Stonemaier Champion: One Year Later

25 February 2019 | 27 Comments

One year ago, I started a little experiment called “Stonemaier Champion.” The idea was to give people the opportunity to contribute $12 annually to support the 100+ blog posts and 100+ YouTube videos (now 150+) I create each year for the benefit of creators, entrepreneurs, and game designers.

As an added perk, the original concept was that Champions would receive a year of free US shipping on all orders from our webstore and advance delivery on preorders. So, kind of like Amazon Prime, but just for Stonemaier Games.

I initiated the program thinking that it might attract a few hundred people at most. That’s how it started, but every time we launched a new product in the last year, membership jumped. In the other months, membership climbed steadily, which I attribute at least partially to the Champion reminder at the bottom of each blog post and YouTube video.

The membership totals by month are noted below, with the current total is 3,291 Champions:

I’m extremely grateful that so many people have chosen to support the content we create–it really means a lot to me, as I spend a lot of time each week writing the blog posts, planning and filming the YouTube videos, and replying to comments on both platforms. Of course, I understand that not everyone can contribute financially–if not, I appreciate that you take the time to read, comment, and/or share.

While the focus of the program is on supporting the blog and videos, it has become increasingly clear to me that the sustainability of Stonemaier Games depends on selling a small percentage of products directly to consumers. The vast majority of units we sell (99%) are sold to distributors and localization partners, and my business relies heavily on the many benefits provided by selling through distribution, but the margins on those sales aren’t enough for us to both make reprints of those products and pay the bills.

So the increased margin on direct sales–many of which are Champions–makes a huge difference for Stonemaier Games, even with the shipping reduction. For example, 2058 Champions preordered Wingspan (out of around 5100 preorders). Even though the majority of Wingspan’s lifetime sales will come from distribution and localization, that little boost at the beginning enables us to get the product off the ground running.

The Evolution of Stonemaier Champion

The program has evolved in several subtle ways over the last year:

  • For the first few preorders, we had a separate link for Champions. This proved cumbersome, though, as it was easy for new Champions to miss the link. So all customers now order though the same link, and Champions enter a promo code at checkout for shipping (it only works for Champions).
  • Originally we only offered free US shipping, but we have such a great international audience that I soon added a shipping discount for non-US Champions. I’ve also added more international fulfillment centers for preorders.
  • On several preorders I offered a special discount for Champions, but I’ve moved away from that practice and instead have started offering a preorder discount to all customers. I think that makes sense for any product ordered in advance, as there’s an element of uncertainty and patience that the discount helps to reward.
  • I use a recurring memberships Shopify app called Bold, which has been very useful. Up until recently, though, it had a key flaw: When you signed up as a Champion, you didn’t get a confirmation e-mail. Fortunately, Bold has been very accommodating, and as of a few weeks ago, it sends new members a customizable confirmation message after they sign up.

What’s Ahead for the Program

The biggest thing I’d like to improve is the renewal notification system, which currently doesn’t exist. Basically, I want each Champion to know when their 12-month membership is about to be renewed so they can easily and discretely cancel if they wish. However, no such notification currently exists in the Bold recurring memberships app; fortunately, they’re in the process of adding one.

In terms of content, I expect to continue to write 2 entrepreneurship/crowdfunding blog posts and to film 3 game design videos each week.

As for new product releases over the next 12 months, there’s the Euphoria expansion preorder coming up this week, the Scythe modular board preorder later this spring, a new game designed by me later in the year, at least 1 other expansion for an existing game, and most likely another new game preorder next January/February. Those are a lot of shipping fees to save for just $12!

I’m sure I’ll continue to experiment with various perks for specific products when I think of them in the future, while still maintaining our core philosophy of no exclusives.

***

I’m always open to feedback from current and potential Champions, so I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments.

Also read: Why We Launched Stonemaier Champion

If you gain value from the 100 articles Jamey publishes on his blog each year, please consider championing this content!

27 Comments on “Stonemaier Champion: One Year Later

  1. “The vast majority of units we sell (99%) are sold to distributors and localization partners, and my business relies heavily on the many benefits provided by selling through distribution, but the margins on those sales aren’t enough for us to both make reprints of those products and pay the bills.”

    *shudder*

    How do you make a living at this?

    1. Well, the volume and reach of distributors has proven to be incredibly helpful for our brands. That’s why Scythe has sold 250,000 units instead of just the 21,000 units on Kickstarter (not to mention all of the various expansions, accessories, and promos). But unless we significantly increase our prices, we need to complement the reach and breadth provided by distributors with some direct sales (1-5%).

  2. I signed up as a champion last year, but cancelled when you sent around the renewal reminder this year. I wish I could stay on as a champion, but I find that as someone living in Canada, the exchange rate is just too brutal, even with discounted shipping. An MSRP of $55 USD on Wingspan translates to roughly $80 CAD (including shipping). When the price is so high, it’s difficult to automatically sign on to buy Stonemaier products, as much as I want to. I think its a fantastic idea though overall, and am definitely jealous of anyone who gets to use the American dollar for their board game purchasing pleasure.

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Kyle! Though I want to better understand the takeaway from this, as it sounds like more of a general pricing issue (or an exchange rate issue) than one relating to Stonemaier Champion. Or maybe you’re saying that you still buy our products, but to afford them you need to buy them at a discount from online retailers in Canada? I can certainly understand that.

  3. Happy to see the “Champion” membership works, I’m excited to see that it would work world wide someday, also that there are rewards for the people that pays for it and also free content for us that can’t afford it. Thanks for creating this project.

      1. I am not sure if I should take it as a positive that you consider Europe as living in Euphoria, though I suppose we are moving in that direction. ;)

  4. I was trying to think of ways to increase word of mouth/marketing. Originally I thought maybe a referral program (1$/2$ off next renewal), or perhaps a giveaway for members only. (I recall you discussing legal implications here that may not be worth it.)

    I reviewed some of the wingspan social media – it was very clear on Facebook with the release data and discount. The youtube videos mentioned the date, but not details (free shipping/discount). I think every one signs up for different reasons – curious what entices people most. Early delivery, discount, support, etc.

  5. I suspect the reason that there has been such phenomenal growth of Stonemaier Champions is that the intention of the program – to allow people to support your digital content creation – is significantly misaligned with the implementation of the program – which, as you mentioned, is effectively Amazon Prime for Stonemaier Games (particularly as many of the preorder notifications as part of your regular email have made it clear that, if ordering direct from you, it was cheaper to ‘purchase’ Stonemaier Champion plus the game [particularly while you offered an additional discount on top of free shipping] than to just purchase the game).
    And that’s completely fine! You’ve discussed in the article the benefits Stonemaier Games gets from encouraging direct orders so the program in its current form is working to advance your objectives, but it might be worth considering:
    1) If you changed the objective of the program to ‘maximise benefits from direct orders’ would you make any changes to the way the program is implemented?
    2) If you would make changes, then would those changes be consistent with the digital content focus of Stonemaier Champion?
    3) If they are not consistent, then would the benefits of splitting into separate programs, one for digital content support and one for Amazon Prime for Stonemaier Games outweigh the disadvantages (at a minimum – increased administrative overhead and confusion amongst your target audience as to which program they want)?

    1. Stuart: That’s an interesting opinion! The numbers expressed there might not actually add up, though they’re not far off. For example, Wingspan’s shipping cost was $10, and Champion costs $12, so at least in the short term, someone who became a Champion for Wingspan paid more than the regular price.

      As for the misalignment, I don’t quite see it that way, but I respect your opinion. One pleasant surprise I’ve heard from some Champions is that even though they weren’t previously engaged with the blog and/or YouTube channel, but now they are.

      1. If I really wanted to maximize direct orders, I probably wouldn’t even have a Champion program. I would just offer games for sale all the time to everyone.

      2. Based on my answer, this question doesn’t apply.

      3. Based on my answer, this question doesn’t apply.

      I see what you’re getting at, though. I talk about the other options I considered in the original blog post about the Champion program–I’d recommend checking it out if you’re curious.

  6. Purchasing direct also avoided sales tax, which is 10% in my location. Among many other benefits (supporting Jamey, quicker delivery, and potential to further stretch additional savings on future purchases)

      1. We’ve been watching, slowly one by one they seem to start adding policies to charge taxes. Many of my friends thought Amazon would force many to change buying habits, but the tax isn’t on every item – plus the convenience really can’t be beat so it didn’t turn out to be as bad as first implied.

        CoolStuff probably had the biggest impact, as I’m making different decisions where I buy now due them charging tax. That and it seems that many of the things I want are out of stock, and can never get enough in stock at one time to make up free shipping. I started seeing more options pop up on Amazon with competitive prices.

        Not to discount my FLGS, but they are very slow at getting things, comparative speaking and stock is always an issue. They recently implemented a ship to store policy, and it’s become really convenient now when I want something without having to put up with drama.

  7. I’ve been a fan of your games since the Euphoria Kickstarter. I love how you continually evolve your practices and how open you are about your business. I haven’t purchased all of your games; some themes interest me more than others. I read your blog only occasionally, but it’s always worth it.

    I remember seeing the champion thing being announced. I was pretty interested, but didn’t sign up for it because I live outside of the US. I didn’t realize that you had added a discount for international orders until today, and I signed up instantly.

    I like to support companies directly as much as possible. I know some folks would prefer to support their FLGS, but mine is generally unfriendly, and I know that game publication is a tight business model.

    I’m so glad I saw this, just in time for the Euphoria expansion.

  8. I feel very special to be one of the first 300 Champions. I signed on because I loved Scythe and want to support the company. I was a fan of Jacob Rozalski and ordered several – O.K., more than several – of his prints on canvas thru Society6, which are scattered throughout the house and my offices. I think I only took advantage of the free shipping for a couple Scythe expansions and Wingspan, but would certainly order anything Stomemaier directly from the publisher to support them. I live in an area so remote there is no FLGS to support.

    To me, being a Champion member is really more about giving than getting. I have a big heart for the Scythe Kickstarter, which was my second Kickstarter pledge ever, so I have very fond memories of getting so much cool stuff from it. I feel very sad that the project had so many problems with distribution for the company because it was so wonderful for me as one backer. I would say, though, that ordering Wingspan directly was ALMOST as fun, the wait was much less time, and muscat have been more streamlined for Stonemaier games.

    I like to think that having spelling errors actually makes my set special — first printing! I don’t need corrected cards!

  9. Thank you, Jesse! It means a lot for me to read this. I appreciate you being there for the Scythe campaign, and I agree that the problems (a small minority of problematic backers, not fulfillment system itself) added up more than I thought. But I’m glad we’ve been able to find a method to emulate something close to that feeling in a more streamlined, faster way.

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