Kickstarter Lesson #223: Should You Crowdfund a Reprint?

10 April 2017

A few years ago, you designed and produced 1,000 hats for cats. To your surprise and delight, through a combination of crowdfunding, pre-orders, and distribution, you sold your last cat hat last week. Should you return to crowdfunding for a reprint?

Reprint vs. New Edition

Let’s start with a quick definition, as these two are often confused.

  • Reprint: This is basically when you tell your manufacturer to make more of the original, with perhaps a few small tweaks (like fixing typos).
  • New Edition: This is when you’ve made significant changes to the original (e.g., different art, design, look, feel, etc).

Today I’m specifically talking about reprints, not new editions.

My Experience

I don’t have any experience running a crowdfunding campaign for a reprint–I’ve never done it. I’ve instead chosen to reinforce my relationships with distributors and retailers by selling all reprints through them, and the results have been great: We’re on our 6th printing of Scythe, 6th printing of Viticulture, 3rd printing of Euphoria, and 3rd printing of Between Two Cities.

The closest I’ve come was when I Kickstarted Tuscany, the expansion pack to Viticulture. There were bundled reward levels that included both Tuscany and the second edition of Viticulture (I had previously Kickstarted the first edition of Viticulture).

Reasons to Crowdfund a Reprint

  • Wide range of demand uncertainty: Perhaps you’ve heard from a few people that they want a cat hat, but you really don’t know if there’s anywhere close to enough demand for a minimum production quantity of 500 units.
  • Expansion or companion product: Many board game publishers include bundled options of the expansion plus a reprinted copy of the original game. While I’m sure retailers don’t love seeing this, it’s understandable.
  • You don’t sell through distribution/retail: Some companies only sell directly to consumers through their websites, Amazon, etc. If you don’t have a relationship with distributors and retailers, you don’t have to worry about damaging it.
  • There’s demand and you work with distributors, but you don’t have a source of funding: You know there’s a lot of demand for a reprint of your hats for cats, but you don’t have the funds to pay for a reprint. You can go to your distributors and ask them to front the manufacturing cost, guaranteeing them that they’ll get the exact quantity they want. If they decline, then it’s reasonable for you to pursue a reprint without damaging that relationship–it’s a two-way street.

Reasons to NOT Crowdfund a Reprint

Well, pretty much every other reason.

Crowdfunding is a wonderful way to raise funds, gauge demand, build a community, generate awareness, ship efficiently, and improve a product. But if it is the only way you’re doing those things, you’re going to have a really hard time scaling, growing, and sustaining your business.

Do you rely on distributors/retailers to sell your product? If the answer is yes, you are risking significant and permanent damage to your relationships with those distributors and retailers if you run a crowdfunding campaign for a reprint. This isn’t my opinion–this is what distributors and retailers have told me.

(If you’re wondering why you’d work with distributors at all, here’s how I said it in a previous article: “It’s just a lot simpler to sell and send 1,000 games to 10 different distributors than sell 10,000 games to 10,000 unique consumers. It’s really important to me that I treat customers as individuals, not numbers, and I believe I can best do that if I’m freed from managing 10,000 transactions.”)

The Consumer Perspective

Here’s where you point out that consumers are best served by crowdfunding and pre-order campaigns, because it’s the only way to guarantee you’ll get something you want in a timely manner. You may have had subpar experiences with retailers when you pre-ordered a product that they didn’t receive. I get that.

I think the distribution system works best when we’re all communicating with each other. If you want a specific cat hat, tell your local or online cat hat retailer you want it. Then they can tell their distributor, and the distributor can tell the publisher.

But I certainly understand your frustration if you’ve tried for a while to buy something, but you simply can’t find a place that can keep it in stock. I can see how you would be relieved to see that product on Kickstarter.

Also, you might be the type of person who only wants to buy hats for cats directly from the creator. But you don’t need Kickstarter or pre-orders for that–most companies offer some form of direct purchase of in-stock inventory on their website.

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What are your thoughts on crowdfunding reprints?

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28 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #223: Should You Crowdfund a Reprint?

  1. Personally, as a new creator running my first kickstarter campaign, I’m somewhat frustrated with reprints and new versions. I think that Kickstarter, as they claim to do, should focus on people to creating new things, not use Kickstarter as a store for selling something basically already made.

    While I do think my kickstarter will fund, it is a lot more work to be competing against large and popular reprint projects taking up people’s screen space.

    Even for new versions, I’m skeptical, as least of big companies doing this. Although, a small creator wanting to make a new and improved version for his backers might be ok. But large companies taking advantage of this for new product versions with minor changes is frustrating.

    Now, after my campaign takes off, and if I am ever in the position of being a larger company, I would definitely understand why, and be tempted to do this myself. Still, this takes away from new and cool projects getting more funding.

    So all that said: I put the responsibility on Kickstarter and call “bull”. If they are really about supporting the creative community, then they should start enforcing their guidelines better. But ultimately and in-spite of their Benefit Corporation status, I think they just care about the bottom line, and hence let the rules slide for companies who will bring in more income.

    1. Also, playing the “devil’s advocate” against myself, I would note that maybe having more popular reprints and new versions may help bring more traffic to the site and to smaller creators. But, it’s hard to prove…

  2. Jamey,

    I”m of a similar mind to Corey…with many, many more tabletop games hitting KS, I want them to fail…and I write that in the nicest possible way. Many first-time designers haven’t play-tested their game enough (or blind play-tested it at all!); don’t understand the nuances of the crowd-funding space; and sorely lack the communicative skills necessary to run a successful campaign. On the flip side, those who have run a successful campaign and are considering a reprint…I ask you to please not consider using a forum for which the idea of “kickstarting” something means that it’s new to the community.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  3. Actually, this is an important topic and one we small-fry publishers talk about constantly. Was expecting this to be one of those posts where you call out a number of campaigns, what they did, etc. There have been some notable ones.

    – Gloomhaven
    – That game Mayday did that KS blocked, the resubmitted and then it failed (forgot the name)
    – Corporate America, etc.

    Mostly it comes down to the money/risk and or having an upside game. Lift Off! is upside down. Only why I’d be able to do it is with another KS.

    Cheers,
    ~Ed

  4. I am wondering if this ties in with one of your pet hates, the Kickstarter Exclusive.

    Let’s say the company are getting limited sales through regular channels and convince themselves via conversations with limited numbers of backers/friends that the reason is people buying the item now are not getting the huge pile of exclusives they got during the kickstarter and so the comapny thinks it has to go back down that route to sell a reprint (with accompanying KS exclusives).

    1. Paul: I hadn’t thought about it that way, but it’s possible! If a creator ever does that, I wonder how the 20% or so of people who want exclusives to be a one-time-ever thing feel about it.

  5. Firstly, who doesn’t love a cat in a hat?

    Secondly, I think we try to create too many higher level rules for things. If someone had a game I wanted and was uncertain about selling a second print run, I’d back them without compunction. We in the industry create unrealistic expectations like unreasonable stretch goals and such. Ask me for $5000 to reprint viti and I’d toss in. Why? Because I believe in it. I love you, Jamey but you carry an onus that is not yours to carry. Consumers need to carry the burden of thier purchase to a reasonable degree.

    In short… There is nothing wrong with asking folks to cast votes with dollars. Votes without dollars are suspect and carry little intrinsic value. It’s like that volunteer study they did where some were simply asked to help, others were given a candy bar and others were paid. Hands down, free service netted the best pr.

    In most cases I defer to your expertise, but I do feel that you coddle customers a bit too much. What I mean is that it doesn’t hurt to say ‘are there enough of you willing to buy now for me to reprint.’ Sure, some selfish folks will fuss, let them.

    I know you don’t ks anymore but if you did, I’d say do another small xpac like say, Sommelier, and add a reprint option :)

    1. Dave: Thanks for sharing your perspective. I totally love the capitalistic side of crowdfunding and business in general.

      After reading your comment a few times, though, I’m not sure I expressed my message well enough. I’m not telling creators what to do, nor am I telling backers it’s bad to support creators who run crowdfunding campaigns. The core point is that the major risk of running a crowdfunding campaign for a reprint is that you can permanently damage your relationship with distributors and retailers. It isn’t a matter of a few hurt feelings–it’s a matter of sustaining your business in the long term.

  6. I think it makes sense for expensive games like Gloomhaven or Kingdom Death. Demand seems difficult to judge and the total cost of a full production run is very high for any game publisher much less an independent designer.

    1. Rob: Perhaps, yes. Though I think this point is a major factor: “There’s demand and you work with distributors, but you don’t have a source of funding: You know there’s a lot of demand for a reprint of your hats for cats, but you don’t have the funds to pay for a reprint. You can go to your distributors and ask them to front the manufacturing cost, guaranteeing them that they’ll get the exact quantity they want. If they decline, then it’s reasonable for you to pursue a reprint without damaging that relationship–it’s a two-way street.”

      Kingdom Death isn’t a retail product (though there are probably some retail backers on the Kickstarter). Gloomhaven, however, is a retail product, and distributors were prepared to commit to quite a few games and front the production costs.

      1. Wow didn’t know you could do this (get capital fronted by distributors) but that makes sense especially if you have an in-demand product that seems likely to sell. Do you know of any cases of this happening successfully Jamey?

        I also wonder if anyone has tried to fulfill a kickstarter campaign using an online retailer (I guess funagain games does this for some companies if I understand correctly though?).

        1. Wyatt: Sure, we did it for Scythe’s 6th print run. :)

          As for using online retailers as fulfillment centers, I’ve used Funagain (they’re fantastic), and I think MM and CSI may do a little of it.

  7. I don’t kickstart a lot of games and own only a handful of games but I do support the reprint of gloomhaven and if I didn’t had a copy (or if money wasn’t tight) get a copy of it ! This is not only because it’s a great game but I really want to support Issac as well . through his first gloomhaven ks, I can feel his sincerity in wanting the project to succeed and he cares for the gloomhaven community. He is constantly on boardgamegeek and through all his communications I can feel that he is really passionate in his work . All that just makes you want to support him and though I don’t think I will ever have a chance to meet him in person , I am pretty sure he is a great guy and makes you want to root for him. I own mostly co op games so haven’t have any games from Jamey , I do enjoy reading your blogs and most of the time I agree with your thoughts but in this case just because it’s Issac with gloomhaven ( no sg in the 2nd reprint but an awesome unfolding campaign ! That’s super unique) I think reprints are fine . But that’s from a customer view point

  8. I am curious if there is a traditional formula for kickstarter & saving money from that for a 2nd print run. I assume your 2nd print run would be less than your kickstarter backer total? For example, if with kickstarter you produced and distributed 10,000 units; do you plan your 2nd print run to be 80% of that (8000 units)? 20% of that (2000 units)? Or do you determine the number in some other way?

  9. Lyn: You make some great points, and I’m glad the reprint campaign has been good for you. I totally agree that Isaac is great to his customers. I was a Day 1 backer of the first Gloomhaven campaign, so I experienced that firsthand. It’s obviously doing well, though I worry about the damage he’s done to his relationships with distributors and retailers. However, hopefully it’ll turn out that even the reprint campaign will only cover part of his potential demand, and he’ll be able to renew that trust with distributors in a third printing. We’ll see! :)

  10. Paul: That’s a good question, though there isn’t a perfect formula for it. It depends on the size of the first print run versus perceived (and quantitative) demand for the next print run. In your example, most likely the second print run after 10,000 might be smaller, though the cost per unit really starts to increase if you dip under 5,000 units. However, if there’s a huge demand for the game after the first print run and you have the cash, you might make it the same size or even bigger.

  11. Seems like then, seeking a second KS for a second print run should probably be less controversial. Sounds like it would be difficult to budget for, and set the proper price point, on a first time KS run to guarantee that you would have funds for a 2nd print run.

  12. Sure, that’s one perspective. :) Another is that you print the games that you can afford to make based on your first-run sales, sell them to distributors, strengthen your relationship with them and their retailers, then make more games if people want more. That’s the long tail of a board game company. Kickstarter is great, but it’s the short tail.

  13. That does make more sense now that you have put it that way, and I would imagine people would want to, in the long run, have strong reliable relationships with distributors. I guess it is just a big risk one takes to do a 2nd print run, if distributors do not want to purchase them, you are stuck with the inventory.

  14. I would add one more reason to fund a reprint, and that is price. Taking Gloomhaven as an example, currently someone can pledge for the reprint at $99. The MSRP for it will be $140. That could be the difference for many people in being able to afford it or not.

    I get that distributors and retailers don’t like it because of course all companies like to get more business. But businesses should serve a purpose. And in my mind, they serve two purposes: 1. Dealing with distribution and storage and 2. Allowing people who are browsing for a new game to find your product.

    If you don’t mind handling fulfillment (either yourself or via a fulfillment company) and you have a bunch of people clamoring for a reprint, it seems to me that going through retail distribution is adding a bunch of middlemen that do nothing more than increase the price of your product for consumers.

    If there is still high demand for your product after your reprint has completed, I would think that at least one distributor out there would still want that business. And if there isn’t, then perhaps traditional retail isn’t the best model for your product.

    Riot Games is doing batched print runs of Mechs vs. Minions with direct distribution to consumers, and that is what is allowing them to keep the price down to $75. For a cheaper game, where the direct-to-consumer price might be $30 and the MSRP might only be $35, the $5 difference might not be that significant. But for the more expensive, bigger box games, the retail and distribution markup can make a big difference in price.

    The Internet has made more feasible the ability for crowdfunded print runs, and I wonder if we will see this model become more popular not just for initial printings, but subsequent ones as well. There is still plenty of room for retailers and distributors in this new world because there are many products that are either not popular enough for regular crowdfunded print runs or are too popular to manage without going through traditional retail channels. But I think there is a combination of price and demand where crowdfunding reprints make sense.

    If, after doing this some number of times, a creator then decides to go through retail channels, but distributors and retailers don’t want to sell it solely because the creator had previously sold directly to consumers, then I think they would be cutting off their noses simply to spite their faces. On the other hand, if there isn’t enough demand anymore for them to sell it, then perhaps that’s a sign that the product should be discontinued.

    Also, I disagree with those who think that bigger campaigns take away from smaller ones. Whether I backed a reprint on Kickstarter or pre-ordered it from a retailer, it would still be competing with other Kickstarter games. Funds are what determine which campaigns I support, not some arbitrary maximum quantity of them. So, for example, the $40 I am saving by backing the Gloomhaven reprint instead of buying it at retail actually leaves me with more funds to support other campaigns, making it more likely that I will back them, not less.

  15. As I’ve read through Isaac’s thoughts on his development process one thing stood out to me. And a caveat, he never directly says it in what I have read so I may be misinterpreting here. It seems that he has not had the best experiences with distributors. Or at least, he had a lot of trouble selling the initial print run of Gloomhaven to distributors and retailers at a time when printing more copies in the initial run was feasible. No one was willing to take what they saw, and perhaps reasonably so, as too much of a risk. It being a big, heavy(as in mass), “legacy” game that seemed to require 50+ playthroughs to “finish.”

    Once the game was close to its ship date and the print run was finished, a big cloud “hype” emerged and suddenly all those distributors and retailers suddenly decided they needed copies they had previously turned down. This seems to have left a bad taste in Isaac’s mouth for the traditional retail model which led to him turning down various funding offers, then returning to Kickstarter. (Again, this is mostly my interpretation of the public comments I have read, it is possible that I am missing the boat on what actually happened but I am merely using this anecdote as a jumping of point for my question.)

    My question to Jamie is, what are your thoughts on dealing with these kind of business disappointments? Do/would you find it easy to ‘forgive and move on’ when potential business partners turn down initial offers but then, upon reevaluation of the situation, return and ask for the same offer?

    1. Lewis: Thanks for sharing your insight into this. I can definitely understand this human side of the publishing business. I’ve tried not to let this side of things interfere with prudent decisions, but I’m sure I have. We all have. :)

      The difference here is that I’ve never expected a distributor to know how many copies they want before the first print run hits the market. The only indicator they have is if retailers say how many copies they want, and the only way retailers know is if consumers communicate to those retailers in advance. I’m not sure about the exact timing of when Isaac went to distributors, but he shouldn’t blame them for not having perfect information. Of course distributors turned down orders before they had orders from retailers, and of course distributors wanted games when they started getting orders from retailers. That’s game publishing 101. :)

      I think the closest I’ve come to something like this is when a retailer wanted to increase their pledge after a Kickstarter campaign. I don’t let any backers add Kickstarter versions of our games at Kickstarter prices post-campaign, including retailers. I didn’t hold it against them for not ordering more in the first place, though.

      1. Thanks for sharing Jamie!
        I must admit that there have been at least two times in my career where I let personal feelings caused by previous rejection (Both involving loan/funding requests that were initially turned down) block an otherwise sound business decision. Strangely enough I can’t for sure say what damage I caused by those decisions, if any. My career took a wild left turn that left those decisions practically irrelevant.

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