Aldo Ghiozzi is a senior industry professional, who has weathered the ups and downs of the roleplaying games industry. He runs Impressions, a company which consilidates and fulfils orders for his publisher clients in the game hobby trade. Exceptionally, he promotes his clients games to distributors and retails through personal contact, email and trade shows. He has been performing fulfilment for Pelgrane Press since January 2003 and since last year ProFantasy Software, consistently and reliably providing up-to-date sales information, and paying on time, too. He has somehow managed to retain his original high level of enthusiasm. Simply put:
- He tells all the distributors about his publishers’ forthcoming releases.
- They ask their retailers to pre-order.
- On a weekly basis, he ships out any books the distributors have ordered, whether new releases or back orders
- He collects monies owed by the distributors.
- The following month he pays his publishers for anything for which he has collected money. (Bad debts fall on the publishers, although Aldo keeps tabs on the distributors creditworthiness)
First, a potted biography would be good. I don’t know what a “potted” biography is, but how about a short one? :=) Prior to Impressions, I spent eight years on the marketing side of the computer and video game industry, which included the launch of the (recently defunct) magazine “PSM” and the launch of what is now IGN.com. I also had my own part-time hobby game company, Wingnut Games, which was mainly known for Battle Cattle and Og. Now, Impressions handles the distributor sales and shipping for about 40 game companies to over 30 distributors worldwide. We are also the former publishers of GameBuyer Magazine and organize Free RPG Day annually.
How did Impressions come about, when was it formed, and how quickly did it grow?
I actually started Impressions as a side business while I was trying to make Wingnut Games a full time gig (that brilliant idea lasted like two months). At that time, Wizard’s Attic was handling my distributor shipping. Since the owner was local to me, I went over there a lot and talked to him a lot at local shows. Well, when things started to fall apart there, I worked a deal with him to take over some clients of theirs and over the holidays in 2001, I took over everyone and put them under the Impressions banner. That was a crazy month — I went from like 10 clients to 80 overnight. Eight years later and Impressions is the longest running fulfillment consolidator in the biz.
What role do you fill in the hobby market, who are your customers, and how do you charge? We’re really a middle man that works for hobby game publishers and sells to hobby game distributors as one combined entity. Instead of a distributor contacting, ordering and getting shipments from 40 different companies, they do that all with us in one fell swoop. Our main cost to publishers is a 18% commission on the product we sell plus $0.25 per unit handled/sold. In the end, we keep 10% that does not go back to shipping, and that makes us like any commissioned sales person. We have other fees possible as well, but that varies depending on the client.
About the market
What proportion of your sales would you say come from roleplaying games, and how has this varied historically? Surprisingly, it has not changed much over the years. RPGs are still doing anywhere from 40%-50% of our business. RPGs are easier to make so chances are there will always be more RPG publishers entering or already in the marketplace.
How many copies does the average RPG sell now? Huh…People are lucky to sell 150 copies of a new RPG through distribution these days. Because of this, I would say over 75% of the RPG products I get these days are POD [Ed: Print on Demand as opposed to Offset Litho Printing, which needs runs of 1000+. Pelgrane produces a mixture, depending on potential demand.]
How has the downturn affected you and your competitors? Have you continued to trade with customers going bust and the market declining? For me, we’re down 15% over last year, year-to-date, but that is not much at all…and it is still not a bad decline when 2008 was 5% down from our best year ever in 2007. Sadly though, one of our competitors, Key20, went away this year. Now, in terms of folks “going bust”, I don’t see that right now. Payments are nice and steady from North America, and last year I made it policy that all foreign distributors be on credit card or PayPal money prior to shipping. I definitely feel things when someone is having trouble though…they are good people…they tell me…they try to work it out. Unfortunately, we tried to work things out with Blackhawk Hobby and Centurion Hobby, but both went away.
Has the internet undermined retailer sales, and has this had an impact on your business? I think undermined is too devious of a word. I think the internet has just reduced their sales. But this is where retailers need to take what they have and shine…They are brick-and-mortar stores and their job is to bring an experience to their consumers…the internet retailers cannot have game days, tournaments, events, parties, weekly gatherings, et.al. (and we do not allow internet retailers to participate in Free RPG Day ). Has it impacted my business? Probably not. Internet retailers still buy from distributors so the decline I mentioned above is just due to the economy.
About your Clients
What do you look for in new clients? What are the minimum financial requirements for new clients? I look for commitment, communication and promises to promote themselves to be kept. There are no financial requirements on my end, but I tell clients they are not financially viable as a client without having 3 or 4 releases a year, or 2 really really good ones. I mean, yes, it is about the revenue they generate, and I figure that if they do not sell $18,000 in gross MSRP (about $7,320 at wholesale) a year, there is no profit on our end…that does not mean they cannot be a viable business, but just not for us.
What distinguishes your most successful clients, and who are they? Well, it took a long time, but Goodman Games has built a following with their Dungeon Crawl Classics line…and this is what I would want in every single client! [Ed. Pelgrane’s sister company Axe Initiative will be selling 4e material through Goodman Games] The other successes include Castles & Crusades from Troll Lord , The Order of the Stick books from Giant in the Playground , the Order of the Stick board game from APE Games and the Red Dragon Inn series from SlugFest Games . In the end though, no one knows what the consumer will grab onto and run with, but I do believe that the more you try, the more likely you will have a success possible…and when you do find that success, take it and run with it as long as you can.
What major marketing do you undertake to promote your clients and the hobby industry? I categorically believe that my biggest undertaking for my clients is the contant contact I keep with the distributors. I am surprised when distributors tell me I am someone they hear from most often vs. other companies…even the big boys. I’m a huge believer in communciation, and I open those lines up with retailers as well. I answer a lot of retailers too because after so many years, they know they can call me with a Goodman Games or Troll Lord Games or whomever question where I will be able to give them the best answer out there. Beyond that, we used to have GameBuyer going out to stores every month, but that ended up being a very small percent focusing on clients…it became a general trade publication and actually took more time to do vs. the return. Don’t get me wrong, it was still profitable, but not to the point of the time to get it done. Now, we also go to conventions, but we do not sell at consumer shows. Again, communication…we use these shows to meet with distributors and retailers. We do go to the ACD and Alliance open houses (except last year) and again, these are great to see the retailers face-to-face.
What advice would you give to new publishers about creating games, marketing and increasing sales? It is kind of hard to give advice about creating games, but I can say that if a RPG publisher wants to have any decent amount of sales beyond distributor sales, they need to find every venue possible to make money: distribution, direct to retailers, online, PDFs, con sales and any place else they can think of!
How do you see the future of your business? Have you considered mail order, direct retail sales or PDFs? I have thought of doing all of those you listed above…but every time I start getting deep into any one of them, I categorically believe that the core of Impressions would suffer. I am a big believer in not being a Jack-of-all-trades…I would rather be the master of one. OK, so Impressions is not the master of distributor sales, but I think having a targeted focus gives me a better chance of survival and success in my specialization (another reason why GameBuyer was sold). Now, having Free RPG Day is outside that previous statement, but it was started because Joseph Goodman made me do it (!!!) and it breaks things up without disrupting the distribution side of things…and it is only once a year. Overall though, I think my future is the same for Impressions. When times are bad, companies want distribution help to increase sales, and when times are good, they want distribution help to handle the increased sales. That means I should be fine no matter what the economy…if I play things smart. And I would say I have because I have been through the D20 boom, the D20 bust, the CCG boom, the CCG bust, and now the economic bust…and I humbly say, I’m still here.