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 looks at online discounting of the latest Dungeons & Dragons release.

Volo’s Guide to Monsters, which I discussed in a column a few weeks ago regarding its variant covers, released this past Friday to Wizards Play Network stores, about a week and a half before the mass market gets copies.  The book releases widely on November 16, but the FLGSs in good standing with Wizards of the Coast got them early with permission to sell them on November 4.

Initial sales have proved quite strong with several stores posting their strongest sales for a Dungeons & Dragons product since the release of the three core books.  Stores have reported sales of 6, 18, even 40 copies in one day, blowing away their prior best day of RPG sales in the past four years.  The combination of limited edition cover and availability two weeks prior to the mass market and Amazon appears to really have stoked sales.

In fact, the advance sales policy in place for WPN stores is one of the reasons cited by many retailers for the strong sale of the D&D line over these past two years.  Unlike other RPG companies, which release widely online on the same date their books hit the shelf in the brick and mortar store, D&D books hit brick and mortar shelves first, then online, where they are typically discounted, two weeks later.  Ergo, the Dungeons & Dragons customer who would typically order the book online to save money and get the book two to three days later, now has to pre-order the book and wait two weeks, while their friends are thumbing through the copies they purchased at their local FLGS.  Seeing other people have a book that you want proves a powerful motivator for the customer to buy the book now, rather than waiting until the copy they pre-ordered from Amazon arrives.

Unfortunately there are always those people who cannot leave a good thing alone.  A quick search of eBay on the day after the release shows at least 16 sellers offering Volo’s Guide to Monsters mass market cover at prices ranging from $30 to $45 and the limited edition retailer cover for $35 to $50.  As the retailer sees it, "Hey, I have this cool thing that not everyone has and I have more than I can sell, so let’s put it up on eBay (Amazon apparently will only allow pre-sales of the book until November 16) and make some extra sales."

Of course other retailers, not being dumb, will have the same thought, so when our retailer goes to post their copy of the book on eBay, they see 15 to 20 other stores have already done the same thing.  So what does our retailer do?  Well, since these are all the same book, they have become a commodity online and economics tells us we differentiate between commoditized products through price.  So, post it online and charge full retail but offer free shipping.  Of course, then what does the next guy with the same idea have to do in order to differentiate their copy of the book?  Post it online with free shipping and a slight discount, not enough to hurt, maybe 10%?  The next store with the same idea, drops the price a few more percentage points and the next a few more.  Meanwhile, the customer looking online sees all of these copies of Volo’s Guide to Monsters, all at decreasing percentages off (cheapest I saw it for was 40% off) and buys it at the lowest price, because that’s what customers do.

Discounts devalue the price of the book as well as train the consumer to look for them.  It’s a vicious circle, much like that created by the devourer (page 138).

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of