Gamebook store

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

A means to an end

The flipbook of Royal Mythological Society vignettes that I wrote with erstwhile Dragon Warriors and Fighting Fantasy artist Leo Hartas goes to the top spot this week as an experiment.

We originally tried these flipbooks on the online reading site BookBuzzr as a way of promoting our Mirabilis comic book. The idea is that people get to read a dozen pages or so for free and, if they like what they see, there's a link right there to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and so on.

Much to my surprise, we found our comic trailers were consistently scoring in the Top Ten spot on BookBuzzr. And that's comics, which these days are almost as much a niche interest as role-playing. So I got to thinking... Maybe BookBuzzer would be a useful way to steer readers towards the reissued Fabled Lands gamebooks as well.

Take a look at the RMS example and give us your feedback. Would you be willing to read a gamebook excerpt in the BookBuzzr flipbook format, or are flipbooks designed too much for linear reading? If FL books 5 and 6 were released in this kind of format, would you pay for those (and how much?) or would you insist on print copies?

Even if you don't care for reading digital books, you can see how an online showcase version like BookBuzzr can be the focal point for comments, reviews and social network integration in order to build a wide enough readership to sustain print publishing. I know you'll agree with that because you're reading another example of the exact same principle right now.

With any proposed experiment like this, there are always going to be some premature howls of protest. "Pay for digital content? Over my dead body!" Fine - if that's how you feel, tell us. We're just exploring options at this stage for ways to get the FL books out to a wider readership than the loyal core of longtime fans. Most likely a combination of digital and print (as exemplified by BookBuzzr's service) is the way to go. If getting to the coveted #1 slot on BookBuzzr would drive 10,000 people to look at this blog and/or our books on Amazon, that could have a significant impact on the future of the FL series. So, click on the sample above and leave us a comment. On BookBuzzr, I mean, not here - it's time to start preaching outside the choir!


  1. You already know my opinion but just for the record: it'll be a cold day in hell before I pay for digital stuff. So if FL5 and 6 would be published digitally I wouldn't pay for it. I will pay for real books, or if those aren't available I'll pay for ink and paper to print torrented ebooks.

    And writers shouldn't like digital books either. Look at the mother of ebooks Wikipedia. No writer can makke money ever again with a printed encyclopedia. Or look at programming languages: first they came with real printed manuals, then with digital manuals (because publishers thought that was cheaper and easier to ship) and now they're all free. No money to be made for writers either. My guess is ebooks will go the same way. So beware of what you wish for Dave.

    A showcase would be a good idea. Before parting with my hard-earned cash I'd like to sample what I'm buying. Although in the case of FL5 and 6 I already know what I'm buying because they're just reprints. It's FL7-12 we're interested in Dave. Those'll sell because nobody has them. So stop blogging and start writing for cryin' out loud :)))

  2. (only a private opinion). I suppose that many people would be interested to get the (hitherto) unwritten FL books in PdF format, or something like that. Now, we all use computers, and we've grown older too. Even if the editor would not support you, Dave, to publish the unwritten FL on paper, why wouldn't you try to publish them by yourself, on a specialized edition platform (like Scribd) where people can directly pay you, via PayPal ? The books could be even cheaper than the paper versions, though you could get a higher financial profit than with an editor.
    (only a suggestion...)


  3. I would buy digital editions.

    Not to read on a computer, though. It would be to read on a tablet (in my case, an iPad, but you could do it on any tablet).

    I guess with gamebooks though it makes it much harder as page flipping is much harder. I would think that the numbered sections of a gamebook would need to be in sequential order, in order to make reading easier. In other words, section 1 would lead to 2 and 3, section 2 might lead to 4 and 5, etc.

  4. Certainly writers don't like readers who don't pay for ebooks, Bert. That's not quite the same thing as not liking the medium itself! I've bought a lot of comic books on my iPad and will buy more - maybe not instead of buying TPBs, but instead of the monthly books. (Dark Horse should like me because I buy the monthly BPRD *and* the collected editions.)

    I agree writers need to create these books in protectable form. If I release something like Heart of Ice in PDF or EPUB format, people will of course just read it and pay me nothing because it's easy for them to do so. They can't do that so readily with my Mirabilis comic app or Megara's FL app, which means they have to stop and think whether there's any value to be placed on the content itself.

    Piracy was an argument against digital versions of movies, too. And I know people who watch pirated DVDs, though it would indeed be a hot day in Niflheim before I would rip off hard-working artists that way myself.

    Btw the manuals for software should always have been free. I'm paying for the software itself, after all!

    Of course, I'm not only talking about these being showcases but also the hub of a community of comments and reviews that will draw more people into the funnel. I would happily have ten million people read my books for free if that means half a percent would pay for them. That's a lot better than publishing a book that only a thousand people ever get to hear about.

    Shane, I think it would have to be hyperlinked, because even if I started out numbering the sections on consecutive pages there are going to be parts that require a leap (a teleport is an obvious example). Agree with you about the iPad!

    Olivier, as I've said in previous posts, I think the future of gamebooks - no, forget the "game" part; the future of interactive literature in general - is most likely in the form of apps. And they would indeed be significantly cheaper than print books, say $4.99 for content that in paperback would cost $8.99. Not PDFs though, because as Bert points out people will happily read them for free.

  5. If I had a choice between digital and print, the price wouldn't (within reason) matter, I'd choose print. Even at the point where the digital versions become so sophisticated that they're actually much more convenient to read, I'll always choose to pay the difference and have the physical media sitting together on a shelf. What can I say, I'm a collector.

    On the other hand, if the digital version was available and the physical was not, I would buy the digital version. What fraction of the price I'd be willing to pay would depend on the content.

    And while I'm all for properly secured digital media (provided it doesn't adversely affect the buyer's ability to do what they want with their purchase), I'd prefer it not to require the purchase of a few hundred pounds' worth of tablet. :)

  6. Fair enough, James - which is why we published Mirabilis on Kindle and will soon have it on iPhone too. Interactive books will take a little longer but we have definite plans for e-gamebooks this year - not FL initially, as we need to try it out on something simpler first. But we think you're going to like what we have in store.

  7. Digital publishing is the death of art; to me it's akin to the death of the High Street, it's the vulgarisation of culture, it's just another nail in the coffin of beauty, of aesthetics, it's convenience over form. How many more things can be made more convenient, simpler, less aesthetically pleasing but superficially practical, reducing interface to the manipulation of buttons. This isn't mere Luddism, it's about championing something beautiful, something artful rather than workmanlike and being willing to pay for it. Can one imagine the great Illustrated tomes of the medieval Monasteries being created by a programmer and his programme and retaining the same aesthetic integrity? If books follow architecture, fashion and any number of other things where cost and utility become the great arbiter then it is a sad day for civilisation.

    Hence for any number of reason, I endorse printed publishing and being willing to invest in it as I'm sure very many people are who can see further than just price tag.

  8. I'm with you on prose books, NP. But when it comes to comic books, which are one of my own great loves, they are simply more aesthetically pleasing on screen than in print. (When I say "on screen" I mean on the iPad screen - I don't want to read comics on my PC. Or TV, come to that.)

    Wrt illuminated manuscripts (I mean medieval ones, not illuminated by LCD) I'm sure there will be great works of art created in digital media. Is Avatar not beautiful? What about Up? I'm not clear why you are saying the medium itself isn't compatible with aesthetics.

    Anyway, I see this discussion has turned to digital books vs print books, but that's not actually the point of the post. What I am saying is that ebooks are here and are a growing force in publishing. That happened. But it isn't just about people chucking their aesthetically appealing copies of the Da Vinci Code paperback in the bin and reading on Kindle instead. For example, a friend of mine who normally only reads swords-n-goblins trilogies tried "Metamorphosis" on his iPhone and liked it so much that he went and bought a print edition of Kafka's short stories.

    If you are the only gamebook reader in your town, ten years ago that would have been quite a lonely hobby. Now digital books allow for a social network side that lets communities form around such niche interests. You don't have to be reading the ebook (in fact, I would like to see a system where buying the print edition entitled you to the ebook version too) to benefit from the communities that can aggregate around that.

    Hence the post title: "A means to an end" ;)

    Then, since we're talking about e-gamebooks specifically, there's the fact that running the book on a tablet or smartphone allows me to hide all of the business about rolling a 6... and then I add my Strength of 3, oh but his armour score is 4, so that means damage equals... All that stuff makes the difference between interactive stories attracting two thousand readers or two hundred thousand. And more readers makes the medium stronger, encourages experimentation, pulls in more writers, and ensures more content for those who enjoy it.

    In short (and I say this as a writer) when has art *ever* been free of financial considerations? The medieval works you cite were created for a mega-rich patron patron (the Church) and economics has been the motor for all of art, architecture and literature throughout history. There was always a price tag.

  9. Well I reckon you need to step beyond the closed system of Apple and into Android, but that is just so I could see it. I LOVE the idea of FL as a program that runs on my Android or on my PC Slate. And if I didn't want to consign iTunes to the depths of Hell (I work in IT, I see the trouble it causes) I would probably love FL on an iPad too!

  10. Kiwi - yes indeed, Android is next on my list. Mustn't become an Apple Scruff :) especially as iTunes is every bit as horrible as you say. I just exempt iPad from any culpability for that!

  11. It's my turn to step in regarding print vs. e-media. On my site: I've touched on the subject matter in my
    "Part 1", "Part 2", and "Viewpoints: November 22,2010" posts (they should be read in that order).

    The way I see it, piracy is rampant no matter which format it is expressed in. Whether it be print, ePub, PDF, online MMO, etc; there is always a way to exploit the system. I am a print junkie myself, but on the digital side of things; the "e" sales buoy print sales. It allows for a much larger readership, as citizens of poorer countries have a chance to gain access to these things for next to nothing. No printing, shipping, or distribution charges to deal with. Yes, there's always a profit for whomever runs the hosting company, but profit margins are higher, thus allowing those who prefer print to have their cake and eat it too. As for Fabled Lands, if you set up a digital distribution center, you could write the rest of the FL series, sans illustrations. Fans would go into a purchasing frenzy and be satisfied, while enough money will be made to "fill-in-the-blanks" (illustrating, printing, and distributing). Satisfying both the print and digital signs of the publishing coin should be viable, as you wouldn't need to worrying about hosting and maintaining your own digital bookstore, similar to how FL LLC doesn't really need to worry about surplus stock, as it is print-on-demand.

    The Fabled Lands group had a discussion regarding a digital magazine. DW's Ordo Draconis seems to be doing well, so I have no doubt that a paid-for FL fanzine would do just as well. Of course; if there was an official FL zine', there would be world peace :-) I can't help but think that someone in Fabled Lands LLC wrote Book 9 themselves!

    Enough of my rambling :-) The Apple Vs. Android debate leaves me wondering: why not use an open-source format? Create some sort of interactive literature that works on most devices, rather than rack up development costs programming for a whole platoon of devices.

  12. You're right about the need to focus down on fewer platforms, Mike. The current situation is like games in the mid-to-late '90s with a dozen different consoles. Doing conversions for all of those was a pain. Eventually it will settle down and everybody hopes to be one of the winners, of course. Amazon hope the Kindle will come out top among ereaders, and there's no doubt it will be at or near the top. Likewise Apple hope to convert the world to iOS via iPad, iPhone, etc... but they need to overhaul the iBookstore and App Store majorly to do that. At the moment, it's all one vast muddled hoard.

  13. Could you read through my blog and comment, if you have the time? There were definitely too many consoles around that time, which is why sega drove themselves into the ground. the Sega Game Gear, Genesis, Sega Pico, Genesis 32X, Sega Cd,and Sega Saturn (possibly others)were in production at the same time, while the other companies had a clear idea of where they were heading.

  14. I would read and buy digital copies of books on some kind of tablet or reader other than a desktop pc, though I would second the need to use open standards. EPUB looks like the main one, though I'm not sure how it would go with interactive fictions. Writing for just one platform, no matter how popular at the time is a bad idea. Platforms come and go.

    For electronic books to supplant printed ones in popularity they need to do everything a printed book can do, with extra advantages. The natural advantage of ebooks is ease of distribution (ease of storage is another). Publishers and retailers can take advantage of internet-enabled distribution to cut their costs, but they use digital rights management technologies to attempt to deprive their customers of the same advantage. One thing I can do with a book is lend it or give it away to a friend when I've finished reading it. There's no DRM on a printed copy, other than the difficulty of printing it myself. If an e-book deprives me of this ability, it will be worth less to me than a printed one, and I will expect to pay less for it.

    Yes, artists and writers should be paid for their work. However entire markets exist (eg. second-hand books, the art market) which flourish in spite of this idea. Those markets do benefit authors and artists, not necessarily directly financially, but by exposing their works to a wider audience. I think authors of ebooks need to be more relaxed about being paid for absolutely every copy of their work. Ebooks can reach a potentially much larger audience than printed books, and a percentage of that audience will always dutifully find a way to pay the author.

    I have bought the four new reprints of FL (I'm one of the new FL readers you are seeking). I have also used the free java app FLApp, especially for the books which haven't yet been reprinted. I still prefer the printed books though, even with the dice, pencil and eraser.

  15. All very good points. Lowest common denominator non-Apple is obviously PDF with hyperlinked sections, then opensource browser-based CYOA javascript systems. Finally you have fully proprietary applications, of course. Emily Short sometimes covers CYOA systems on her IF blog.

  16. I wouldn't mind paying for digital works myself. It is a convenience after all.

    BPRD, Dave? Bah! I'd take the Hellboy comics over this derivative sub-series anyday! I don't know about you, but I prefer tales of Hellboy romping around the world semi-aimlessly and usually alone, fighting creatures from the myths of various cultures over tales of a branch of the US government fighting supernatural threats. BPRD is too . . . civilized for me.

  17. Hamza, well of course I like Hellboy too! But I'm partial to the BPRD in a way I never was to a "family"-based team like the Fantastic Four because the BPRD family is so dysfunctional. They're working from a labyrinthine base they've never fully explored and that harbours some pretty dark Lovecraftian secrets. They accepted a new recruit at face value but she's an Egyptian priestess who's sowing serious discord in the ranks. "Daddy" is a shapechanger who recently went berserk and sliced up poor Johann's one chance at having a living, breathing body again. And you say they're too civilized? :)

    Of course, when you put that against Hellboy in "The Crooked Man" or "Double Feature of Evil"... Well, I wouldn't want to have to choose one or the other!

    Patrick, you're dead right. I see the reader base as a funnel where a writer should be very happy to have a lot of readers who are snacking away at his/her work for free, because that distills down to a core of devoted readers who want to return and feast, and who are willing to pay. That's part of the thinking behind the Royal Mythological Society book - a free taster of the Mirabilis world, and not just a sneak peek but a complete novella-length book in its own right. (And with no DRM to stop you lending it.)

    Btw anybody who wants the free EPUB version of the RMS book but can't be bothered to go and find it on BookBuzzr, just go here:
    and you can download it. Fifty-five fantasy stories for the price of free. Is that a great deal or what?

  18. I don't especially enjoy reading from a computer screen. I don't have an iPad, or a Kindle, or equivalents thereof. I read straight off the screen of my laptop. Which is cracked. Because my father-in-law trod on it.

    I'll read from websites happily enough. But then, the style of website writing is markedly different from what we'll call 'real literature' - it's much more compact; it's a music video, rather than a motion picture.

    Would I pay to download Fabled Lands books 5 - 12? Yes. And I'd probably pay as much as I paid for the print versions, around 6 pounds or so. Provided they're very, very user-friendly. The free copy of 'Heart of Ice' in the column over to the right is a good reference point>>>>>>>>. It has hyper-linked page jumps. I don't want to spend my time scrolling through pages. Some sort of 'back' feature to the previous section would be nice too (yes, I like to peek sometimes). I had a few problems losing my page when I jumped to the character sheet in Heart of Ice, but on the whole it was joyful, trouble-free reading.

    But then, Fabled Lands is a special case. I'm invested in these books. I'm a 'fan'. Through this blog, I've established a dialogue, of sorts, with the authors. I've met the books' illustrator (lovely fellow). Perhaps most importantly, I'm invested in my Fabled Lands character - after traipsing through Sokara, Golnir, the Great Steppes and the Violet Ocean for at least 2 or 3 in-game years of his life, my Mage has already hit Rank 10, and I'm having a hard time finding in-character reasons not to go milling about the rest of the world. For his sake, I need those books.

    So, Fabled Lands is special. Would I pay for other downloadable 'content'? Maybe. It'd be a case-by-case assessment - and it'd have to be cheap. And, ideally, I want something that I can pull out of my pocket, and read for two minutes when I'm standing in a supermarket queue. Until I one day get a Kindle or an iPad or somesuch gadget, that's still going to be a book.

  19. I don't have any kind of e-reader right now, so for me a printed version is more convenient, I guess. However, given the fact that we talk about gamebooks, I do believe that the by digitalising them you are releasing them. There are a great many more options that the digital workspace allow. It doesn't only make it much more convenient to play, but it can also release you as a writer. I love gamebooks but I truly believe that the age of page-flipping, dice-rolling extacy is over and should be replaced by the ease-of-use and sexiness of an iPad or some other digital platform. The product should be treated as a game/app, not as a book, though it truely derives it's power and uniqueness from good prose. If you release books 7-12 as apps, try to release them in as many digital platforms as possible (iPad, Pc, Even smartphones are applicable) and I'd pay for them.

    To think that just because these are originally books, they should be read in a medium most closely resembling books is a mistake. I don't remember taking a gamebook to read on a train as a kid, for example, as I did with other kinds of books. I played them only at my bed side, since it looks wierd to roll dice and fill in forms with pencils wile surrounded by other people. You don't need a book's form and mobility to read it alone at home, a laptop with simulated dice actually serves you much better in this respect because it's much more mobile than an actual gamebook, from my perspective at least.

    I realise you are trying to appeal to both existing FL admirers and potential new costumers. I also realise the value of having the physical thing, but I think the value of experience is higher, and being released from the constraints of an actual physical book will make it easier for you to deliver and for me to enjoy.

    Cheers, a FL fan.

  20. I'm glad to hear you say it, Tomer. I'm drawn to the freedom that a digital platform can give me to create richer, more genuinely interesting interactive narratives without the reader having to bother with page-flipping and dice-rolling, as you say.

    When Jamie and I were at Eidos, one of our coders looked at the Fabled Lands series and was amazed that we should get something like that to "run" on so unsuitable a medium as a printed book. If widespread ownership of PCs had come ten years earlier, gamebooks would never have existed at all.

    Min Smith and I created the Virtual Reality gamebooks in the '90s so that readers could take them on the train - but that was only a partial success, because we did away with dice but not with the need to write in the books. And if we're to attract new readers with interactive literature, we simply have to make them less creaky and gamey - something that platforms like the iPad make possible.

  21. People don't pay for PDFs? And sites like RPGNow and DriveThruRPG are going out of the business of selling PDFs, I guess?
    At least in the RPG industry, which is probably closest to gamebooks, all information I have points to these ideas being unsupported. A couple pieces of data.
    Eclipse Phase is a game that owes its rather big following one part to the good art, one part to the interesting setting, and one part to the fact that it was released under Creative Commons license. That's right, I downloaded the full version legally, and decided I want the print book. No, I wouldn't have bought it otherwise, it looked like "just another SF RPG".
    Adamant reported on that they doubled their gains after lowering the price to 1.99S for a single PDF. Looks likely, as even I had bought some of their PDFs, although I wasn't using the Savage Worlds system at the time. I was, however, interested in their setting.
    Of course, all my data is from open sources. But since Adamant are still selling on 1.99$, it seems that the model pays off.
    Asen - just a fan

  22. Asen, I like the model of giving stuff away to build a readership, and I'm kind of a victim of it myself, as I'm forever reading samples of comics (often on Peter Richardson's Cloud 109 blog) and then shelling out for the print or app versions. Almost a third of my first Mirabilis book is online for free, Heart of Ice and the FL comic books are free, the Abraxas background material is free... Yep, I'm all for it.

    I also agree that an electronic document such as a PDF has real value - of course it does, if the content itself is valued at all. Yet it seems a lot of folks will set a value of say $9 on a print copy and $0 on the corresponding PDF. (We know that from the response to PDF versions of several of our books over the years.) I can only assume a lot of people are uninterested in the content but they must put a very high value on sheets of paper!

  23. To clarify, I was commenting on what other comments said. If it wasn't for your offer of Heart of Ice, Dave, I wouldn't have become aware that this fine gamebook exists.
    As for the people that don't want to pay for PDFs, I have no explanation for it, but I also think there will be less and less of them, as every day people get converted to using their readers for PDFs instead of huge collections of books that take lots of space!