A month of Pay What You Want – this is what you all wanted to pay


It’s official been a month (and two days) since I started this whole Pay What You Want experiment. I think it’s safe to say that it’s no longer an experiment, and now more of my current business model.

Let’s get the numbers in and then I’ll see what’s what.

From 5/1/13 to 5/31/13

PDFs Sold (including free): 317

Gross: $32.73

Net: $18.02

From 6/1/13 to 6/30/13

PDFs Sold (including for a cost of $0): 904

Gross: $149.49

Net: $96.93

The Gross for May also includes a few print titles, which skews the percentage slightly. The Gross/Net from June also includes one $16 purchase of a recommended $3 title with instructions to buy something for a game, so that’s skewed a bit too.

Skewiness aside (and yes, I made that word up) you can see a pretty big difference in the two months. I made in profit almost $80 more ($77 more if you remove that anomalous order to buy a star ship). That’s a pretty damned big difference!


I’m fairly certain a significant chunk of this is due to the sudden hype of DriveThruRPG/OneBookShelf suddenly implementing the Pay What You Want model. Lots of people were chatting about it at the beginning of the month and I saw a definite falling off of sales towards the end of the month.

That being said, the difference even at the end of the month is significant! In the last week of May, I sold exactly 0 PDFs. Not even one free, single page. In the last week of June I sold 178 PDFs (many free) for a Gross of $21.18 and a net of $17.01.

My take away? I’m sticking with this model. Now I’m a pretty small fish in a pretty big ocean of folks and companies selling their wares on DriveThruRPG. Still, getting even one month of accelerated sales from this model is rather thrilling. It financed a new pair of gloves, a first aid kit and several pairs of expensive hiking socks for my upcoming Alaska trip. I cannot complain one little bit.

On the whole, people spent less per product than the recommended price. I recommend paying $2.99 for Argyle & Crew. The average price paid for it during the month of June was $0.99. That’s significantly less! However, take into account that I sold 29 copies in the month of June for some amount of money (even zero) and I sold 5 copies in the month of May for the recommended $2.99 I see it as quite a win. I made a bit more than double on A&C in June than I did in May, and I got the game into 29 hands as opposed to 5. I can’t argue with that!

It’s the same with every single title I let folks choose what to pay on.

That really bears repeating. Every single title I put into this model did better. I sold more, for less, but ultimately took home more profit and got more games out into the world. To me, who isn’t running this as my sole source of income, the latter is far more important than the former. The money’s certainly nice too.

Now, to answer a few questions that I’ve received over the last month.

Q: Don’t you like money?

A: Yes, yes I do.

Q: Do you think it’s silly to not charge for your work? If you put time, effort and money into a product, shouldn’t you guarantee you’ll get at least a minimum for every copy sold?

A: I guess I don’t have to do that. Some of what we’re seeing in sales is hype, to be sure. I’ll be interested to see what July offers in terms of numbers. But clearly I sold more, and made more than the previous method of me dictating a price.

Q: Is this the way of the future?

A: For me, probably. For other, bigger companies, probably not, or at least, not for everything. First, you’ll never see companies that produce physical products selling them this way. Each product comes with an inherent cost that has to be met to break even, and exceeded to make a profit. This includes IP, creation, production and shipping.

Second, I think some bigger companies will be coming to this in a different way. I can see lots of folks offering a core product, say Core Rules X for PWYW. Then, I can see them putting out supplements for a fixed, probably relatively low price. You get the core product for (potentially) free, and then pay for add-ons. If it’s a system you love, you’ll happily do this. If it isn’t for you, you haven’t lost anything, or if you dropped a few bucks, you’re only out a cup of coffee.

Q: Is this anything like certain states of quantum physics?

A: Er… yes, actually. You see, the more I observe my sales, and talk about them online, the more folks look at my stuff and have a chance to purchase them. Some elect to grab my entire library for free and others drop a few dollars. So yes, in the most round about way possible.

Q: How do I set my own stuff to be Pay What You Want?

A: I got this one a heck of a lot more than I was expecting, so:

  1. Go to your Account page on DriveThruRPG.
  2. Click on “Update Files for an Existing Product”.
  3. Change the file type from “Watermarked PDF” (or whatever it is) to “Pay What You Want”.
  4. Click “Set”.
  5. Click “Done editing these files”.

In Conclusion

For me, at this time, moving to this model makes an awful lot of sense. Even if I have a month where I don’t make a single cent ‘selling’ my products, at least I’m seeing them move into more hands. The more people who have them, the more potential that they’ll actually read them. A certain percentage of those folks will play the games, and a certain percentage of those folks will talk about them. At my level, that’s the best form of advertising I can get.

Even if they didn’t like the thing, at least they can truthfully say that they didn’t pay a cent for it and did it all above board and legal-like. I think that counts for something. I’d much rather have you grab something I did and not like it, than grab something I did after plonking down $3 and then not liking it. If the reverse is true, and you freaking love it, you could always come back and buy something else for real money, or even re-purchase the original title for a dollar or two.

There you have it. My first month allowing everyone to set the price they’d like to buy my books at. I’ll be reporting on the month of July as well, however you may not see that until mid-August, as I’ll be traveling for the first portion of the month.


9 thoughts on “A month of Pay What You Want – this is what you all wanted to pay

Add yours

  1. We’ve been doing the free for everything model now for about 6 months and I’ve seen our books and games and the d6 magazine move into the hands of thousands of people. I am excited by the idea of continuing this model. That said, while I see the Pay What You Want Model as attractive, the best thing for small games publishers to flood the market is to produce high quality stuff and distribute electronically for free. This will disrupt normal business operations pretty well, and if we have anything to do with it, a great deal more than pretty well. This takes a great step towards making that happen, but like any market with a flood of product, it will take longer for products to surface dependent on quality alone.


    1. I can see where you’re going with that, but I don’t think it’s a good model for everyone. As I said, I don’t make my living off of this. I do enjoy making a bit of cash though because I can turn that around into other things. Both things for me personally (bills, gloves, etc.) and things for my future products, such as art, editing, etc.

      I think artists and editors deserved to get paid too, even what I can offer them, and getting the money from sales of prior products goes a long way towards making that possible.


      1. I agree with you Ben. I am fortunate that all has gone pretty well for us, in finding artists to the final process of editing and layout and design. I agree that the model I proposed is not everyone. Definitely a directional thought on our where I see the industry headed though. We have about 3-4 elephants in the room in tabletop RPGs, with about 25,000 mice scurrying around looking for peanut scraps. If we can give books away consistently, it helps us to at least become a rat among the mice. Part of our model, is that while the eBook is free, the physical book will always cost money. That helps us to get things into perspective and keeps some profit coming into place.

        Then again, if we ever land a licensed IP – we might have to change up the game for ourselves since the IP owner may not like our business approach of free eBook distribution. the hardest part of this industry is getting into it and realizing that you’re just doing it because you love it so much, and not because you can actually make a living off of it.


  2. As an economist I’m unsurprised by your findings. Especially considering that digital wares are artificially rare. I suspect this is the outcome most people would tend to get. By definition if price comes down, more units should sell, assuming that the supplier is willing to sell them at that price. Of course in a non digital ware, there is more cost of a good that interferes, but with a digital medium, it’s only rare because of the limited ways to get the item. People would certain tend to buy there own rather than do without or steal it if the prices are what they are willing (or able) to pay.


    1. So what do you see happening in the next few months? Do you think this trend of more profits and more product getting out there will continue as it’s done, or drop off over time?


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