It Comes Down To This

Jeff Tidball and I have been looking at pricing on the Zeppelin Armada card game over the last several months (and yes, the process has taken months just getting in quotes and where warranted samples of the materials we’ve wanted to look at), to get a sense of what we’ll be looking at. (Sidebar: The game design is essentially done, or at least close to it, but we’re waiting on art before the layout job can begin. I’m also working on getting Race to Adventure put together, and RtA might even see publication before ZA, depending on how things all work out. But the ZA quoting process is also working to help narrow the field on who we might use for the RtA printing. Balls, in the air, juggled.)

I really like going with domestic printers where I can, but sometimes the math just doesn’t add up in favor of it. Right now, it’s coming down to this:

The Leading Domestic Option


  • Strong customer service
  • Turnaround times from placement of order to delivery of product are ideal
  • Pricing not competitive: estimated $4.84/unit @ 3000, $3.79/unit @ 5000.
  • Can’t deliver desired linen finish at quality/pricepoint we want

The Leading International Option


  • Pricing competitive: estimated $3.50/unit @ 3000, likely below or near $3/unit @ 5000.
  • Able to supply linen finish at quality/pricepoint we want
  • Customer service has not impressed me (slow responses, needs “tending” to ship samples, etc)
  • Turnaround times from placement of order to delivery of product are not ideal (overseas shipping means literal slow-boat-from-China effect, plus customs delays)

It’s a bitch; they’re exact opposites of each other, and each has pros that I’d really like to have, and cons that I have a hard time finding a place to be comfortable about.

That $1.34 per unit gap (or even 79 cent gap) you’re seeing on the hard number side is nothing to sneeze at — when you’re intending to price your product at $25, you want your unit cost to be $5 or lower, and the lower the better (assuming all things held equal on quality), because your $25 product is probably selling for $10 per unit into distribution, where you’ll likely make the bulk of your sales. So if I was making a choice based strictly on price, the International Option would be the clear winner.

But damn if I’m not having a hard time finding my peace with that. In my personal life I’m likely to make a choice of customer service over bottom dollar nearly every time, because I’m buying an experience as well as a product, and I want the experience to color my use of the product positively. So my instincts pull strongly in that direction, and push me to find compromises I can live with, like dumping the linen finish intention from the games, and so on.

And after my chance to do a ride-along on a shipment-from-China experience with Hero System 6th Edition (there’s a reason it didn’t get to GenCon in time, and it had everything to do with the international factor), I’m super gun-shy about international shipping times. When I’m publishing books, that’s a decision I can make comfortably. The turnaround I see with my domestic printing options, from POD operations to hard cover full color offset jobs, is just stellar, along with strong customer service, etc, etc. But I can also operate at a comfortably smaller scale with my printings, there.

Not so much with card games, where you’re likely to commit at a 3000-5000 unit level at least — they’d tell you that 10,000 copies is the better entry level, though I’m sticking to my “test the waters” instincts of keeping it down in the 3k-5k range. (Yes, yes, I know about the POD offerings that are in the works out there but I haven’t yet seen the data that tells me they’re ready for prime time.)  So the gulf between those two price points starts to add up, and worse yet if I push to add quality-enhancing value adds that push me over the $5/unit max. As shown above, we’re talking a four thousand dollar difference at 3000 copies. And, yeah: I could kickstarter the thing, make the initial target $4k (or more) to cover the difference between the domestic and the international option. But, guys? I’d rather that $4k go towards getting me a larger print run, or covering more of the other costs on the table. Angst, angst, angst.

So, I feel stuck. Luckily, I don’t have to commit to either of these options right away — I probably have a couple months yet to decide, and frankly January would be just peachy by me, though I expect the ball to start rolling a touch earlier than that. Still: stuck. When it all adds up, the cons are weighing down the pros in each scenario enough that I don’t really like either choice. But them’s my choices, given my constraints.

Which would you choose?