Why We Launched Stonemaier Champion

2 March 2018

I was driving from Virginia back to St. Louis after Thanksgiving last year, and I couldn’t stop thinking about content. Specifically, whether or not I should ask people to contribute financially towards the annual creation of the 100 crowdfunding/entrepreneurship articles I post on this blog and the 100 game design videos I post on YouTube.

At that point in time, I had accumulated 500+ blog posts and 200+ videos over the past 4 years, all provided for free without me asking for anything in return (and without ads or sponsored content).

Why? It felt weird to ask for a contribution for something that I’ve provided for free (and plan to continue providing for free). Plus, I figured that if someone wanted to support my content, they could do so by buying a Stonemaier product or a copy of my crowdfunding book.

I was on the phone with fellow game designer, publisher, and content creator Ed Baraf during that drive back to St. Louis, and I mentioned this dilemma. Ed’s wise response has resonated me over the last few months. To paraphrase, he said, “Jamey, when someone buys one of your games, that money doesn’t go towards your blog or channel. The reward they’re getting is the game. Do you think people might also want the opportunity to express their gratitude for the value they gain from your blog and channel?”

It took me a while to come to terms with Ed’s advice. Finally, after much thought, debate, and consultation, I launched Stonemaier Champion yesterday. By  contributing $12/year to support the 100 blog posts and 100 YouTube videos I create each year for the benefit of creators, entrepreneurs, and game designers.

Stonemaier Champion logo

However, I couldn’t completely get over the idea that I was asking people to pay money for something that they already get for free (and will continue to get for free). That’s a big mental hurdle for me. At the same time, I didn’t want to add even more to my plate by, say, creating an ebook of the latest content. It already takes me a huge amount of time to create this content and respond to comments. It’s a labor of love, but it’s time-consuming.

I decided to combine it with another idea that addressed something I’ve heard from fans ever since I stopped using Kickstarter. People have expressed that when they hear about a new Stonemaier product, they wish they could just pre-order it directly from us. It’s more about locking it in, knowing they’ll get their copy, and making it easier to get “all the things.”

So I added these perks to enable Stonemaier Champions to feel good, confident, and secure about that decision:

  • Subscription to a monthly digest highlighting the key points from the top 5 new blog posts and videos, as well as alerts for all incoming Stonemaier products and reprints.
  • Unlimited free US shipping on all orders from our website. Orders are shipped from our St. Louis warehouse to any address, though free shipping is only for US destinations (for international customers, we recommend forwarding services like Shipito and Vyking).
  • Advance delivery on all pre-orders through Stonemaier Games (orders will ship soon after they arrive instead of waiting 2-4 weeks for the retail release date). In the next 12 months, we expect to release 3 new games, 3 new expansions, and 2 new accessories.

I’m writing this about 30 hours after the program launched, and here’s how the dashboard currently looks:

This number is significant, which I’ll explain in a second, but first and foremost, THANK YOU SO MUCH to all of our Stonemaier Champions. It means so much to me that you want to support the content we create.

Also, for readers and viewers who aren’t “champions,” I still appreciate you too! You add value to me by subscribing, reading, commenting, and sharing.

I’m honored by and grateful the support, but we need to look at what that number means. Out of 33,000 e-newsletter subscribers, only 128 people said, “100 blog entries and 100 YouTube videos are worth $12/year.” That’s 0.3%.

And yes, perhaps many of those people don’t care about the content. They’re here for Viticulture, Euphoria, Between Two Cities, Scythe, Charterstone, realistic resources, etc. Which I totally understand.

Regardless, I think this is a big reminder to content creators out there that (a) subscribers don’t necessarily translate into financial supporters and (b) it’s very difficult to get people to pay for something that they’ve always gotten for free and will continue to get for free.

Last, let’s get to some burning questions:

  • Why Shopify instead of Patreon? I decided to use a Shopify app called Bold because I wanted integration with platform we already use. All of our e-commerce goes through Shopify, so it seemed to make sense. Was it the right decision? Time will tell. Bold Recurring Memberships has been mediocre at best so far, as the free shipping option isn’t something they offer (I have to create and send out a free shipping code to members), and it doesn’t even let me customize the confirmation message sent to new members (I’m not even sure it sends them a confirmation).
  • Whatever happened to putting retailers and distributors first? 99.9% of all of our sales are now to distributors, who sell to retailers, who sell to consumers. I truly love the gaming industry, and the content I create for game designers, entrepreneurs, and crowdfunders is intended to help everyone in this industry.
  • Couldn’t you get more interest if you sell at less than MSRP? A long time ago when I was young and foolish, I tried selling one of our in-stock products at a discount. I saw retailers selling it at discount, and I thought, “Well, if you do it, so will I!” I was quickly informed by our distribution broker that I was going to be shunned by distributors and retailers if I continued that practice. Even though I sell a $70 game that costs $20 to make/ship to distributors for $28, retailers aren’t happy if I mark it down to $65 on my website. I guess it’s just one of those things. (I sound more jaded than I really am–I haven’t thought about this disconnect in years.)
  • What about non-US champions? Well, there are two ways to look at it: One, the focus of Stonemaier Champion is on supporting this blog and my YouTube channel. Those are accessible worldwide to anyone with an internet connection. Two, I struggled with this aspect in regards to the perks. During my Kickstarter years, I strove to create a level playing field with international shipping. But all of our games are housed in one warehouse now, and that warehouse happens to be in St. Louis. So the best I could do for now was to look into forwarding services like Shipito and Vyking.
  • Why not offer special promos to champions? We already have a good system with Meeplesource in terms of accessibility, reliability, and logistically.

***

Do you get $12 worth of value out of this blog and/or my YouTube channel each year? If so, I hope you’ll consider becoming a Stonemaier Champion!

I’ve posted a poll below to learn more. I would not consider offering exclusive products or paygated content. Even though I’ll mention it in the poll, the logistics of offering pre-order content with more international-friendly shipping are far more difficult than I want to delve into.


45 Comments on “Why We Launched Stonemaier Champion

  1. Could you give a brief description of what Shipito and Vyking do? How they work etc. It is the only hurdle in my way.

    1. Basically, you sign up for a mailbox in the US with those services. You can accumulate packages in that mailbox, and when you’re ready, they will consolidate and ship the packages to you anywhere in the world (I think you get to choose the courier with different price options).

  2. To answer your question, Jamey. I’m a Stonemaier Champion. I saw the code when I signed up, but I didn’t write it down figuring I’d get an email. I didn’t. Sooo, you might get emails around the time someone decides to make a purchase. I guess I’ll need to. I suspect you might need to send an email out to those 128, but I don’t know how you keep someone who isn’t honest from sharing the code. I had to create a profile to sign up, is it possible to just tie a promotion code to an account? So that, for example, whenever I order something the shipping is free without the need of that code?

    1. Dusty: Thanks for the heads up. I wish the app would send out a customized e-mail…I gave them that feedback. I’m going to send a newsletter to champions on the 8th of each month with a new code, and I can see who uses the code, so if a non-champion uses it, I’ll know.

      Ideally Bold will update the app so all champions will inherently have free shipping without needing to do anything special.

  3. Hi Jamey, the Stonemaier Champion perks doesn’t offer anything of value to me. But I still joined last Wednesday because I’ve learnt from your blogs, your videos are very interesting, and you’re a great person that gives a lot. Good people should take care of each other.

    P.S.
    Typo alert: “Why? It’s felt weird […]”
    Should be: “Why? It felt weird […]”
    A legacy from when it said “It’s weird”

    P.P.S.
    Influence over a handful of blog/video content just sounds like plain good old fun!

  4. I’m new to your blog. I was constantly referred to your page when questions about Kickstarter came up on BGG, and finally decided to visit a few weeks ago. For me, having everything compiled in a PDF that I could read on my mobile without using bandwidth, would be worth paying $12.

    Unfortunately I haven’t played any of your games yet (though I really want to), so none of the other perks appeal to me. I’m only just recently delved past mass market games in 2017, so I hope to get to play your games soon and really hop on board the Stonemeier train. I really appreciate the information you put out there though, and sincerely,t hank you for keeping it free.

    1. Fertessa: Thanks for your feedback and kid words (and participation in the comments)! I do have that crowdfunding book, which includes a consolidated version of the content from this blog, but I understand the desire to have a PDF of all KS lessons.

  5. If people are interested in paying for your blogging content I can’t blame you for offering it as an option.

    But to give you my take: I view your blogging as 90% advertising for your brand. You are a game designer/publisher and author who sells games and book(s). As you mention in the article, if I like what you do and want to ‘reward’ you for it, I have a very easy, direct way of doing so: by buying your products. (which I have done!) The only websites I donate/contribute/subscribe to are those that are *only* producing online content so that is the only way I can support the company. I’m much much more likely to buy another book of yours than to become a Stonemaier Champion.

    I suppose to some extent I read your work more to gain some fun insight into the workings of Stonemaier, a company whose products I like, than for its standalone value.

    Just wanted to give you my perspective.

    1. Matt: I can absolutely see that perspective. Sure, there’s an element of goodwill from my crowdfunding/entrepreneurship blog and game design YouTube channel that may impact how people buy Stonemaier Games products. But that’s not the intent of the content, and I certainly wouldn’t consider my articles (most of which focus on other creators and companies) and my videos (almost all of which focus on games from other publishers) to fall into the same category as advertising. I sell games to stay in business. I make content to add value to my fellow creators, entrepreneurs, and game designers.

      I truly appreciate people who buy my games because (or partially) because of this blog. Hopefully the game is a reward in itself too, though. :)

  6. I signed up because I wanted to contribute to express my appreciation for what I was already receiving for free. But am I the only one who would prefer no perks, because I don’t like to receive notices or anything else for which I didn’t specifically sign up?

    1. Thank you so much, Dorothy! That’s a great point about some champions not caring about the perks. I’d never sign up someone for something they didn’t sign up for, but in this case, all champions specifically opt into the subscription. Of course, the first time you get it, you’re welcome to unsubscribe, and you won’t get another. :)

  7. As a UK subscriber I will without question join this when I am in a position to do so. I look at it the way I look at backing the Dice Tower or Rahdos Kickstarters, it’s my small way to say thank you for all you do. And sure, in this case I could still get your content without supporting financially whereas DT and Rahdo would likely be significantly reduced and possibly discontinued if they didn’t get their backing, but I don’t think about these things in that way. It’s purely a case of how much the content means to me on a personal level. If its important, then I count it a privilege and being a financial supporter is something I’m proud to do. Such is the case here.

    1. “It’s purely a case of how much the content means to me on a personal level. If its important, then I count it a privilege and being a financial supporter is something I’m proud to do.” I really like that, Steven. Thank you so much! :)

  8. Oh and for the record I voted for ‘none of these options would entice me’ in the poll because none of those options would sway me if I were undecided. As it is I don’t need to be enticed further, but I felt you needed an honest reply anyway.

  9. I paid because your content has been invaluable to me in the last couple years, and I still feel shocked every time a Kickstarter-creator-wannabe hasn’t heard about you. I would support a Patreon version of this blog in an instant – though I respect why you make the content free, and am super grateful that you have.

    I feel you on being at odds with accepting money for something that you would do anyway, but I find it gratifying to be able to financially support someone how has made such a positive influence on my life and work.

  10. While I was teaching over 40 private students a week at a University, I created newsletters and Youtube videos for my students. I think I have over 500 videos now, non of which I was directly paid to do. These newsletters and videos have taken thousands of hours of my personal time. I did this for the benefit of the community and as a way to publicly archive my thoughts and methods to help others.

    I know it also helped my “brand.” I am more recognizable and sought out for what I offer.

    I am sure it is the same for your company. I think of your Champion commitment has a direct reward for those want it. It doesn’t have to be connected to the free blogs and videos you provide, though maybe personally it feels better to be compensated for your efforts. I feel you would do quite well as a coach or consultant, but that is also why you are talented at running your own business.

    I’ve often thought about starting a Patreon account for support as a way to supplement my efforts in video and audio production, but this may or may not be best for you.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience and perspective, Jon. I think it may be worth giving people the opportunity to show their appreciation for the content you produce. Like, for me, I’m happy that places like the Secret Cabal, Dice Tower, and Ludology have Patreons and Kickstarters–I want a direct way to show my appreciation for all the quality content of theirs I consume, and I don’t want anything else in return (the reward I’m getting is the content itself).

  11. I’m not in a financial situation right now to support ‘free’ content financially, sadly, but would have if I was and intend to when my financial situation changes.

    As for your non-American backers, have you considered working with online retailers you work with for your accessories or used to distribute the Scythe Legendary Box oversees at similar value to what you anticipate free US shipping costing you?

    1. Thanks, Stephen, I appreciate that.

      If/when we reprint the Legendary Box, we’ll just sell it to distributors instead of select retailers. That way any retailer can buy it in any quantity anywhere in the world.

  12. I absolutely believe that, whether you ask for it or not, you deserve real compensation for the hundreds of hours of your own time that you have freely given to the community in order that other creators (and perhaps even direct competitors!) can have the best chance to succeed with their own projects. Due to living on a disability income I don’t have a lot to offer, but I’ve tried to give back in a very small way by purchasing “A Crowdfunder’s Strategy Guide”, and by filming a solo Viticulture play-through for my Josh Yaks channel on YouTube. I feel that people tend to really undervalue the products and content of creative types and the time they put into that work.

    To provide a single point of view from a Canadian gamer, as I said I don’t have much money for new game purchases unless I sell games I currently own to help with those purchases. So I’m particularly selective about the games I buy, and rather than purchasing a lot of items from favourite publishers, I evaluate each purchase on a game-by-game basis (regardless of who published each game). As a result, shipping/pre-ordering/purchasing discounts from an individual publisher such as yourself wouldn’t hold a lot of value for me, personally. None of the incentives you’ve listed in the program or in the poll would hold a lot of interest for myself, and frankly it makes me sad to think that people would need a monetary incentive to give back a little bit for all you’ve given to us (or that you’d even feel guilty about it, or compelled to provide material incentives!).

    Anyhow, I don’t know if any of that is helpful, but I do hope that you and Stonemaier Games continue to see a lot of success!

    -Josh (“squash” on BGG)

      1. Josh: Thanks for your comment, for buying my book, and for making a video runthrough. That’s awesome! Your perspective of how you make budgetary decisions regarding games is helpful too.

        I picked $12 to represent $1/month for the year.

  13. For informational purposes:

    I bought Scythe, Invaders, Wind Gambit, metal coins, extra dials…

    I’ve only ever been to your YouTube channel to watch the quick guide to Scythe so I didn’t even know other content was available. (I’m not into YouTube)

    The link came up on my Google feed for this article, and I figured I would see what’s up as I really enjoy Scythe, but I can’t see myself doing anything with blogs or videos. I assumed this was a post about tournaments. Haha.

  14. Hi Jamey, to be fair I only dip into these occasionally, although knowing they’re here –and searchable— is of great value (and arguably worth $12).

    I can’t see many gamers passing up 15% off SM orders for a ‘$12 membership fee’ either (maybe a one-use discount code would be better?) but my biggest issue with many of these sort of things (incl Kickstarters) is the thorny topic of postage and zonal restrictions — many US mags/companies do competitions, etc that are understandably restricted to ‘US-only’ and it feels like we’re miles behind the curve here in the UK with these sort of things.

    That all said, I would not pass up the opportunity to enter more of these ‘US-only’ comps if they offered a discount code alternative for overseas orders from gamers…?

  15. I haven’t joined yet, but I plan to. I am not sure how much of the perks will really apply to me, but discounts on products would definitely be taken into consideration by me if I wasn’t already planning to join.

    I have read a few of your posts, and try to catch your FB live sessions on Wednesdays as I find them interesting. But for me, the real value is your presence and supportive enthusiasm on the Viticulture FB page. I really value that, and when you have a good connection (and created community) combined with a good product, it is well worth supporting.

    Maybe you should highlight the number of BGG and FB comments you make in a year! ;)

    1. Thanks Josh! I’m lucky to be a part of such great communities surrounding our games, particularly on Facebook. :)

      I don’t know if there’s a way for me to count the number of comments…do you know how? I would be very curious to see.

  16. Hey Jamey, I think the SM Champion is a great idea! Unfortunately, I cannot justify the purchase right now. It’s hard enough to justify board game purchases as it is to the wife :)

    A 15% discount would really help me click the button and pay $12. It’s way easier to justify it to myself (and my wife) if there is a discount involved on a game I will get anyway. However, I totally understand that this would make you some enemies on the distribution side of things. So, what of you gave all SM Champions a coupon for 15% off SM game(s)? It’s a little more hidden and less likely to cause an uproar.

    Also, I know exclusive items are a no-no, but what about exclusive information? What if Champions got to finally hear more about some specific games? Though that alone wouldn’t entice me to to become a SM Champion now, it definitely would have at various point in my life.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Jesse: Thanks for your input! I agree that retailers and distributors probably won’t complain if champions are paying for the discount they receive.

      As for exclusive information, while that’s not quite in line with our philosophy, I appreciate the spirit of what you’re saying.

  17. Jamey, I am a SM Champion now. I paid only because of the blogs, not for games. What you share is much more than $12.00. Hope we can do something (though it’s not much) to help with more good blogs. When I watched your videos, I found there’re very dark eye bags. Then I could not help thinking: He is so tired. (Hope you do not mind I say this directly.^-^)

  18. Jamey,

    Honestly, I’m proud to be a Stonemaier Ambassador and now a Champion. I firmly believe in you as a designer and publisher in a fundamentally different way than I do about anyone else in the industry and much of that has to do with your humility and honesty. This is not to say that other designers and publishers suffer from hubris and dishonesty, but rarely do we get a glimpse into their lives akin to what you’ve shared with us. To that end, if it means $12 to continue receiving the great content, I believe that’s well worth the price of admission as they say. Admittedly, I did miss the “free shipping code” as others have mentioned…and I’m really pleased to know that now as I had recently visited your site as I wanted to purchase The Wind Gambit Expansion, but the $9 shipping charge put me off.

    Anyway, I’m glad to be a Champion and if I hadn’t told you before, among the more than 2K books on my shelves, yours is the only book on business within the library and I’ve verbally sold your book on more than two dozen occasions when discussing the business side of board games.

    Cheers,
    Joe

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