here’s a chart of the sales over the month.
The PDF is listed as $2.99. OneBookShelf takes a 35% cut of sales, leaving me with $1.94 earned from each sale. That means in the first month of sales, Celestial Boogaloo grossed $188.37 and netted $122.22. 52% of that came from the first 48 hours.
Being a One-Day Charter
Here’s what you could have see shortly after Celestial Boogaloo was released:
That happened from just the first day’s 18 sales. It doesn’t take much to be a one-day charter, even if it feels good to do so. I think it’s worth people knowing how low the hurdles are in that particular race, so as to not read much into it.
Celestial Boogaloo lingered around on the Hottest Small Press chart for the next couple days, then dropped below the fold.
As of the time of this writing, Celestial Boogaloo just hit being a “copper seller”, meaning it’s roughly in the top 12% of sales on DriveThru. That took just over 50 sales to achieve, slightly over two weeks in.
Let that sink in for a moment, as you ponder selling your first-time game: around 90% of stuff on DriveThru doesn’t break 50 sales. It’s worth celebrating this achievement. Hell, I take it as a point of pride that the game stuff I have on DriveThru actually sells, especially in a Kickstarter era where non-event-based releases can easily linger.
Let’s Talk Budget
We’re done talking about the appearance of success. Let’s talk finances. I’ll round the numbers, as the exact amounts aren’t strictly important.
- Hired writing: $240 — I pay 6c/w now, and hired for around 4,000 words
- Editing: $170 — editing for roughly 5,500 words
- Illustration: $110
- Additional layout consulting: $50
My out-of-pocket: $570
Then we get to my unpaid worker: me.
- Developing 4,000 words so they could get to editing: UNPAID
- Writing another 1,500 words pre-editing: UNPAID
- Making the art treatment on the first spread: UNPAID
- Applying the layout: UNPAID
- Writing more material post-edit for copyfitting: UNPAID
If I were to have hired someone else for all that, let’s say that’s around another $300, to be conservative.
Compare that to the roughly $120 the game has made so far, and Celestial Boogaloo is $450 from earning out (243 sales), and $750 (397 sales) before I could really think of it as a financial success. Those numbers aren’t going to hit anytime soon.
Except, I can’t think of a supplement in terms of its own sales. That way lies despair. Supplements never sell as well as a core book, but they can spark sales of other books! That’s the reason the supplement treadmill works to any degree. Here’s my sales chart for the month.
|Fateful Concepts: Character Aspects||6||$17.94||$11/66|
|Fateful Concepts: Hacking Contests||5||$14.95||$9.72|
|Katanas & Trenchcoats, Episode 1: Welcome to Darkest Vancouver||14||$69.86||$45.41|
|Katanas & Trenchcoats, Episode 1: Welcome to Darkest Vancouver PREMIUM EDITION||5||$49.95||$32.47|
|Katanas & Trenchcoats, Episode 7: Celestial Boogaloo||63||$188.37||$122.44|
|Katanas & Trenchcoats: Car Wizards||20||$39.80||$25.87|
|Mythender Roleplaying Game (print edition)||1||$25.00||$10.89|
Given that viewpoint, Celestial Boogaloo has really earned around $260, or at least I’ll attribute people thinking about buying other K&T stuff, happening upon my Fateful Concepts books, or whatever to Celestial Boogaloo. The marketing term for this is “attribution,” which fits enough around the intent behind selling supplement. Here’s the day-by-day in chart form, based on revenue rather than number of sales as that’s more relevant to chart I think.
Oh, if you count free products, Mythender got 78 downloads in that period.
The Thing About App-Style Pricing
There’s no way I could sell Celestial Boogaloo for more than $2.99 and expect as many sales as it’s had. It’s an 8-page PDF; for some people, $3 is too high for entertainment that lasts longer than it would take to drink $3 worth of a latte. That’s legit, because I also judge PDFs the same way.
We live in a world where we have to price digital stuff in hopes of big-time volume, because we’re selling in the same space as the big guys—Wizards, Onyx Path, Evil Hat, etc.—and the big guys get to set the pricing expectations of the hobby. So yeah, there’s no way I could price Celestial Boogaloo at the “make my money back in 100 sales” level I wish I could.
That’s a big chunk of why people don’t pay themselves, and why they underpay others. :/
The Charity Element
I’m intentionally not talking about the charity element to these sales. At this point, the charity part doesn’t drive sales (and I really should update the K&T sales page), so I don’t want to muddy waters by talking about earnings versus charity. Effectively, charity means my earnings are really less than I list, but by my choice rather than inflicted by the process.
No Firm Conclusions
I’m not sharing this data to justify some recommended behavior, just to show what it’s like for someone like me—at best a C-list publisher—to be succeeding on a front that’s visible but to also be dramatically in the red for said success.
And make no mistake: that I could put together some silly little thing about “totally not In Nomine and Supernatural” and sell 63 copies in a month is a success, even if it’s a small one.
Will I Keep Doing This?
Probably. I like making stuff with my friends. But this did impact a decision I made to cancel a project a couple weeks ago, and will make me consider how much I use myself as unpaid labor rather than the hiring spree I’d personally rather do but can’t always afford. That’s especially important in months where life expenses get hairy, like with medical bills or some cool trip we want to take or whatever.
Also, next time I do one of these, sales for Celestial Boogaloo will get a little spike just as Car Wizards, Fateful Concepts, etc. did. That’s how the long tail/treadmill approach works when successful, but means you gotta keep doing the treadmill to keep yourself financially viable.
Thankfully, being financially viable isn’t my goal right now. :)