Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Distribution Woes - 5AK

I hate shipping costs.

One of the (myriad of) challenges that come with being a one-man publishing mogul is that I am my own mailing department...which means that when someone orders one of my printed books (right now, that limited solely to The Complete B/X Adventurer), I'm the person that stuffs it in the envelope, walks it down to the post office, and pays the sometimes exorbitant fees that the USPS is forced to charge these days. In the past, I've given a "discount" to our Canadian neighbors by charging them U.S. prices, even though the mark-up is a bit higher than domestic (i.e. "inside the U.S.") shipping. All overseas shipping...whether it's too South America, Australia, Europe, or at the same eye-gouging rate, and I'm forced to tack-on accordingly.

Shipping costs blow. No, not in a good way. In a day where every entertainment-marked dollar is precious to the average folk, it's a damn inconvenience to charge people an extra fifth or quarter or third the cost of their product just to get the book. Is it as much as a $9 beer at the Mariners game? No...but $9 is only a small percentage of the overall cost of "a night out with the family" when you're paying over $100 including parking, tickets, food items, and souvenirs. $5 on a $20 book (soft-cover) is just asking a lot of folks.

I don't like paying shipping costs on products I purchase; that's one of the reasons I order so few things on-line. Yes, there are ways to avoid paying them...ordering (marked-up) items from sites that offer "free shipping," or bundling several products together from a single distribution outlet (like Noble Knight), for example. But I am not a distributor and unlike my wife's company, I wasn't long ago purchased by a multi-national mega-corporation that includes corporate shipping companies (like FedEx) as one of their many subsidiaries (such relationships allow for "friend prices" between all the members of the mega-corp's "family").

*ahem* SO...shipping for 5AK is shaping up to be a bit of a headache. What I would LIKE to do is ship it in a small the post office's smallest size flat-rate box. Based on the dimensions listed on the USPS web site, that should hold the entire contents just fine (three volumes, four dice) without any risk of bending/damage and the price to ship anywhere domestically is under $6. Now that's still more than what I've charged for U.S. shipping in the past, but not much more (close to $4)...and 5AK is going to ship quite a bit heavier than the previous books, so that cost might have been going up anyway.

However, while the domestic flat-rate box is under $6, rates outside the country are quite a bit higher: $20 to Canada and $24 overseas! That's charging nearly the same in shipping as I'm charging for the whole damn game...or more if I can somehow get my price point down to $19.99 (working on it).

That's not just ugly, that's outrageous. Even for (or especially for) folks in Europe who are used to paying premiums on goods. That's going to cost me sales, pure and simple, which means poor(er) distribution overseas, in markets that might actually be salivating for something different from the normal WotC fare.

But I don't really know what to do about it...I'm not about to fill a duffle bag with copies and hop a plane to the UK to set-up a local mail outlet. And my assumption is that FedEx or UPS would be more expensive for shipping overseas (though probably faster).

[hmmm...would it be worth it to cross the border to B.C. and ship inside Canada? Maybe. The border's not too far from Seattle, and if the demand was enough and the cost-cutting enough it might be worth it. Besides, the wife's in the process of getting me a "global access" pass anyway, so I could zoom through the short line at customs. I'll have to check into Canadian shipping rates]

And I suppose the only other option is to mail the game in a padded (or non-padded!) envelope and "hope for the best." But, man, that seems sketchy. I already get the occasional email about a book being wrecked/damaged by the post...and I still don't know what it's going to cost, even in an envelope.

All right, that's enough sighing and crying and boring distribution woes. I'll try to get back to "gaming posts" (though I've been busy sketching out the adventures I'm going to run for Dragonflight...I think I'm going to use these 4th Edition dungeon tiles for a B/X adventure, but it's a pain in the ass that they're not marked for easy/quick assembly. I also wish they were at least a little"grimy," but I realize that's just a preference of aesthetics). However, if anyone has any ideas on how to get better prices shipping outside the USA, I am open to suggestions.


EDIT: Just checked and found that shipping a similar sized parcel, regular delivery, from B.C. to Ontario would be $13-15, depending on actual weight. Ugh! Canada!


  1. Shipping is BRUTAL. I love hearing everybody talk about the global economy, and how the Internet equalizes the playing field because anyone can order anything from anywhere, but what they forget is the cost of shipping kills the deal. I would buy a lot more stuff online or off of eBay, but when you see people listing a 2nd edition AD&D splatbook for sale at $5, with $25 shipping to Canada.... yeah, no thanks. My favorite is the guy who was selling 4 Magic The Gathering cards on eBay - 4 cards were $40 (expensive cards), but the shipping to Canada was $95!!!!!!! For 4 CARDS! I could mail them in a padded envelope for $2!!!! WhatEVER. And don't get me started on what shipping was like from before they set up a Canadian branch (4 issues of Fight On magazine..... $120 shipping to Canada. Ugh.).

    But, I hear you... shipping is just CRAZY, and is a HUGE inhibiting factor.

  2. Books printed by a small publisher is becoming a boutique business. Technology allows people to print at home or locally a book that’s as good (or better*) than what the publisher can print and ship. Technology is even making it so that even for people like me—who enjoy making books at home—find less call for it. So more and more the print-at-home/print-locally step can be skipped.

    (*Better because the end-user gets to make some of the choices that the publisher made in the past, and different end-users have different preferences.)

  3. For domestic shipping, Media mail rates from the Postal Service will be much cheaper than anything else. The flat rate boxes are nearly always more expensive than shipping it Priority Mail alone, unless the item is heavy. Though the free box using flat rate gives you is a big bonus. If your books are somehow under 1 pound (doubtful) then First Class Mail is also a valid option. But Media Mail, for which books qualify for, are the best option.

    Wish there were something similar for international shipping, I have been burned so many times with international shipping charges. Such a shame.

  4. I can sympathize with you on this JB. I've spent nearly a $100 in shipping over the past three days for my zine in a simple envelope. Nothing as complicated as yours, but some people are starting to order all of them and shipped in a single package. The prices are tough and I'm afraid if they get much higher it might knock me out of my small little corner of this hobby.

  5. The answer is Print On Demand on the 3 big companies for RPG, and that is:
    Amazon CreateSpace (this is unbeatable for cutting on shipping cost)
    you will sell MANY more books (in fact you are not there and I didn't buy your b/x books), you will sell more books because if I have to add a 20$ book to an Amazon order that will qualify that order for free shipping is a no-brainer and printing quality is usually more than good. I had more to say on it here:

    and to put it in contest here is my last lulu buy:

    just to be clear I hate when book are not on Amazon (POD or not) and then if they are not even on rpgnow or lulu POD the probability of buying them is much reduced (I must fail 2 or 3 Saving Throw to induce me in buying them).

  6. I completely agree with Fabio. There is a UK Lulu and Drivethru POD location that ships (relatively) cheaply directly to Europe. Far better than overseas and spares you the headache of distribution. I am so much more likely to purchase a product that way. If it's US only then I'll skip it unless I happen to be planning a trip there. You can even get LBB style books via Lulu.

  7. Yeah, I feel your pain JB. Canada Post is tragically awful: slow, expensive and frequently illogical. The only reprieve is that I've yet to have them lose anything, but never say never!

    When I lived in Korea, the first time I went to a post office there was a guy ahead of me in the line mailing a wooden crate of truck-axles to Moscow. And when I moved home I sent gigantic boxes of stuff weighing 25 lbs and more home by express mail for about $150 a box with 4 day delivery (EMS). Maybe we should hire Korea to run *all* of the post offices, they seem to have a good ahndle on it.