You can’t really have been in the gaming scene these days without having noticed that much of the newest content is available as an Ebook. Whether it is available as a supplemental release with a purchased paper book or as a stand-alone product, ebooks are now a part of the industry and they join us right along with their pros and cons.

I have mixed feelings regarding ebook RPG’s. On the one hand, I like the convenience and “at your fingertips one-click” ability to purchase any game available in that format. On the other, if there’s only an ebook format, then there is no “used” market, is there?

Let’s first focus on the pros. There are many situations where an electronic format comes in handy. Any publication can now be viewed as needed online (admittedly where I’d suspect a lot of gamers spend most of their time) and just as easily printed. In fact, you can print pages as often as you’d like, although any color plates or the like would obviously require color ink and good paper. Printing character sheets or equipments sheets, any kind of handout becomes a breeze with just the click of a button.

It has made old books new again. Go to the big E-RPG sites like RPGNow or DriveThruRPG. You’ll find quite a selection of books, not all of them still in print. Consider their massive catalog for Game Designer’s Workshop, a company that’s been out of business for over 15 years, but who have some of the highest demand amongst the used RPG paper market.

These books can be had in brand new condition with all inserts and pages intact. No worries. No shipping charges. You want it. You get it. There’s also no preservation worries. An electronic file holds up in the short-term much better than a paper book, and if pages you print from the book get damaged…you simply print a replacement.

Newer books are just as available and with the loss of many old neighborhood gaming stores, that’s become a bigger issue than ever before. Since companies are quick to put new stock up for sale as ebooks, it’s a quick and dirty way to find out if there’s new product about without having to keep visiting company web sites or hoping to catch a designer at a convention. In today’s instant gratification culture, who really wants to wait for their book?

Lastly, it’s cheap. All you have to do is produce and then pdf your product. Distribution is electronic so the rest of the costs are next to nothing. And let’s not forget saving on the cost of paper, a material that is closing on being worth its weight in gold.

Of course, there’s a downside to ebooks as well. The most notable one is, no paper copy survives or transfers in the purchase. Sure you can print it out, but there’s no real physical product until you do, and can we all print all our ebooks to have backup paper copies or would we even want to?

A key problem for me with ebooks, where the ebook format is the sole format available, is when companies that produce a product under license lose that license. When the license is gone, all remaining product is usually, by contract, not available for sale. I offer two test cases, one with and one without ebooks.

Think of Last Unicorn Games’ license to produce the Dune RPG. LUG was bought shortly after they’d prepared the print run by WOTC and the initial run sold out at GenCon under WOTC’s banner. After the Herbert estate found out about the sale, they revoked the license, since it was not contractually transferrable. The original book run proved to be the last and became ridiculously collectible; a magnificent addition to the used RPG’s market. Had this been available only in ebook, it would have been available currently only through your local downloading engine (such as Torrent).

For more obscure titles, those published solely in pdf as well as on limited license come and then go. They leave no legacy paper material. If you’re a late comer to collecting that book, good luck. You’re almost back to pre-internet unless you have friends or acquaintances on discussion forums and the like willing to violate copyright and send you a pdf copy.

Such books are often lost to the ether; all their worthwhile material lost except on some few people’s hard drives. These are worse than limited paper print runs. These are true vaporware at that point. *Poof* It’s gone.

All told, the electronic books industry has been a good thing for the RPG market. It’s provided greater access and exposure of product while preserving older materials that might not have readily survived their paper wearing out. The same format limits, though, and has shortfalls consistent with anything stored in electronic format.

Bane or boon, it’s our new baby and we have to live with it.

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