Pay What You Want Results for A Little Bit of Thievery

Back in February 2015, I released a 1st-level 5e adventure called Little Bit of Thievery as Pay What you Want. I made that choice for the following reasons:

  • I have no idea how to value the work, whether or not it's "good", or what I am doing.
  • If people like it, it’s going to get pirated anyway. 
  • I believe people who would download it for free, wouldn’t have bought it
  • I have zero name/brand recognition, so I feel like I have to compete on price
  • I honestly and truly want PWYW models to work. Yes, I am a sap that pays for NPR. If you like content, you should support it.

I am releasing these results to guide people when pricing their work and developing a model that works for them. I hope this data helps.

What is the product that was sold?
A Little Bit of Thievery is “an unconventional freeform adventure for level 1 characters.” It is a single 3-hour module with some additional notes and ideas for future entanglements. It’s narrative heavy, and not filled with a lot of combat. After 14 reviews, it is rated a 4.7 out of 5. It's 10 pages and 4,707 words, if you are keeping track.

The product was a team effort between an editor/graphic designer, artist, and me. We decided we would split the profits 20/40/40 (which in retrospect is unfair to the editor, sometimes you miss the obvious).

By the way, my understanding is that offering percentages of an unproven product is not a great system for hiring other creatives. It doesn't respect their time. If you hire other creatives to for work, you need to offer to pay them a reasonable rate up front. That's what I do now.

Results
Here is the Data:

I guessed that module is worth $3 and that is what was listed as the suggested price. I used that number as a way of approximating the number of “paid” copies that were purchased. This means that approximately 14% of the 1,184 downloads are “paid” copies, and 86% of my customer base is free riding. This is fine for me, honestly. I’ve RPG’ed on a budget, and I would rather have people play the module and enjoy it, then never get to play it. Plus, I believe that most of the free riders wouldn’t have bought the module anyway.

My cut of the whole take is currently $140.82. If I spent 20 hours on the module, I made about $7.00 an hour or just a smidge below minimum wage. I honestly didn’t keep track of the time I spent, it could have been up to 40 hours or more.

LBoT was released before the OGL and SRD for 5e. That may heavily influence the data. I also spent some time advertising by putting links on reddit, twitter, this blog, and tumblr. Any success of the module might be attributed to the market (less competition before the OGL) and “advertising”. Past performance does not guarantee future returns.

Worth my Time?
I made $7 to $3.50 an hour for my work. Is it worth my time? Maybe. The module still generates revenues, so my royalties will slowly creep up until I die. However, my main motivations for selling the module are nonpecuniary. It’s the same reason I practice guitar, grow a garden, craft beer, and bike long distances.

  • It shows mastery
  • I have autonomy in how I choose to go about it
  • I get to learn a lot
  • I enjoy sharing it
  • I think it’s cool and I enjoyed writing it

Is that fair to people who do this full time? I don't know, actually. That's a good question. That being said, manufacturing of modules takes a back seat to my real job. There is no wonder why I haven’t released a product over a year.

Additional Reading
If you are interested in this topic, here are additional articles that talk about other people's experiences with publishing 5e adventures. I found the other links in Alphastream's article.
What is an Adventure Worth, by Alphastream (Teos Abadia)
Dungeon Master's Guild Part Two - Money by Draco Roboticus (Derick)
Pay What you Want Isn't (Really) About Sales by Fred Hicks