Pelgrane Press Biz 2014

[Note to self – musn’t use pie charts. Steve Dempsey says they are bad.]

It’s been another great year. Reading last year’s post, this post is like a sequel to last year’s – in a Godfather 2 rather than Highlander 2 way.

The key phrase for this year is mid-tier. We aspire to the median heights of mid-tierness. Everything we publish, how we sell our books; everything we post online or email we think – would a mid-tier company do this? So far, this has guided us well.

The figures show our turnover has increased by 45%. This is somewhat misleading – 2013 had no Kickstarter income, and 2014 had two Kickstarters, and I consider Kickstarters to be unhatched chickens – we sit on the money as a pre-payment for costs, not as a big pot of working capital. If we exclude Kickstarter, the increase was around 16% – still impressive.


Why the increase?

In part the new shininess of 13th Age supported by the Organised Play team, improved social media presence, but also Cat Tobin’s amazing efforts in unclogging the production pipeline and releasing so many new books. I also think the release of 5th Edition and the general increase in the size of the audience has something to do with it. 13th Age continues to be our top-selling product. Once again, though, sales of non-13th Age products have increased – by 10% (excluding Kickstarter)

We absolutely punch below our weight in marketing terms.

Once again, and despite everything we learned in 2014, we released a huge number of products at GenCon, as you can see from the spikes in the sales graph.

Our Different Lines – By Units

The 13th Age core book outsold every other core book by a long shot – as you might expect.Trail continues to sell reliably, and Night’s Black Agents figures got a modest boost from the Dossier. though not all of the extra sales are included in the figures.

Hillfolk is selling much better through distribution than I thought, and is holding up, too. Blood on the Snow and the cards have sold through. So, I will look at ways we can support the line.

The picture looks a little different when you add all the supplements in. It’s a little misleading to look only at unit sales, of course, because Trail includes many modestly-priced supplements.

Finally, just for fun, all sales from all lines since records began:


The big differences between 2013 and 2014 were – no Kickstarter in 2014, and the emergence of The Bundle of Holding. Amazon, much to my regret, plays a more significant role, but only really to sell copies of 13th Age Core Book as a gateway, and with very little margin. If we exclude these, the proportion of sales through other channels were pretty much the same.

Here you see how print and PDF compare – 38% of our unit sales by PDF.  OBS is and This excludes the Bundle of Holding – on a per-unit basis this would skew the chart wildly. What’s also important here is the role of distribution. Despite the low margins, retailers still play an important role. 13th Age has attracted casual sales through retail we wouldn’t typically get.


Margins in our corner RPG business remain tight, and now that we are mid-tier, I have to take the whole thing a lot more seriously, as a slip up could cost thousands, and full time employees and freelancers depend on us. People, printers and shippers get our money. I’m very pleased to be able to employ three people permanently, while I am a part timer. Cat is taking a more central role in running the business.

Shipping costs are brutal. Customers outside the US are effectively getting heavily subsidised shipping. US to Canada shipping is just mad. Lower oil costs might help, but I’m not counting on it.

This year we have two Kickstarters to fulfill. We’ve built in a little wiggle room on the shipping costs, but I still think we’ll end up down on costs. despite what we’ve reluctantly had to allow.

The Future

The very best thing for us to do to increase our margins is to increase unit sales, enabling us to pay artists and other creators more money. Our products are beautiful and award-winning, but compared with other similar companies, our marketing is not nearly what it could be. So this year we are devoting more of our resources to social media, building organised play programs and International Pelgrane Day. It’s hard not to spend all day making and planning new products, but we need to sell them, too.

I think last year was exceptional – running two big Kickstarters in year and getting the revenue in for them is very unusual. I expect this year to be steady on the sales side, and revenue to be down on 2014, and that won’t concern me. We have to deliver what we promised on TimeWatch and The Dracula Dossier.

13th Age from a business point of view is a great fit for Pelgrane Press – it’s enabled us to grow, and I think we’ve bought a touch of our magic to it, too. So creatively and as a gamer, too, I’m very happy to have published it.

The work I did to produce this report shows I need to have better and more consolidated access to the data. Margins by channel and type are very hard to work out, for example. So I need to consolidate the data and polish up the Magic Spreadsheet.

It’s what a mid-tier company would do.


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