I love a sale. The build-up to and anticipation felt following the purchases from the many publisher deep discount sales that occur each fall is something I relish. That said, not everyone is feeling the holiday cheer at the timing of these sales or the way in which they’re handled! Who could possibly grinch so hard on these opportunities for gamers to get in on some deep discounts? That’s right, it’s the local retailers who provide the sales, direct local inventory, gaming tables, and local community building that often build a following for the very games on sale. It’s hard to blame them after all, the holiday season traditionally represents the largest retail sales numbers of the year for most local businesses. The direct publisher sales cut into those credit card swipes particularly when timed around the holidays!
This article isn’t intended to play the “woe is me” card for local businesses or to accuse publishers of acting out of some greedy or predatory direct sales practices. Instead, it’s a look at how publishers might better coordinate up and down the supply chain to ensure stores, publishers, and most importantly gamers benefit!
My solution is simple.
Games should be free. Kidding…of course this is going to be more nuanced than that! That said, I also don’t believe there are easy answers here!
Let’s look at the retail environment for a moment. When a game store opens they have to find profitability and though wargames may sell for ~$70 on average at MSRP that ~$35 of revenue every few months or once a month pales in comparison to other product lines like Collectible Card Games, miniature games, and even Living Card Games which each have a steady churn of product and organized play that brings people into the store to buy and play the games purchased. Wargames can be incredibly tricky to stock because wargamers often have very distinctive feelings about specific topics, series, and designers. The burden rests on the retail owner to know their local community. The niche folks aren’t going to be served by an FLGS even IF the store carries wargames as a result.
Couple these revenue and interest constraints with the fact that many gamers don’t have the luxury of living near enough to an FLGS to make the most of this in-stock wargames and publishers need to find ways to get their games to their audience.
There are, of course, a number of online retailers but they rarely restock anything but the most successful series, designers, and publishers. Further complicating this is the high cost of international shipping so not all online stores can reach all parts of the world with games even if they have the game a consumer wants to purchase. As a result of a combination of all these factors wargame publishers need a direct retail strategy in order to get games into the hands of consumers who are eager for their product. Our hobby, after all, remains a niche inside a niche. Even runaway hits like Advanced Squad Leader are expensive to stock and product remains on shelves for years in some cases once the initial core group of series fans have received their initial orders.
The final piece of the puzzle here is the size of wargame publishers. Publishers are sometimes a handful of people as a core group dedicated to their games or a small group of people with many distributed teams based on my admittedly limited understanding from podcasts and articles. That means that shipping is a personal endeavor done by the publisher themselves or perhaps a wife or very part-time employee. Distributors, as a result, play a necessary role in ensuring the supply chain of FLGS’s are fed product so that these small publishers can focus their attention on what gamers want…game development and publication!
So the question remains, what can be done?
I think there are a few things that might help.
The first is quite simple though perhaps the most unpopular. Minimum Advertised Pricing for online retailers. I know that’s unpopular for a lot of reasons not the least of which is that games are already expensive, but this protects the pre-order systems and local retailers who are getting undercut by large online retailers who can sustain the slimmer profits in a small segment of their overall business or for small part-time retailers who are “doing this for the gamers” and don’t necessarily rely on their profits for their livelihood. Leveling the playing field is key.
The second suggestion is a little more complicated, but nonetheless valuable. Allow retailers to sell games at the pre-order price and when the pre-orders ship, the publisher can ship directly to the store in bulk to serve those pre-orders. This will accelerate the preorder system, simplify to some degree international shipping, and provide gamers a trusted local source to make their orders through. While the publisher won’t see the same level of profit, they may very well see a simplification of their post publication shipping and distribution since they can accomplish much of it in larger chunks rather than individually mailed boxes.
The third suggestion is to provide a retailer rewards program. For every dollar of product sold by the retailer, the retailer earns points. Those points translate into discounts that can be passed along to customers during the direct sale period making special orders more competitive with the online annual sale from publishers. This might not 100% match the online sale but the discounts could be issued as rebates through the distributors.
The final suggestion is to move the “big” sale of the year outside the 4th quarter holiday shopping window.
Is any of this realistic? I’m not sure, I can only get the ball rolling on a topic that has been bothering me recently in the wake of all these fantastic sales. There has to be a way for publishers to reward loyal brick & mortar retailers while also remaining friendly and relevant for gamers not lucky enough to have a relevant FLGS near them!
Do these solutions already exist? Let me know and let’s celebrate the cooperation between publisher and brick & mortar retailer!