Monday, 29 April 2013

OneBookShelf Technology Roadmap

As I mentioned in my first blog post about product pricing experiments, my posts will sometimes be generally about sales and marketing business practices and sometimes about OneBookShelf things specifically. This is the latter. I wanted to provide some outlook on what we are planning technologically in the months ahead for the OneBookShelf marketplaces.

Discussion on Product Pages

A feature in testing right now adds discussion threads to product pages - a more conversational way for fans to discuss your products.

Threaded discussion coming soon to your product pages

We will be adding an option under your publisher settings tool page where you can elect to receive an email whenever customers post a new discussion topic on one of your products (similar to the current email notices when you make a sale or receive a new review). We will announce when this is released and ready for you to opt-in to those emails (or not).

Site Redesign

Our site has changed a lot over the years.
Last year was no different. We rolled out a new header/footer/left column and search bar look to our marketplaces. Late last year we released redesigned cart and wishlist pages.
Already this year we have rolled out all new checkout pages. User testing is indicating the new checkout pages are doing their job of making it easier for customers to buy your titles.
Later this year we will be circling back to the main sections of the homepages. These sections have not really been overhauled for many years.

Our basic plan for the homepage is to do away with the current center and right columns and replace them with horizontal cover thumbnail strips similar to what you see on sites like Netflix.

An early RPG mock-up we did - so crude that our web dev folks will curse me for posting it.

We will make this change incrementally to the home page and to other category browsing pages, testing the changes with customers as we go along.
This approach to the homepage will allow greater opportunity to showcase the covers of all of the hottest selling titles, titles exclusive to our marketplaces, and titles curated to each customer’s tastes. We can for example run a strip of Hottest Small Press titles and show the covers of all such titles vs. the vertical list of title names we now use in the left column of the site. We can show customer A and customer B different mixes of titles based on their prior history.

We know the user interface on many of the publisher tool pages leaves much to be desired. In ten years of coding tool pages to give you maximum control and visibility over your titles and connection to customers, we’ve organically grown the publisher menu into a rather daunting array of options that are highly functional but not always easy to use. Most of the publisher tool pages weren’t designed with the best modern day user interface practices in mind. We will be overhauling them.

Our focus right now, though, remains completing the redesign of our customer-facing pages. We hope to finish the bulk of that redesign work by the end of this year or the end of the 1st quarter 2014. We can then increasingly turn our attention to making your publisher tool pages friendlier for you to use.

Product Activation

We are making some changes to how products are activated for sale.
Last week we rolled out the first code changes that are part of a multi-step rollout that will give you more control over how your titles are delivered to customers.

Previously, if you wanted to sell a title through our print program, you also needed to have a digital download option available for the title. This week’s changes allow you to activate a title for print sale without requiring a digital option. For example, you can now offer printed cards without also offering a print-and-play version of the cards.

For those of you only offering digital titles not much has changed. Continue to activate titles as normal where you upload the files that customers will download.

Until we finish the rest of the coding on this project, there is an interim period here where a few site functions are suspended (e.g. using Batch Edit tool to make lots of products active or inactive at once) until we update those functions. Please bear with us.

There are a few other related changes coming in the next few months.

Soon our on-site tools will change from the “active/inactive” word pairing to a “public/private” dichotomy. We think public or private is a clearer way to communicate what we mean when we say a product is active or inactive.

Different Files for Different Formats
You will soon be able to upload several digital files and then determine which of those files get delivered when a customer purchases different product options: download, print, etc.

For example, you might want to sell a card game as both a downloadable print-and-play file and as a printed card deck. You will be able to upload the print-and-play PDF file and also rulebook PDF file to the product. You could then select for both of these files to be delivered to customers who purchase the digital download option and select only the rulebook file to be delivered to customers who buy the printed card deck option.

To be clear, the “Add-On” option to purchase a digital download + printed book combination will remain, as it exists on site now. The new function will just give you the flexibility to choose which files are delivered to customers based on which product option(s) they choose to purchase.

Mandatory Download Test
We currently require that a publisher order a single proof copy for all print products before we will activate the title for sale. Similarly, publishers will soon be required to perform a “test download” of a title’s file(s) before you can enable that product for sale via digital download.

Our #1 customer complaint occurs because publishers enter a new product but do not test the file download themselves before activating the title for sale. Customers then find out the new release does not download properly.

Usually this problem occurs because the publisher has not followed our recommended PDF specifications, so the PDF does not play nicely with our watermarking process. We will also be making changes to our watermarking process to minimize these problems, but the ultimate safeguard to keeping your customers happy is to test the download yourself before making it public. 


Why don’t we have an iPad app?
For the past many years there’s been a debate about the future of apps vs. HTML5 webpages.
We’ve been squarely in the HTML5 camp, believing that the functionality coming to webpages will allow phones and tablets to do everything we would want an app to do.
An HTML5 approach allows us to create and maintain one website that can be optimized for different screen form factors, but not have to code and maintain apps for iOS, Android or other operating systems.
This year we will be looking at how far we can push the code on our download pages and library pages to see if we can now make the experience rich enough for customers that an app seems moot.
If we don’t feel we can push the experience far enough then we will finally give in and look at doing some apps using the emerging hybrid approach of wrapping HTML5 into an app package. Services like offer this sort of approach.


Our card print program has been functional for a couple months now. We have been improving many aspects of it – nuts and bolts stuff like getting ship confirmation emails flowing between our print partner (ODT) and ourselves. With more of that now in place we are beginning to market the DriveThruCards site this week with a Grand Opening event.

Being able to print high-quality cards as single decks (or single cards!) to meet a customer’s order in real-time is just the beginning of what we intend to offer through our cards platform. In the months and years ahead we plan to offer a range of tools to publisher which you can use to publish card games in ways never before possible. Some of what we will offer will only be usable by publishers who create games with these capabilities in mind, so this is a long term project for us and for the publishers who choose to use the tools we build out.

One example is building a tool which will allow your fans to create their own cards compatible with your game. A fan creates the expansion card online, agrees to a click-thru and submits the card design for approval. Once you approve the card, it then goes up for sale as a single (perhaps as an “unofficial” card). Now your game is getting crowd-created.
Perhaps the fan gets an auto-pay royalty when their card design sells? Now your fans have several reasons to virally market their cards to each other. Those types of features are some time away for us yet, but we’ll get there with your input along the way.

Your Turn

Comments, suggestions, and questions are welcomed below.


Wednesday, 3 April 2013


Blog Intro
As this is my first real blog post here, a quick word of introduction.
Who: I'm Steve Wieck, CEO of OneBookShelf which operates DriveThru, RPGNow, WargameVault, etc. After working on these marketplaces for over eight years, I notice some things that might be useful to the creators and publishers who allow us to sell their content on our marketplaces. This is a blog intended for those creators and publishers.
What: I'll mostly blog about business and marketing stuff. Sometimes it will be things rather broadly useful like the post coming below about pricing. Sometimes I'll let you know what we're thinking and where we're going with deep dives into things more specific to our marketplaces (and hopefully get your feedback and comments).
I will only blog sporadically when I have something potentially useful to say, feel free to subscribe; the posts will be infrequent.

Pricing for Reach
A common question we get from publishers is "How should I price my title?" to which we reply with a most unhelpful "that depends".

Pricing makes a huge difference in the success of your title, but it depends on what success you're looking for. Usually it's either maximizing reach or maximizing income.

Maximizing reach is the easy one. The price is zero, free. Simply making your title free though does not by itself guarantee enormous reach. You still need to market the title. It helps to contact our marketing folks like Matt and Steve Smith and ask them to feature your freebie in a newsletter. They can't feature every free title, but they can feature some. Releasing a free rpg title on Wednesday evening or Thursday early morning also helps you get your free title automatically listed in the bottom portion of our rpg newsletter (for comics try Tuesday evening or early Wednesday morning).
You might also look for opportunities to include titles for free in certain bundle promotions. Charity bundles can see 10,000+ downloads.

Then what do you with that reach? Using the email customer tool to contact everyone who got your free title with an incentive to purchase another title in your line is a straightforward approach.
Kevin at Sine Nomine Publishing has success with offering a PDF version free leading to high sales of the printed version of Stars Without Number.
Top Cow makes all issue #1's free to introduce readers to a series.

Finally, there is certainly a case for using non-free prices to drive reach. Some publishers like EN Publishing and Adamant Entertainment have run 99 cent sales across their entire product range. The sale of items normally valued much higher than 99 cents drives a level of excitement that leads to word of mouth referrals and more "what the hell, I'll try it" purchases. The sale drives interest in a way that a free product could not. Free occupies a different mental space for consumers.

Pricing for Income
Maximizing income through pricing is the trickier part. Though much of what I discuss below works as well or even better on print titles as on digital download titles, I will largely be speaking to digital titles here.

First, a fascinating read. Scott Holden here at OneBookShelf referred me to an excellent summary article on various ways pricing tactics can influence consumer behavior. These are nicely summarized in a post by Peep Laja (no, I don't know if that's his real name or a gamer tag) at Conversion XL. If you're a fan of psychology or of making money, it's a good read and so well summarized there, I won't repeat it here.

Second, an experiment. Recently we worked with Monte Cook and deeply discounted his Ptolus book from $60 to $19.99 during our promotion of Geek & Sundry's International TableTop Day. I have been reading with interest some results and data that PC game download service Steam has reported about how a promoted deep discount of "75% off" drove total revenue, not units, total sales dollars, 40 times higher. I wondered if we could reproduce a similar result to what Steam has found.

We did. The one week that Ptolus was on sale generated 44 times more revenue than its prior monthly average. We got to send Monte the largest royalty payment we've ever sent him in eight years of selling Malhavoc titles - including more than when Ptolus first released.

Why did this work so well? We can theorize.
First, Ptolus is worth $60. Anyone who ever purchased Ptolus for $60 got more than their money's worth. This promotion was not some shoddy way of taking a title that has a market worth of $25, claiming it's worth $60 and then "marking it down" to $20. Ptolus is one of the best roleplaying books ever created and customers know it. It was a steep discount from the legitimate value of the product.
Second, Monte's profile hasn't exactly diminished or deteriorated in the past several months and he maintains his social media connection with fans. However, Monte admits that he didn't do a lot of promoting of this sale himself.
Third, the sale was promoted. We had good traffic to our TableTop Day landing page and the free bundle offered during the promotion.
Fourth, the pricing was presented correctly. It was clear that customers were paying $19.99 (rule of 9's), that they were saving $40, getting 66% off the normal $60 price. These things mean a lot.

There's a general rule in ecommerce web display and user interface that when in doubt about something, see how Amazon does it. I'm specifically not talking about Amazon's business practices - only their web displays and UI. You can be sure though that most every aspect of their site has been ruthlessly A/B tested, user tested, and optimized seven ways to Sunday. We're going to circle back after the success of the Ptolus sale to look again at how we display prices on our marketplaces vs. how Amazon displays them. We're going to work with publishers to identify titles which could work for deep discounts run during promotion events as Steam does. We won't see such enormous sales gains on every title, but it's definitely an experiment worth repeating.

Matthew at Mongoose has spurred us in the past to do more research on price points and pricing behavior on our sites. Certainly Matthew's price experiment of selling the Legend core book for $1 was wildly successful in maximizing the reach of that title (and even the income wasn't too bad!).
When we analyzed several years' worth of sales at DriveThruRPG and RPGNow and sliced the data several different ways, we found something a bit curious.
Sales rates of products didn't matter quite so much on their actual price - books priced at $15 generally sold as well as books priced at $12 for example. What did affect sales rates was the discount amount from the original MSRP of the title. So a book priced on site at 40% off its MSRP sold much better than a book priced 20% off its MSRP, even if both books ended up priced at $15.
If you already read the Conversion XL article linked above you'll have some ideas why - the power of "sale price markers (with the old price mentioned)".

What can you do?
1. When you enter prices on our marketplace, you have the opportunity to enter the original MSRP of the title. When you do we then display the price of the title on site like this:
$9.99 $4.99
instead of like this:
Entering that MSRP ends up making a big difference in the effectiveness of how your prices are displayed to customers. If you haven't entered your MSRP's, edit your products and do so (just make sure the MSRP's are legit - there are rules about false advertising).

2. Experiment! I know it can be scary, but many publishers like those I've mentioned above are trying different experiments with pricing and finding success. Say "Yes!" to experiments.
We did ask a few other publishers to also try the deep discount during our TableTop Day promotion and the rest refused to discount or went halfway there and saw little lift in their sales rates. I wish they had said "yes" like Monte did with Ptolus.

3. Consider price anchoring with print options. We'd love to see experimentation with price anchoring effects using different print options. Books like Vampire 20th anniversary edition that are available in digital format and several different print formats are ideal for price anchoring experiments. Setting a premium color price high (it legitimately needs to be high anyway due to the print cost) may help sell more standard color books at a lower price point. If you are only offering one print format option, consider adding another format at a much higher or lower price point.