(This post originally appeared at AccessibleGames.biz on May 23, 2022.)
The final issue of Accessible Gaming Quarterly, Year 2 has shipped. Now that issues 5 through 8 have been released, it’s time to take a look back at the year and see how we did.
Like last year, we started with a budget of $4,000 USD, which translated to $1,000 per issue. This time around, we added ePub as an additional file format for digital editions of the zine. We also hit a +$500 stretch goal to add ePub to previous issues (1 through 4), but since that applied toward last year’s issues I’m not going to include the stretch goal funding in my budget analysis.
For reference, our Kickstarter campaign raised $5131 from 166 backers (an average of $30.90 per backer).
If you would like to compare our numbers to last year’s, check out our previous post in this series: Accessible Gaming Quarterly by the Numbers.
Costs Per Issue
Let’s begin by looking at the overall costs associated with each issue.
From this data, it appears like we went over budget on nearly every issue. With the exception of Issue 5, we crossed the $1,000 threshold each quarter. This ended in a cost overrun of $342.62. If it weren’t for our generous backers putting us well over the goal, we would have been in trouble.
Compared to last year’s total of $3,759.13, we spent a lot on the zine this year. The difference was 583.49 between Year 1 and Year 2. Only a fraction of that can be attributed to the new ePub format.
We’ll break this down a little bit more and find out where all that extra money went.
Costs for Issue 5
Here are how the costs for Issue 5 compared with Issue 1 from the year before. I’ll compare the other issues for Year 2 with their counterparts from Year 1.
Issue 1: $323.36 (Authors); $230.00 (Artists); $163.86(Fulfillment); $717.22 (Total)
Issue 5: $308.26 (Authors); $475.00 (Artists); $157.44(Fulfillment); $940.7 (Total)
Percent Change: -4.7% (Authors); +107% (Artists); -4% (Fulfillment); +31.1 % (Total)
For the first issue of Year 2, we had 7 articles and2 illustrations. We also used the budget from this issue to compensate Todd Crapper for the Kickstarter graphics he created.
I wrote two of those eight articles myself and paid myself $0 for the effort. For the remaining articles, I paid $308.26. Last year, I spent $323.26 on authors for Issue 1. Those numbers are pretty comparable.
For art, I spent $475.00. This includes two illustrations, layout, and Kickstarter graphics. For comparison, I spent just $230.00 on art for Issue 1. I have been paying a larger price per illustration for artists, because it is my goal to compensate people fairly for the work they contribute. Although these numbers look very different compared to each other, I feel the extra money spent on art was worth it.
Finally, there was fulfillment. This is the cost to print and ship books to backers, and I spent $157.44 on the first issue. Last year, I spent $163.86. Considering I shipped 20 units, plus my personal proof copy, I’m pleasantly surprised to see the total fulfillment expense was a bit lower this year.
Overall, I spent $940.70 this year, up from $717.22 last year. That’s an increase of 31.1%, most of which was an increased cost for art.
Costs for Issue 6
For this issue, we had 8 articles and 3 illustrations. That’s one more of each, and we can see that increase in the total cost to produce Issue 6 compared to Issue 2.
Issue 2: 524.69 (Authors); $200.00 (Artists); $122.42 (Fulfillment); $847.11 (Total)
Issue 6: $544.88(Authors); $420 (Artists); $115.92(Fulfillment); $1080.8 (Total).
Percent Change: +3.8% (Authors); +110% (Artists); -5% (Fulfillment); +28% (Total)
Once again, art represented the largest increase to the overall cost for this year’s second issue. Most of the other categories were within small margins of one another, but with an increase of 110% for art, the total ended up going over our $1,000 budget by almost $81 (8.1%). We did get an extra illustration out of it, but the prettier package comes at a cost.
The total page count for this issue was higher than before, so we are at least getting a lot of miles out of those extra dollars. Since I have been contributing both an article and a Q&A section to each issue, our issues are getting bigger as a whole without adding a lot of extra expenses for authors.
Costs for Issue 7
For Issue 7, we had 8 articles and 2 illustrations. Two of those articles I wrote myself at a cost of $0 each. As we can see from the following numbers, art continues to be a big expense. We’re also doing our best to pay authors a fair rate.
It just occurred to me that we have switched to using color covers for art this year. Color illustrations always come at an increased cost, and that has a role to play in these expenses. In addition to the increased rate we’re paying our illustrators, I can see that this is going to have to be a bigger part of the budget for future issues of the zine.
I’ve got to say though, that color art has been amazing. I’m not interested in going back to black-and-white covers just to save on cost.
Issue 3: $610.2 (Authors);7 $150.00 (Artists); $123.95(Fulfillment); $884.22 (Total)
Issue 7: $621.28 (Authors); $450 (Artists); $103.01 (Fulfillment); $1174.29 (Total)
Percent Change: +1.6% (Authors); +300% (Artists); -16.9% (Fulfillment); +33% (Total)
In addition to paying my authors a higher rate and purchasing color art, adding the ePub file format has added a bit to the cost. I spent as much on layout for Issue 7 ($15) as I did for my total combined art and layout expenses for Issue 3 last year. I have also begun adding Alt Text to images for the digital editions of the zine, which adds a little bit to the layout expense as well. The cost to add Alt Text is minimal compared to the benefit it gives to our screen reader users, so it’s totally worth it.
Costs for Issue 8
The grand finale of Year 2 and the largest issue to date by page count, Issue 8 also came in with the second-highest cost. Compared to the initial page count estimate of 44 pages way back when we ran the Year 1 Kickstarter, this issue has a page count of 74. I think it’s safe to say that the success of the zine may be running away with us. More on that in a bit.
This issue had 8 articles and 3 illustrations. Comparing Issue 8 to Issue 4, we get:
Issue 4: $670.90 (Authors); $131.25 (Artists); $129.71 (Fulfillment); $931.86 (Total)
Issue 8: $644.80 (Authors); $380.00 (Artists); $122.03 (Fulfillment); $1146.83 (Total)
Percent Change: -3.9% (Authors); +189.5% (Artists); -5.7%; +23%
It’s a bigger issue overall, but I used a few cost-cutting measures because I knew the budget was getting out-of-hand.
For one, I continued to write two of the articles myself. It turns out you can save a lot of money when you’re not paying anyone to write for you. There is no possible way this zine would be as great as it is without all the other contributors though, so don’t take this to mean that I’m going to cut out my other contributors or start writing more of the zine myself.
For art, I pilfered a piece that I originally commissioned for Survival of the Able. I wanted to show off some of Kristina Gerhmann’s art and tease what’s going to be coming up for that book. This allowed me to add an illustration to the zine without the expense of an additional piece commissioned just for it.
As with two of the other three issues for this year, Issue 8 went over budget. Considering the size of the zine, I’m happy with how relatively little it went over. Still, when you consider that I’m only paying myself out of the unspent budget, it’s pretty clear that I did not make as healthy a profit this year as I did in Year 1.
Some Other Numbers
I tracked the total count for words, articles, illustrations, and pages across all issues of AGQ to date. Here’s a breakdown.
Looking at this table, it’s clear that each issue seems to be getting bigger than the last.
I mentioned in my “Final Thoughts” section of last year’s post that I hoped to use the experience I gained to avoid blowing the budget. Instead, I used the experience gained to make bigger and better issues, but at greater expense.
When I ran the Kickstarter campaign for Year 3, I set the initial budget to $4,500. That’s an average of $1,125 per issue, up from $1,000. My goal is to stick to that new enhanced budget and continue to produce issues as good as, if not better, than the ones from Year 2. My goal is to not get any larger than Issue 8 though, because that one was a monster.
The average page count for Year 2 increased significantly over Year 1. My initial estimates for the zine set the page count between 36 and 44. All of Year 1’s total page counts were 44 or above, so it’s obvious that I underestimated the scope of the project.
In Year 2, our page count increased significantly. Our authors are passionate about their topics, and we have a stable of folks who love to write for the zine now. It’s hard to turn away anyone who wants to write an article for a given issue or limit the total length of articles they can contribute. I give authors an estimate of 1,500 words per article, but sometimes they go well above that. I enjoy allowing people to express themselves though, so as long as I can contain the budget then I’m happy to allow this.
Initially, we started with seven articles per issue. The last three issues of Year 2 all had 8 articles, and as a bit of a spoiler, so does the upcoming Issue 9. I feel like that’s a bit of a sweet spot in terms of the total length of the zine, and in most cases that 8th article is really just our Q&A section which I don’t intend to cut out any time soon.
Going forward, my goal for page count is going to be in the neighborhood of 64, not 44.
We commission between two and three pieces of art for each issue. That adds to this page count a little, especially because we have been ordering full-page art instead of half-page art (which is not only more expensive, but also takes up more page space). With the small trim size of the book (5.5″ x 8.5″), I feel like the full page art is necessary. It also helps show off the author’s talent a bit better.
Because art continues to be such a huge expense, that is going to be my area of focus for reigning in the budget in the future. I think sticking with no more than three illustrations per issue will help.
After accounting for Kickstarter’s fees and the $500 spent upgrading the first four issues to ePub, I took away approximately $300 this year once everything was said and done. That is before any post-Kickstarter sales, so at least everything from here onward is profit. It goes to show that most of the work done in the tabletop RPG space is still performed primarily as a labor of love.
And I love it, so I’m going to keep doing it.
I see the expenses this year as important investments into the future of the zine and the future of inclusive gaming in general. Every word written, every illustration inked, and every issue delivered to readers is important. These things are important to the readers, they’re important to the authors, they’re important to the illustrators, and they’re important to me.
I would be dishonest if I said that it didn’t matter to me if I ever made a profit. The fact is, I am not independently wealthy enough to continue this work if it were to lose money, no matter how much I love it. As long as I continue to have your incredible support, though, I don’t foresee a future in which I have to give this up. I owe it to everyone else to stick to my budget though, because if I don’t then I risk falling to the wrong side of the line and coming out behind.
I love that, with every issue published and every year completed, I continue to grow n and learn. Looking back at this last year, I can tell where things have gone right and where they can use improvement.
That, my friends, is a lesson for life.