Costs of a kickstarter project (transparency)

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Frequently I get questions about how much it costs to run a kickstarter for a larger project like I did with Twilight Fables. For context, Twilight Fables is of a quality I think is up there with official books and bigger 3PP like Morrus, Kobold Press, etc even though I'm a very small fry.

I've been a big proponent of transparency as the owner of Izegrim Creations. If for no other reason, I hope that others can learn from me, the mistakes I made, and things that went well. There are many people out there who are creators and don't know what costs are for a large project that would rival one of the big boys in quality. Most of you probably don't care all that much about this, but some of you may find this interesting, especially if you're a creator yourself. And to show that no, us KS creators don't make a ton of money on the projects ;) I'm sure someone like Morrus will look at these numbers and probably think "You did something seriously wrong to get those figures." ;)


Twilight Fables was the biggest project I've done, and I really reached high for it, as a small-time indie publisher. To walk my talk, here is the transparency for the project now that costs are finalized.


Ad costs: $8,006.50

Commissions (art): $23,354.13 (this could easily be double if I hired the quantity of exclusive art that Morrus or KP have used for similar books)

Materials (including book printing and fulfillment): $27,966.60

Editing: $4000

Total Costs: $63,327.23


Net Kickstarter Proceeds: $49,495.14

Sales since KS ended and files went for public sale (9/1/2022): $2,511

Excess Inventory Value (to be sold directly and at conventions): $13,750

Total Profit/Asset: $65,756.14


After Action Evaluation:

  • I would not spend as much on ads. Didn't seem to have a good RoI. I can definitely do better in this arena.
  • The cost per book would have dropped significantly if I was able to double print backers. I just barely made the threshold to make it worth it as opposed to Print on Demand only. If I had the extra print backers, the price per book would have went from $26 each to $18 each, which of course would translate into an extra $8 per book in profit. It truly is a numbers game.

TL, DR version: I knew going in that I'd be lucky to break even because I knew my customer base is smaller than Morrus, Kobold Press, etc. But I really wanted to complete this project. The biggest take away here is that you really want to hit 2000 backers if you want to make money on a project like this (full color, 300ish pages, professional print quality), especially if you hire a writer (not factored in the costs above, because I wrote it myself, but at 10 cents a word, it would be an additional $20,000 or so!) It's all about quantity, because with every 500 or so backers, the physical print cost goes down, and with every single backer, the cost per book in total goes down.

Also of note is the importance of PDFs. Those have zero production and shipping costs, so the actual profit margin may be higher than the book itself. Especially if you have 2000 or fewer print backers.

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MGibster

Legend
I've been a big proponent of transparency as the owner of Izegrim Creations. If for no other reason, I hope that others can learn from me, the mistakes I made, and things that went well.
I'm of two minds about this. As a customer, I don't really care about transparency. Your business is your business, and I don't have any reason to know how much you spend and how much you're profiting. I'm going to buy your product based on the perceived value to me rather than how it affects you. But, as a human being who likes learning new things, I appreciate you sharing this with us. It's neat to see how the sausage is made.
 

GreyLord

Legend
TL, DR version: I knew going in that I'd be lucky to break even because I knew my customer base is smaller than Morrus, Kobold Press, etc. But I really wanted to complete this project. The biggest take away here is that you really want to hit 2000 backers if you want to make money on a project like this (full color, 300ish pages, professional print quality), especially if you hire a writer (not factored in the costs above, because I wrote it myself, but at 10 cents a word, it would be an additional $20,000 or so!) It's all about quantity, because with every 500 or so backers, the physical print cost goes down, and with every single backer, the cost per book in total goes down.

Also of note is the importance of PDFs. Those have zero production and shipping costs, so the actual profit margin may be higher than the book itself. Especially if you have 2000 or fewer print backers.

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So, one thing I would add that would cost a LOT MORE upfront, but in the long end save you money is buying your own printing press which can sew the bindings.

VERY expensive upfront.

However, once you get it paid off, you no longer have to pay a printer. You buy the paper, the covers, the thread and the glue and go to town (a much cheaper cost at that point).

Of course, you'd probably have to plan 20 various printing projects at your rates to eventually make up for it and start turning a profit, but if you plan on doing a LOT of kickstarters and printings...couldn't hurt.
 

Crusadius

Adventurer
So, one thing I would add that would cost a LOT MORE upfront, but in the long end save you money is buying your own printing press which can sew the bindings.
I believe Mongoose Publishing did this and if I recall correctly one of their first printings was CthulhuTech. One complaint about the binding was that the covers bent so there is a learning curve which very small publishers may have difficulty with.

I think they sold it in the end as recovering costs was difficult and required them to print more than just their own games, and perhaps requiring at least one staff dedicated to printing (and I'm not even getting into cost of maintenance and repairs).
 

aia_2

Custom title
Please don't misunderstand my words but i have never understood the KS logic: it is clear to me that you go with it in order to maximize the sale volumes... it is clear also that with extras you reduce your earnings (incomes will grow but costs will grow even more)...
Is there anhthing i miss? Is it a fact of marketing: if you don't go with KS you won't succeed or you can't offer the dragonscale leather bound exclusive book?
This is exetremely fascinating to my eyes...
 

Crusadius

Adventurer
Please don't misunderstand my words but i have never understood the KS logic: it is clear to me that you go with it in order to maximize the sale volumes... it is clear also that with extras you reduce your earnings (incomes will grow but costs will grow even more)...
Is there anhthing i miss? Is it a fact of marketing: if you don't go with KS you won't succeed or you can't offer the dragonscale leather bound exclusive book?
This is exetremely fascinating to my eyes...
I think the primary reason to go with kickstarter is that you try to guarantee revenue that, at minimum, will cover the costs of getting the product into the customer's hands. You aren't maximising sales volumes, but can attempt to guarantee a minimum volume that will keep the costs low enough that you can at least break even.
 

Please don't misunderstand my words but i have never understood the KS logic: it is clear to me that you go with it in order to maximize the sale volumes... it is clear also that with extras you reduce your earnings (incomes will grow but costs will grow even more)...
Is there anhthing i miss? Is it a fact of marketing: if you don't go with KS you won't succeed or you can't offer the dragonscale leather bound exclusive book?
This is exetremely fascinating to my eyes...
I imagine that the average person will have better luck going through Kickstarter to get a thing published. Publishers and distributors are a completely separate maze of making stuff. Navigating that process is a whole other can of worms. And the most important thing is developing your own audience.
 

Committed Hero

Explorer
Please don't misunderstand my words but i have never understood the KS logic: it is clear to me that you go with it in order to maximize the sale volumes... it is clear also that with extras you reduce your earnings (incomes will grow but costs will grow even more)...
Is there anhthing i miss? Is it a fact of marketing: if you don't go with KS you won't succeed or you can't offer the dragonscale leather bound exclusive book?
This is exetremely fascinating to my eyes...

Ideally a Kickstarter campaign funds the things that need to be paid for after the game is written. Even without a line item for the author, there is definitely a cost involved in terms of time and expertise in that respect.

I'd be curious to know how much time was spent promoting it in terms of social media, too, if that's not part of the ad buy. As well as any playtesting conducted by either the designer or third parties.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
I think the primary reason to go with kickstarter is that you try to guarantee revenue that, at minimum, will cover the costs of getting the product into the customer's hands. You aren't maximising sales volumes, but can attempt to guarantee a minimum volume that will keep the costs low enough that you can at least break even.
Yeah, the biggest thing with KS is you know your customer count before you commit to any print costs (in many cases, before any costs, but I personally don't do that, because that road leads to unfulfilled projects. Before I launch, my project is pretty much done so I can guarantee not only delivery, but a quick delivery at that.)

But I use KS for another reason as well. Quite frankly, it's the best return on investment for ad coverage, even though it's not an ad platform itself. They take a small cut, but it seems like the exposure on the KS platform measured against that cost is much greater than that of ads on FB, Twitter, etc.
 

Art Waring

halozix.com
I have to concur with the cost estimates, I can't remember the original post, but somewhere on the forums a while back someone else posted their own estimates and they were much lower (5k$ for art budget, 12.5k$ for a writer and i think 2k for an editor), and your estimates are much closer to the mark for a full color hardcover book.

I tried my best to create a budget to cover my initial costs before thinking about going into a kickstarter, while I am doing all the writing and layout myself. The art really is much more expensive if you work with a professional artist, but hey you get what you pay for.

ATM, in order to complete the "core" project it will likely have to be a kickstarter, because I still need at least 10-15k$ for art (rough estimate, with the estimated number of pieces at around 50, which is still a low number, core big tent books have 70-100+ illustrations), unless I choose to go with a more affordable artist. I've invested a lot of years, blood, sweat, and tears into the project, but game design is my passion so I accept the cost and the risk myself.

I also do not plan to do to a kickstarter until the project is as near to completion as is possible with the time and resources available. And no stretch goals, I just want a finished book without unneeded delays. At this point I am looking just to break even so I can keep creating.

In the meantime, I can use the art I already have from the last freelancer I worked with (and plenty that I made myself), and I am thinking of releasing some or all of my ten new core classes individually on dtrpg, perhaps as a preview for the core book. Not quite sure yet, but at least there are options.
 

Yora

Legend
I'm of two minds about this. As a customer, I don't really care about transparency. Your business is your business, and I don't have any reason to know how much you spend and how much you're profiting. I'm going to buy your product based on the perceived value to me rather than how it affects you. But, as a human being who likes learning new things, I appreciate you sharing this with us. It's neat to see how the sausage is made.
Transparency only becomes interesting once it's been years and still nobody has seen any product.
I don't think anyone cares about the profit margin or the total profits made by the creators as long as the product arrives and it is what it was supposed be. It's when the product doesn't arrive that people ask where all the money went.
 

Committed Hero

Explorer
ATM, in order to complete the "core" project it will likely have to be a kickstarter, because I still need at least 10-15k$ for art (rough estimate, with the estimated number of pieces at around 50, which is still a low number, core big tent books have 70-100+ illustrations), unless I choose to go with a more affordable artist. I've invested a lot of years, blood, sweat, and tears into the project, but game design is my passion so I accept the cost and the risk myself.
Question: would you offer a Kickstarter tier at which you could submit a headshot for a character portrait? As in, you could open the book and point to a picture of yourself in a piece of art?
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Transparency only becomes interesting once it's been years and still nobody has seen any product.
I don't think anyone cares about the profit margin or the total profits made by the creators as long as the product arrives and it is what it was supposed be. It's when the product doesn't arrive that people ask where all the money went.
Not necessarily. As I said in my OP, most people probably won't have an interest. But I'm betting many if not most people who are also creators and have/or will be using KS in the future will have an interest. I sure wish I had this information when I started way back when. I get questions on probably a weekly basis from people asking for advice or inside knowledge on how to run a project.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Transparency only becomes interesting once it's been years and still nobody has seen any product.
I don't think anyone cares about the profit margin or the total profits made by the creators as long as the product arrives and it is what it was supposed be. It's when the product doesn't arrive that people ask where all the money went.
It’s interesting to other publishers or potential publishers.

If it’s not interesting to you, there are thousands of other threads here which might be more to your tastes.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
I have to concur with the cost estimates, I can't remember the original post, but somewhere on the forums a while back someone else posted their own estimates and they were much lower (5k$ for art budget, 12.5k$ for a writer and i think 2k for an editor), and your estimates are much closer to the mark for a full color hardcover book.
For clarity, my art budget above was for individual non-exclusive commissions for this book for about 75% of the art. I still ended up using stock art for about 25%. I just ran out of art money lol. Granted, with a monster book there is probably more art than most books, but a book like this could easily have a budget of $40,000 for art. I'd be curious to know what it was for the A5E books, but I suspect it was closer to $40,000 per book than $20,000 (maybe, as I can't recall the image count in those books for a comparison).
 

Art Waring

halozix.com
Question: would you offer a Kickstarter tier at which you could submit a headshot for a character portrait? As in, you could open the book and point to a picture of yourself in a piece of art?
I have seen several kickstarters offer this option, and some charged a few hundred (200 and up I think), while others somehow charge up to a grand for custom characters made by the artist to fit the genre and setting.

However, these are for standalone character portraits, I have yet to see one that says it includes the custom art of your character in the book itself. It's not a bad idea.

I don't know if I would include a tier for custom characters, mainly because of the process it takes to create a fully developed and fleshed out character.

From my experience, detailed custom characters require a lot of back and forth dialogue between you and the artist, especially for characters from non-fantasy genres with a lot of details that are unique (like most of my character concepts). You might not be able to convey the concept in the best way with words or references on the first try, and you will likely need revisions working with the artist if you are detail oriented like me.

This means that if you simply submit your character concept and call it a day, you might not get back what you expected 100%, this is just a realistic assessment of my personal experience working with illustrators.

As a customer, how much creative control would you want to have over the finished piece?
 

Yora

Legend
It’s interesting to other publishers or potential publishers.

If it’s not interesting to you, there are thousands of other threads here which might be more to your tastes.
Of course. This whole thread is about informing other creators about the process. It's not to inform the backers of the particular book used as the example (as the term "transparency" might mistakenly imply.)
Please don't misunderstand my words but i have never understood the KS logic: it is clear to me that you go with it in order to maximize the sale volumes... it is clear also that with extras you reduce your earnings (incomes will grow but costs will grow even more)...
Is there anhthing i miss? Is it a fact of marketing: if you don't go with KS you won't succeed or you can't offer the dragonscale leather bound exclusive book?
This is exetremely fascinating to my eyes...
The logic goes as follows:

  • Creating a book and advertising it costs me $10,000.
  • Printing and shipping one book to one customer costs me $10.
  • I get 1,000 backers with a total funding of $20,000.
  • Printing and shipping a book for every backer will take $10,000 of the funds. The other $10,000 of the funds cover my initial investments to create the book. I'm now breaking even.

  • Now if I get another 500 backers who bring in another $10,000 of funding, my printing and shipping costs go up by another $5,000. The remaining $5,000 go straight into my pocket. (Assuming a world with no taxes and cut for KS.)
  • I can try luring in more backers by saying "If we reach $30,000 in funding, I throw in an extra that costs me $100 in initial investment cost and $1 per book printed and shipped. That means $10,100 in investment costs and $16,500 for printing and shipping. That's a total cost of $26,600 and I can pocket the remaining $3,700.
  • If instead of luring in 500 additional backers with the extras, I actually have the 1,000 original backers pledge $30 each on average, the cost for printing and shipping only increases to $11,000 for a total cost of $21,100 and I can pocket $8,900.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
Of course. This whole thread is about informing other creators about the process. It's not to inform the backers of the particular book used as the example (as the term "transparency" might mistakenly imply.)
This thread is about informing anyone who might have an interest, which is probably creators, but also backers and anyone else in general. Based on comments I've received on the KS page, several backers were also very interested.
 

Art Waring

halozix.com
For clarity, my art budget above was for individual non-exclusive commissions for this book for about 75% of the art. I still ended up using stock art for about 25%. I just ran out of art money lol. Granted, with a monster book there is probably more art than most books, but a book like this could easily have a budget of $40,000 for art. I'd be curious to know what it was for the A5E books, but I suspect it was closer to $40,000 per book than $20,000 (maybe, as I can't recall the image count in those books for a comparison).
Yeah I did think about that, stock art is easier to find for some genres more than others, which can help pad out your art count. Some books use less art, but once yet get into 300+ pages you start to get walls of text, and images help to break this up, making it easier for readers, just a thought for those new to RPG's.

A lot of independent publishers in the 90's did not have the art budgets for a full-color book throughout, especially for independent publishers before things like kickstarter existed. Lots of 90's rpg's had a nice color cover, and all the interior art was black & white lineart. Some still publish this way. Its really the big tent games that push the full-color art throughout the book, but most people try to live up to that standard because it has become ubiquitous within the undustry as of late.

The 70-100+ full-color art count is primarily for core books, like 3.0, PF 1e, and 5e PHB, but its also really not the best idea to try and compete directly with the big guys, I just use it as part of my comparative analysis across core books and their design choices.

Some games from the 90's like Underground RPG, have 92 full-color pieces, mixed with a bunch of color diagrams, tables, and colored icons and images for mutations/ powers, and then some. But you can tell these books took years to develop.
 

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