Why WoTC should be looking at Borders

Warning: Geek Gamer Girl post following.

One of my most prized possessions is a 1st Edition of the Player’s Handbook for AD&D, the classic “thief prying the jewel from the idol” hardcover. It’s on the shelf next to all of my hubby’s 2nd Edition books, all the 3.0, 3.5 books and a heck of a lot of d20 books from Hackmaster to Exalted to Green Ronin to Palladium Books.

Yes, we’re *that* sort of people.

But what you won’t find on our shelves is any 4.0 books. When this newest incarnation of AD&D came out we looked at it, played a demo game at Origins (with the biggest pack of powergamers EVAH who harassed and rushed us for the entire hour) and decided it wasn’t for us.

It wasn’t AD&D. Wasn’t sure what it was but it wasn’t for us.

Leap ahead a few years and now we’re seeing WoTC brag about the new, improved 5th Edition on the way. Monte Cook will save us all.


But I’m not going to write about the details of the different gaming systems or if one’s better than the other. I’m going to write about why I think Wizards should be looking at the demise of Borders, a major bookstore chain, and rethinking their strategy when it comes to their backlist.

When our local Borders was closing we visited it often to say our goodbyes to the staff who had helped us for years, in my hubby’s case for decades, to find good books. One of the saleswomen moaned to us – “The problem is that Borders doesn’t believe in backlists.”

Now you might be asking yourself – what’s a backlist? Well, a backlist is basically what it sounds like – a list of books not currently in the new release section. It’s usually the first or second books in a series that you *can’t* find when you pick up the fourth or fifth and want to read the series from the start.

Which was the problem with this particular store. No matter what the staff tried to do Borders insisted on *only* stocking new releases. So if you wanted the older books in a series or just an author’s older works you were out of luck. Cue Amazon’s one-click ordering system.

We really miss our Borders but knew the frustration of not being able to get older books. New releases are nice but sometimes you want the choice of an author’s past books or collect the entire series from the start.

Back to WoTC.

When 4th Edition was released the tale goes that WoTC immediately began pulping ALL of their older stock. ALL of the 3.0, 3.5, all of it. After all, why would you want to keep printing and shipping an older version of the game while you were trying to convert your existing playerbase to 4th?

*loud buzzing noise*

And there’s the rub. Right now any printed copies of 3.5 are hot, hot, hot on the secondary market.

Money lost to WoTC because of their scorched earth policy. Now, I understand the concept of making your core players shift to the new system by simply denying them the sourcebooks to keep playing the old game… but considering 4th Ed. is, as far as I’m concerned, a whole different gaming system it would have been in WoTC’s best interests to keep 3.5 in print or at least in digital copies. The amount of money lost to the secondary market as 3.5 players either replace their own copies or NEW players move to 3.5 … well, it’s got to be a lot.

Now I realize it’s not really a fair comparison, gaming books and novels – but I think there’s lessons here to be learned. First, never discount the demand for your backlist. Whether it’s old gaming books or a series of novels, there’s always someone out there who will want it. Heck, there’s still a demand for D&D modules – the really old-school THACO types. 2nd Edition is still hot at gaming conventions and everyone still loves the d20 generic systems out there – and Pathfinder seems well on the way to rule them all.

Second – digital rules. Right now many authors are racing to get their backlist of works into digital form because ebooks are pretty well forever and if you want to find older works by a particular author you’ll be able to digitally download and enjoy hours and hours of reading. I’ve been enjoying all of J.D. Robb’s past In Death books in ebook form because it’s easier than trying to find the paperbacks, most of which are too old and would only be in used bookstores, if even there.

There’s nothing stopping WoTC from making official digital copies of 3.5 available through their website and making money. No cost to print, nothing other than the price of keeping the website going.

But I guess the question here is – will WoTC realize that one of the reasons Borders, a major bookstore chain, fell was because they didn’t look behind them and try to serve customers who wanted *more* than just the hottest new releases? Or will 5th Edition mean that all the 4E books race towards the shredder to be erased like their earlier versions?

As usual, jmo – ymmv.

(And I’ll be at Origins this year – shout out to ma peeps!)


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