(This post originally appeared at AccessibleGames.biz on April 5th, 2021.)
When I launched the Kickstarter campaign for Accessible Gaming Quarterly, I set a budget of $1,000 per issue. At four issues for the first year, that meant a goal of $4,000 USD. I wasn’t entirely sure how reasonable that goal was, but I was confident in my ability to make it work as long as my assumptions weren’t wildly off base.
Now that all four issues have been published, it’s time to take a look at how I did. This analysis is as much for my benefit as it is for yours. I hope that by publicly announcing my costs and numbers, I can give you an insight into what it might take to produce a zine of your own someday. If nothing else, I feel I owe it to my backers to be transparent with where the money went.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
Costs Per Issue
I’ll start by summarizing the overall costs for each issue of the zine. They were:
|Total Costs Per Issue|
As you can read, over half the total budget ($2129.22) went toward paying authors. This makes sense, given how the zine is primarily focused on being a collection of articles and essays. This is a lot different than a typical RPG product, in which well over half the budget tends to go toward art.
Speaking of art, approximately one quarter of the budget ($1091) went toward art. This includes layout, which I did not split out separately.
The smallest slice of the pie went toward fulfillment, but even that consumed a sizeable portion of the project’s overall budget. I made the decision to charge for shipping during the Kickstarter and to order prints be sent directly to backers, rather than simply giving backers a coupon code to order at-cost prints from DTRPG. I did this simply because I wanted a seamless and simple option for my backers; from experience, I know not as many people are interested in ordering print copies if they have to jump through hoops to get them.
Overall, I came in just underneath the $4,000 budget for the zine. That means I made a modest profit, but it also means I did a pretty good job estimating the cost to produce the zine. Because I raised $4,900 (of which I took home about $4,500 after Kickstarter fees) total, I was able to put some new tires on my car and have enough left over to take my family out to dinner.
Astute readers may notice that the costs per issue varied wildly. I’ll go into a bit more detail about those next.
Costs for Issue 1
Issue 1 had 7 articles and 2 illustrations. I wrote two of those articles myself and re-used a piece of art I had already commissioned for Survival of the Able, so in total I only purchased 5 articles and 1 illustration. Since this was the first issue, I paid more than the total average for layout though, so that made up for the cost difference between Issue 1 and 2.
When launching a new zine or periodical, there is some up-front investment in trade dress (the graphics, illustrations, logos, and overall aesthetic for your product). Todd spent a lot of time working on the layout template that he eventually used for all four issues, so the amount I spent on layout in the future was reduced.
Fulfillment costs for Issue 1 were also higher than the others. That’s because I had a reward tier that offered backers the option to get just the first issue in print, rather than the whole series. Overall, that meant more units were produced and shipped for this issue (24 units) compared to others (16 units).
Costs for Issues 2 and 3
Issues 2 and 3 were similar in terms of their overall content. Each issue had 2 illustrations, which were both produced by the same artists at the same rates. I paid Todd a bit extra for layout for Issue 3 because it was a bit more complex, due in large part to the Vision Layers article. I feel this was money well-spent, because that article is an important piece of work.
Each issue also had 7 articles, but I didn’t write any myself for Issue 3. That meant I had to buy one more than I did for Issue 2, which increased the total cost.
I fulfilled the same number of orders (16 units) for both issues. The fact that Issue 3 was 4 pages longer meant that it was slightly more costly to print and ship though.
Despite having similar content, Issue 3 ended up being a bit more expensive to produce than Issue 2.
Costs for Issue 4
For the first three issues, I was well under budget. Not a single one of them cracked $1,000, so I had a lot of flexibility in my budget for Issue 4. That turned out to be a good thing, because by the time I started soliciting contributors for this issue I had a lot of interest.
Issue 4 was the biggest and by far the costliest of the whole year. Weighing in at 56 pages (8 pages larger than Issue 3 and 12 pages larger than 1 and 2), it was a suitable finale to the zine’s first year.
This issue had 8 total articles, including 2 I wrote myself and 6 I commissioned. It also had 3 illustrations, all brand new, and some bonus Excel-based battle maps (which you can download when you purchase the issue from DriveThruRPG).
Because the AGQ Year 2 Kickstarter met its $4,500 stretch goal, all four of Year 1’s issues were converted to ePub. That cost was added to the layout cost for Issue 4, which skews the numbers just a little bit more toward it.
With its higher page count, Issue 4 was also more costly to print and ship. Even though it went to the same number of initial backers (16) as Issues 2 and 3, the fulfillment cost was significantly higher.
I’m glad I saved money on the first three issues of the zine, because if they all had cost as much to produce as Issue 4 I would have lost money. This is something I am going to have to track and monitor closely throughout Year 2 to make sure I am not going over budget.
Costs for Authors
I already mentioned that over half the budget for Year 1 went toward hiring authors. One of the goals of this zine was to represent a variety of people and voices from across the spectrum of disability. We represented a lot of diversity this year, and I hope to keep expanding that in the future.
In total, I hired 18 authors to write 33645 words at an average cost of $0.065 USD (6.5 cents) per word. The lowest I paid per word was $0.05 to authors with no previous experience, and I paid as much as $0.10 per word for authors with more experience.
There has been a lot of discussion about author pay rates within the tabletop RPG industry. I personally have been paid as little as $0.01 / word starting out to an average of about $0.03 /word from more established publishers. Neither one of those even comes close to meeting the $0.05 / word minimum that myself and many others are trying to standardize on nowadays. Even at $0.05 / word, we are underpaying most people for their work.
In my business plan for Accessible Games, I pledge to not pay less than $0.05 / word for authors. If I can’t hire someone for at least that rate, then I’ll do the writing myself. That’s partly why you rarely see anyone else’s name in writing credits for my other work, but I knew AGQ simply had to be different. I simply couldn’t create a zine about accessibility and inclusion if I didn’t include a lot of different voices.
Thanks to my Kickstarter backers, I was able to pay above this minimum standard on average to my contributors, and I was able to meet the minimum standard for everyone.
Here’s where I am going to be completely blunt as a publisher, though: it is impossible to guess an appropriate pay rate for someone with whom you do not already have a working relationship. Some of the folks I worked with were such great writers that I wish I would have budgeted to give them a better rate from the get-go. Some folks who have experience, on the other hand, required a bit more editing and chasing than I would have liked. Had I known that ahead of time, I may not have started with a larger-than-average pay offer. I learned that credentials and experience aren’t the only things that count when it comes to hiring talent.
When appropriate, I paid some authors a bonus for a job well-done. Sometimes that bonus wasn’t a huge amount because I knew I had a budget, but I am always eager to reward great work—especially when I know I am already starting on the low end of the pay scale. That means I spent just a little bit more on writing than I otherwise would have, but I feel that if you treat your contributors well then you’re more likely to have repeat contributors in the future.
Costs for Artists
Even though it’s a zine, Accessible Gaming Quarterly didn’t have a whole lot of art. Part of this was due to budget concerns, but part of it was because it was surprisingly difficult to find artists.
There is no shortage of great art in the RPG industry, and no shortage of people willing to work for hire. Sometimes, finding people who identify as disabled who are also artists proved difficult. Other times, peoples’ individual disabilities made it difficult for them to follow through on an assignment.
It is important to me to hire artists who represent disabilities with attention and care. That’s difficult to do if you have never experienced disability yourself, which may be why I am having a difficult time finding artists. Incidentally, if you are an artist or know someone who is, please send them my way.
The art we did have in the zine was awesome. I loved working with my illustrators, most of whom were repeats, because they are all such great folks to work with. Even as I look to expand the slate of artists for future issues, I look forward to working with all of our established artists again.
With all that said, art accounted for about one quarter of the total budget for the zine. As I said earlier, that’s lower than expected. Not having a lot of art did help me stay under budget though, so that was nice.
I paid an average of about $60 per illustration. Because the images were black and white and a full page was only about 4.5” x 7.5” I was able to keep costs down a bit. Larger images and color images would have doubled and possibly even tripled the cost, which wouldn’t have been sustainable even at an average of only 2.25 illustrations per issue.
Finally, there was the cost for layout. Todd is an excellent layout artist and I highly recommend him to anyone who is producing a book of any sort. He pioneered Vision Layers, which cost a bit more to implement but are well worth the expense. He is also learning how to produce books in ePub format for mobile devices and e-readers, which is another value add.
When preparing layout for an entire product line, it’s helpful to spend a little extra money up-front to create a template that will be used for future products. I mentioned this earlier, but I spent more money on Issue 1 to save money on future issues of the zine.
Costs for Fulfillment
Fulfillment is always one of the hardest things to budget for any project. Even if you know the approximate cost to print a product, I learned that those costs can vary somewhat over time. Shipping costs change too, both with time and with page count.
I originally anticipated books to be between 36 and 44 pages. Using DTRPG’s print cost calculator, I had an idea of what the cost per issue would be to print the zine. I anticipated using US Media Mail for most shipping costs, and I anticipated that would be just under $5 per unit ordered.
In reality, issues turned out to be between 44 and 56 pages. On the high end, that still only meant a cost of $2.44 per unit to print, but shipping costs were massively different between Issue 3 and 4.
I always ordered my first print proof (the publisher copy that I have to approve before releasing the print products for general sale) via UPS Ground. It is a little faster than US Media Mail and contains tracking information. Instead of paying $4 per shipment, I paid about triple that rate for UPS Ground. That was just for one copy per issue though, so I felt it was worth it.
What I hadn’t expected was the dramatic difference between 44 / 48 page books and a 56 page book. UPS Ground for Issues 2 and 3 was around $11.15, whereas the UPS Ground rate for the 56-page Issue 4 was $15.17. I don’t know how much of that price difference was due to fluctuations in market prices and how much was due to the slightly higher page count, but it came as a real surprise.
Now that I have a better idea of what to expect for shipping costs, I feel like I’ll be able to account for them in the future. I’ll never get it 100% right, but having a good basis to work with should help prevent sticker shock at least. I’d like to be able to continue offering shipping as part of the Kickstarter pledge for Year 3, and as long as shipping remains relatively similar throughout Year 2 I think I’ll be able to do that.
I learned a lot about producing a zine over the last year, and I know that experience is going to carry me forward through Year 2. Although the budget I set per issue was the same, I think I’ll be better equipped now to make sure I don’t blow it, and I hope to decrease the huge amount of variance between issues going forward.
What do you think? Was this information helpful to you? Would you like to see a shorter version of this article printed in the July issue of AGQ, or shall it just live here on our website?
Finally, if you have an idea for an article or an illustration you would like to contribute to AGQ, let me know. You can learn more about submissions on the following page: Submissions.