Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne reports on initial sales of the Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook.
If you are a Wizards of the Coast Premier Store (I think that is what the company calls us these days), the D&D 5th Edition Players Handbook hit the shelves this past Friday (mass merchants, non-Premier stores and Amazon get them on the 15th).  So did the Space Wolves Codex for Warhammer 40,000, as well as the incredibly short-printed Space Wolves Data Cards.  (Why Games Workshop makes the Data Card sets for the various armies a short run item is beyond my ken.  They are cards, for pity's sake.  Print more.)
As a point of comparison indicating the interest in the two products, we ordered eight copies of the Codex and had three left as of close on Saturday.  The D&D Player's Handbook? We ordered 13, which we figured would last for a week, and had sold out by Saturday afternoon, with customers calling from over 60 miles away to make certain we would hold a copy for them so they would not make the trip in vain.  As is typical, few bothered to put in pre-orders for the book with us, despite our asking for them.  Of those that did, exactly one put in a pre-order far enough in advance to allow us to adjust our orders to accommodate them.  Everyone else called in a pre-order two or three days before our street date, far too late for us to adjust our orders upwards to take advantage of the level of interest that increased from a very low level to off the charts.
From what I have heard from other retailers, they experienced similar sales of the book with almost all underestimating demand and scrambling to put in re-orders to arrive next week.  We haven't seen such excitement over a non-TCG release since, well, 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons and I could make a valid argument that interest in D&D 5th Edition rivals that in 3rd, given the levels of disappointment players have expressed in 4th over the past year and the anticipation with which they have awaited 5th.  It shows that while more of our customers play and buy Pathfinder on a day to day basis, Dungeons & Dragons is still the stronger brand by far, ruling top of mind both in the hobby game market as well as the casual customer.  According to one of my distributors, Paizo Publishing plans to ship the Advanced Class Guide and, possibly, the Iron Gods campaign book to arrive this Wednesday, just before Gen Con.  Needless to say, though we have a strong Pathfinder Society community locally, no-one has put in a pre-order for a copy of either.
Dungeons & Dragons is, in the eyes of most people outside of the hobby game industry, THE role playing game.  They haven't seen Pathfinder, Castles & Crusades, FATE, 13th Age, Numenera or Dark Heresy played on Community or The Big Bang Theory.  Despite the fact that D&D did not rank in the Top 5 sellers according to ICV2's spring sales chart (though lack of new D&D product certainly had something to do with that), viewers saw Dungeons & Dragons played and in the viewer's minds, there are no others.  Casual customers will come in looking for the new D&D books, as they have heard of them through popular media and we will hopefully sell them a copy of the $20 Starter Set.  While I expect to sell quite a few Advanced Class Guides and fewer copies of the Iron Gods campaign, I do not expect to have any casual customers coming in looking for either of those books.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of