While ebooks have their benefits, we at Pelgrane Press love physical books. But with all the advantages of ebooks, we understand that to be a bit more than printed paper stuck in a binding. They have to be beautiful, useable and durable. We use Huron Gloss premium paper in almost every case, manufactured in Ken Hite’s beloved Chicago. It is 95% opaque, and just the right shade of white not to blind you when you are reading in bright light. It feels smooth and weighty, and takes colour and monochrome equally well. We use thick card covers and quality lamination to complement the work of our writers, designers and artists.

For our hardback books (known as case bound in the trade), we print on an offset press with Thomson Shore, who have been a reliable print partner for ten years. When we’ve submitted the print-ready PDFs, Thomson Shore tweak it using their special alchemy to ensure the print colours are vibrant and match the PDF.

Click on any image for a high resolution version.


Books are printed 8 leaves to a sheet – so 16 pages, which are then cut into quarters and arranged in little booklets of 16 pages called signatures. So, for the publisher, it’s an advantage to ensure the page number is divisible by 16, or you end up with the dreaded half signature – an eight-page version.


The signatures are stitched together using a a binder thread then joined with the other signatures to form a book block.

The finished book blocks are then trimmed. Here is an untrimmed book block.

The covers are printed and stuck to card, and then the book block is glued inside. This 2013 video from Taylor Publishing, which still does some colour work for us, describes that binding process for the 13th Age core book, through to the finish.

And here is the final Bestiary 2, both standard and limited editions in their natural environment:

And our treat for those of you who bought the Snowcub Edition? Adorbs!

Our printer, Taylors has assembled the cases for the 13th Age. Next up, binding.

Is one of these books yours? If not, reserve your copy today at the Pelgrane Shop or your local game store — and download the finished PDF to start playing right away.

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This just in from the printers. The book blocks are printing now, but they are going on a three-week break, and the books will be bound in early July to hit our delivery times.

Craig Landers, who has taken this product under his Texan wing, tells us that their presses run at 12,000 sheets per hour when going full blast, and the folder runs at about 4-5 thousand sheets per hour. The colour looks excellent.


Pelgrane Press and Bindery 007

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Reserve your copy of 13th Age today at the Pelgrane Shop or your local game store and download the finished PDF!

Today, 13th Age goes to press.

The endless ways in which printing might go wrong never cease to surprise me. Taylors have a big plant vacation between now and GenCon, so this is cutting it fine, and the team have been working late nights, with hair pulled out where it is present, and there has been some off-colour language, from me, anyway.

The proofing process has been interesting. 13th Age has been a big collaboration, and the layout has been fiendishly complicated, technically. The first proof was too dark, strange artifacts appeared where there should have been transparencies, and it’s taken Taylor’s top chap Craig Landers to fix things at the printer end and Chris Huth to make changes at the layout end, while Rob Heinsoo and I just muttered in the backgrounded and wrangled everyone. We even called on Beth Lewis, Pelgrane Emeritus, for sage advice. Craig told me in his Texas drawl to stop bugging him while his working, so I did.

For Rob, it must be a distinct contrast to working at Wizards of the Coast, where he could no doubt just breeze in, write a roleplaying game and then pop to the Hasbro cocktail lounge at lunchtime for Mohitos and olives.

So, Craig took these pictures on his iPhone of the interiors so the colours are not accurate.

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This first half of this article looks at break even points for Pelgrane books, and the second the distribution of sales between channels in 2010.

Looking Back to Look Forward

In my previous post on Pelgrane Press business about six months ago, I looked at predictions I made, and analysed them. I was constitutionally incapable of doing that without making further predictions. So, let’s look at those first, not strictly a prediction, more a wish – that Trail of Cthulhu sales would be linear rather than a bell curve. Note that these are just sales through distribution.


The linear trend has continued, which is good news, and gave me confidence to reprint the line in the same quality; I reckoned we’d run out in January 2011, but it will probably be March, just as the new shipment comes in.

Looking at my casebound books I also predicted that it would take about four years for the mis-priced Shadows Over Filmland to break even, and Mutant City Blues about two years. That still seems about right, though when I take conventions into account, perhaps a bit less. These books would have broken even if it weren’t for the printing costs; my potential profits are sitting in a big pile of offset books. That said, it will happen, just a bit more slowly than I’d have liked.

Armitage Files, I said, was a test of whether I could do further offset litho Trail supplements. It is a big critical success, and in this case that’s translated into decent sales – it’s well in the black and I still have lots of copies to sell.

Skulduggery was never going to be a big seller of the order of Trail, but I only need another 50 copies by mail order to break even – pretty much what I expected.

Break Even Summary

These books have made back their fixed costs, but still have haven’t broken even, though I have stock:

  • Mutant City Blues (foolish offset print run, about 42 months to break even)
  • Shadows Over Filmland (foolish offset print run, too low a price, about 18 months to break even)

These books haven’t yet made back their fixed costs:

  • Esoterror Fact Book (nearly there; helped sales of Esoterrorists)
  • Hard Helix (Sold an amazing 50% of the total MCB print run, but that’s not enough. Maybe 18 months to go)
  • Skulduggery (nothing to see here. Not out long, will break even soon)

All other products have made back their development and printing costs plus more.

2010 Sales Breakdown

I suggested that I wouldn’t do as well in 2010 than 2009; good, but not as good. The answer is a little more complex than yes or no. Here is a breakdown of the 2010 sales. Some surprises here.

Turnover was down in 2010, but that was due to a collapse in sales through distribution. To some extent this is explained by the fact we released only Armitage Files, Skulduggery and the Arkham Files Extended edition into distribution, but distribution sales were also down in general. Sales through IPR were also substantially down on the very succesful 2009.

Many of our new releases have been PDFs, so sales through OBS (rpgnow.com) were about the same as 2009, and when you take into account that more than a third of 2009 sales were the one-off Dying Earth sale, that’s pretty impressive. Likewise, mail order sales are well up – though the percentage reflects the state of distribution sales more than the increase in mail order.


So, a lower turnover, but when I look at the figures, then, our net margin in 2010 was higher than in 2009. Net margin is a term frequently misused by publishers to ensure that writers get paid less than they should, but I use it in a very strict sense. I simply mean the gross sale price minus the fixed cost of of that sale. So, I take the writing, art, printing and layout costs of the book and deduct that from the amount I make for that sale. Conventions are more complex, and I exclude them, as well as translations.

In decreasing order by percentage of retail price (not gross sale price), here is the list of my channels to market:

  • PDF Mail Order
  • Mail Order Print
  • IPR Print
  • Distribution
  • Conventions (a special case)
  • Amazon (a dubious channel at best)

That said, a print mail order books will always make me more per unit than any other sale.

netThis, then is the picture of 2010. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was – when I did the sums, I made more money through PDF sales than print sales for the first time – 53%  against 47%. A lot of this is down to special circumstances; lots of PDF releases and few print releases, but it’s still startling. It’s notable that OBS has done so well – a consistent trickle of new Trail PDFs has seen to this.

2011 Predictions

We’ll be releasing a lot of books this year, and I predict that our distributor sales will increase, perhaps by 50%, especially with our Bits and Mortar affiliation ensuring retail customers get PDFs. I also predict that our mail order sales will continue at this higher level, but be lower as a percentage. OBS will remain unchanged. IPR; I just don’t know, but will predict no change. As for other channels, we will have eBook sales channels open, which will give modest extra sales.

The biggest punt of 2011 would be to print Ashen Stars full colour, which seems quite likely. With all my talk of the danger of offset print runs, why am I doing this? I’m hoping that an extensive pre-pre-order and pre-order period will allow me to pay for the print run, that full colour will increase sales somewhat, and that there is a market for an investigative SF game.

Or, I could just be foolish again.

As I discussed in Pelgrane Biz Part 1, it’s expensive and risky to print books by offset litho, even though the results are gratifying, and the rewards, if the sales are high enough, are excellent. But there is every chance that Trail of Cthulhu is a one-off success, and won’t be repeated.

That said, I really want to print Ashen Stars as a full colour smythe-sewnbook. The setting deserves the full colour treatment, and if you’ve seen the starship schematic and Jérome’s artwork, I hope you’ll agree the art warrants it, too. Also, I have high hopes for the game; both the setting and the system I think will have widespread appeal. I’ve just sent out the first  to the 32 GMs who have answered our questionnaire, for what will be our largest playtest ever.

Even so, it’s still just a hope. I don’t know how many copies I’m likely to sell. My solution is to sell as many as possible by pre-order, before the book is printed, supplying the PDF with the pre-order.  Now, retailers and distributors don’t like publishers doing pre-orders with PDFs, unless they can join in – but now we have the Retailer PDF Program open to any retailer who wants to join, and that removes my competitive advantage.

To make this work, I need to sell 200 copies by mail order in advance. This is a large barrier, but not insurmountable, and I am doing two stages of pre-order:

Pre-pre-order. After the first round of playtesting, I will open the pre-pre-order  – probably late in August. People who opt in at this stage will get a late draft of the game – some extra content, and their name in the credits with special thanks. As the game is updated, we’ll update the PDF. If we are not able to do a full colour hardback version, these people will still get a special version – perhaps a hardback where everyone else is a paperback, or some other special treat. The PDF in any case, when it’s released, will be in full colour. I suspect few retailers will take us up at this stage – this will be our loyal core of users.

Pre-order When the final version is ready and laid out, we’ll start the pre-order proper. There’ll be a brief window where we’ll ask people to respond with any typos (this worked well with the Skulduggery pre-order) and then get printing.

If I can get 200 mail order pre-orders, plus however many retail pre-orders, it will mean I can justify the realtively short and expensive full-colour print run, and be in with a good chance of selling through that run in two years. It will also mean I can produce more, better supplements, with new tech, deckplans, alien races and adventures.

My question to you is, what would be a good name for the pre-pre-order?

I’ve looked over my business-related posts on my livejournal, and scoured them for predictions, to see where I have been optimistic and pessimistic.

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