More PDF-anoia

So yesterday Cubicle 7 announced that they are not going to be making pdf copies of their RPG The One Ring available any more:

We are re-examining our pdf programme at this time and will not be offering pdf versions of The One Ring until further notice.

Many apologies for any inconvenience caused. 

What was interesting, however, is a statement that they made over at

Sorry for the frustration with the PDFs, we really appreciate that they are a mainstay of modern gaming and our other games will remain fully supported in PDF.

So, it’s not so much a re-examination of their whole pdf program so much as something very specific to The One Ring, which is produced under license from the Tolkien estate. The inference is obvious; if it was Cubicle 7 that was behind the move, they certainly would have done the same with their other product lines. Since it was only The One Ring that is affected, the Tolkien estate must have done something to make them yank the pdfs.

Now, I don’t really have a dog in this race. I don’t play The One Ring, and I don’t particularly care for pdfs. If I am forced to purchase a gaming product as a pdf, I print it out and put it in a binder. But I do recognize that a lot of people do like pdfs for various reasons, and it’s certainly become a major segment of the RPG industry in general.

The reasons behind the move, and in all likelihood the move by WotC some time ago to remove all of their pdfs, is to combat piracy. If pdfs are made available by companies, so the theory goes, someone is going to put the files on file-sharing sites and the company will lose sales as a result. But this is an inane argument on a number of levels.

First, if people want to make illegal pdfs of books, not having a company-produced file is not going to stop them. Any 24-year-old with a scanner can make his own pdf in an hour or two. At best, you’re going to slow them down; you will never stop them.

Second, if people prefer pdfs, they will resort to illegal pdfs if there is no legal avenue to obtain them. Plus, a lot of people are simply going to pass up a game if they are forced to buy a hard copy these days. A certain segment is just going to wait for someone to put up a torrent of the book, because the company won’t allow them to spend $15 to get the file legitimately.

Third, pdf sales are now seen as a means to introduce a product to an audience at a relatively low price-point, which will then encourage the owner to spend money on the hard copy. I know I’ve done this more than once. I spend a pittance on a pdf, and then take the plunge into the hard copy once I’ve had a chance to read and use the book.

Now, I am 100% against illegal file sharing and IP theft. Posting a book that someone else took months to write and that cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to put together (for art, editing, writing, layout, etc.) is no better than walking into your FLGS and stuffing the book into your backpack. It’s not “free” at all; even an electronic-only file costs a lot of money to put together. Believe me; I’ve done it.

But this no-pdf policy is just insane. It’s literally forcing folks who want to play by the rules, but prefer to get electronic copies, to either pass up the book entirely or resort to illegal file-sharing. I’m not saying that making pdfs available will end piracy and IP theft; that’ll never happen. But at least companies don’t have to shove their customers away, into the arms of bittorrent.

I hope they’ll finally get the message someday soon. PDFs are a Good Thing and not a threat to their bottom line.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

8 thoughts on “More PDF-anoia

  1. I bet there's some stupid explanation like "Rights to digital games based on Lord of the Rings has been licensed to someone else so you can't release this RPG in digital format."

  2. And you see, THIS is the reason I hate not having the time to write like I used to…I need to write a post of my own on the subject and yet I also have to get a move on writing a response to a DIFFERENT blog.

    Jeez. Priorities of blogging are hard.

  3. If the company that publishes The One Ring didn't make sure they had rights to make a game in pdf form as well as in print, that's a real failure on their part.

  4. I agree on everything you said about the idiocy of removing pdfs in a futile effort to combat piracy, whether or not that is the reason.

    One small correction, the licensee is the Saul Zaentz Company, the same people who licensed the previous MERP and Decipher games, as well as the movies. It's not the Tolkien estate.

  5. On a small plus side – I am silver lining kind of guy – this kind of behavior, from the big publishing houses is in some small way driving people to create their own products that they can do what they like with, and driving customers towards some killer pdf content that people choose to put out for free. I know since I started blogging and following great links people have sent me, I've had to create an entire partition on my hard drive for the monumental amount of stuff that cost me nothing and people were practically thrusting in my face.

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