The Undercroft Number Dump as of 30/9/14

Inspired by Tim Shorts' excellent and frank post on zine sales and expectations I thought I'd do similar in the hopes of maybe helping someone out, or at least providing another point of comparison to the original article. This is from limited experience but take what you will from it.

I got into publishing out of nowhere. I had a blog that no one read, knew next to nothing about the G+ scene, came out of the gate with no one at my back (except a few notable exceptions, thank you Tim) and no reputation to lean on. I was prepared to sell 10 copies and call it a success, a fun vanity project and excuse to mess about with a new medium. Fortunately I was way off. Seeing that there was interest and numbers I decided it would be fun to push it to be profitable and self-sustaining, turn the whole thing into a game.

Obviously, to play a game properly you can't cheat, so I decided that everyone had to be paid for any work (except my excel monkey, he can put "Consultancy Fee" on the excel sheets all he likes), even me. So far this has been more successful than I'd expected, with the zine being 6 sales from profitability right up until the printer broke. So it goes. Similarly, games need objectives. Other people's posts like this have offered me realistic targets in sales to aim for. I'd definitely recommend getting yourself some people you aim to beat (please feel free to aim for me), it's all part of the fun of it.

Things I have learned:

  • Reviews matter but are hard to get. Prepare to be politely ignored.
  • Don't sweat the price, charge what you need to turn a profit. This is a community of whales who will put their money into stuff that interests them.
  • You are not a proper business so don't stress about acting like one. Be comfortable with being unprofessional and honest.
  • Have fun and do what you want to do, ignore the shrill and the barbed. If you fail, at least fail on your own terms.
  • Don't be afraid to approach people that know what they're doing. The worst that will happen is you get ignored.
  • Charge for PDFs! Make the same profit margin on a PDF as on a print copy, they're the same thing.
  • Don't feel you need to "earn the right" to do anything. Just go nuts, act like you know what you're doing and it'll follow.

I have the great luck of having a chum who thinks managing spreadsheets is a legitimate pastime so I have extensive and more-or-less accurate records of every penny this venture makes and loses.

Warning: Spreadsheets incoming.

Total sales:
IssuePublishedUK PrintUK + PDFOrcs NestInt PrintINT + PDFUK PDFINT PDFRPG NowTotal SoldIssue
Average profit per sale: £1.42

RPGNow accounts for an unfortunate amount of my sales. Unfortunate because they take a cut, twice, once at sale and once when you take your money out. On a small margin thing like this it's a bit of a killer so I decided to just up the price to account for it. I reasoned that RPGNow is just a convenience outlet, the buyer pays for the convenience while I still get as much as I would from other sources.

Orcs Nest is London's FLGS, getting them to take copies was just the best confidence boost. Hearing they were warning customers that it was weird and gross just sweetened it. Orcs Nest sales are the only place I don't make the same profit as everywhere else since I reasoned it's a vanity/prestige thing to be in there. Shops don't want to be undercut by the publisher, so I have to eat their cut essentially. I recommend you email local FLGS's and ask if they'd like some of your stuff. No harm trying and it's very exciting to see something you wrote AND published sitting on a shelf in shrink wrap.

Sales by month:
IssueTypeJul 2014Aug 2014Sep 2014
1UK Print300
1UK + PDF302
1Orcs Nest404
1INT Print908
1INT + PDF1226
1UK PDF100
1RPG Now856
2UK Print002
2UK + PDF001
2Orcs Nest008
2INT Print0012
2INT + PDF006
2UK PDF001
2RPG Now0010
3UK Print002
3UK + PDF000
3Orcs Nest000
3INT Print007
3INT + PDF000
3UK PDF000
3RPG Now000
4UK Print002
4UK + PDF000
4Orcs Nest000
4INT Print007
4INT + PDF000
4UK PDF000
4RPG Now000
As you can see, August sucked. On a small product like a zine you only exist as long as people are talking about you, which in Internet Land is based on how popular and prolific you are. In my case: not very.

It's interesting how small my UK footprint is. I'm not sure why but I assumed it would be much more brisk in the home market considering I'm pretty much it when it comes to native OSR zines.

Me and my excel monkey were discussing projected sales on issue #2. He thought that #2 would sell less than #1, #1 acting as a "cap" on possible sales. I thought it would blow it to hell. Luckily I was right and #2 has kicked the crap out of #1's first month in under 2 weeks. I blame three things: Contributors that people like more than me, it's just plain better than #1, and reviews. It probably also helps that there are a few people watching me now, compared to the 0 that followed me when #1 came out. 

You'll also notice that subscriptions have done quite well. On the upside I have more operating cash to funnel into my "Dan broke his printer again" fund, but I worry that it'll eat into future earnings. We'll see in a couple of months though.

It's obvious now, but selling another issue revitalises sales on everything. Make more stuff!

Expenses£309.08£1.42217.25Breaking Even PointProfits-£120.63
Commissions Total
(articles and images)
£58.6284.79Sales Remaining to reach BEPMisc Alterations

Additional Postage Charges£5.00Messing with spreadsheet adjustment-£11.81
OSRToday Advertising£17.00Sale adjustment-£1.50
New Printer£129.97
Obligatory CopiesSales
Undercroft 1 Obligatory Copies£3.80Undercroft 1£121.37
Undercroft 2 Obligatory Copies£19.69Undercroft 2£55.32
Undercroft 3£12.54
Undercroft 4£12.54
I've made a point of listing every tiny expense on here (you've gotta play the game right!). As you can see, setting up is a bit costly but very realistically recoverable. Even the printer will likely be paid for by the time #4 comes out.

As for paying folks, I'd say I got my money's worth. The first thing that'll happen as soon as this is profitable enough to pay me is a pay hike for commissions, they're worth it. I do suspect that paying for work intimidates some people into not getting involved though, but this is yet to be confirmed.

So there you have it, a spreadsheet dump. I hope this has helped some of you in some way and do feel free to pester me for assistance if you think it will somehow help.


  1. More great useful info, thanks Daniel!

    1. You're very welcome. Good luck with your first issue.

  2. "do suspect that paying for work intimidates some people into not getting involved though"

    Yeah, it's a pretty strange thing to get PAID for a THING you made, though it did make me far more rigorous in making said THING as good as I felt it could be - kinda works two ways there

  3. Finding a price point for a product is one of the most difficult aspects of self-publishing. Before I released my first product I read a lot about how to calculate this and that and if the stars were aligned. Finally, I just decided, I picked my wife's favorite number and went from there.

  4. Hi Daniel,

    Great article, thanks for sharing and being so honest about numbers.

    Best of luck with the next issue