In response to a query about Gameboard's breaking of the street date for the D&D 3.5 core rulebooks (see 'Gameboard Breaks D&D 3.5 Street Date'), a spokesman for Wizards of the Coast told ICv2, 'We are reviewing our current distribution policies to see if anything can be done to prevent this kind of product leak in the future.' Since Gameboard is not an authorized WotC distributor, the publisher has little leverage over Gameboard's activities unless WotC can discover the source of Gameboard's supply of the books, which did come from an authorized distributor, perhaps in the book trade or even overseas.
ICv2 has received several responses to our initial story about Gameboard breaking the July 18 street date by a week that blame the national book chains for selling WotC products without regard to street dates (see 'Tim Avers On Gameboard Releasing 3.5') and creating an atmosphere of 'anything goes.' It would be hard to argue with Avers' assertion that WotC has more leverage over hobby distributors and direct accounts than it does over Barnes & Noble, which presumably could get along just fine without WotC products. Still, a check of five major chain bookstores in the Madison area found that none of them had the D&D 3.5 volumes in stock as of Tuesday, July 15, though two stores said that the volumes were 'in transit' from distribution centers to their retail locations.
When asked by ICv2 how WotC handles the matter of release dates with the national book chains, a WotC spokesman replied: 'Aside from the complicated, cost-prohibitive 'one-day laydown' deals for major releases (which require legally binding contracts) in the national book chains, the book trade begins shipping product when they receive it. We ship to the book trade so that product will land around the time of the national street date. The goal is for a majority of the product to land within a day or two on either side of the street date. However, the very efficient accounts get product out quickly, while other accounts can take a week or more before product hits the shelves.'
The WotC spokesperson also described how it asked its hobby distributors to handle RPG releases. 'We set street dates for all of our RPG products,' the spokesperson said. 'We've done this for the past two years in an effort to create an even playing field for all of our hobby distribution partners. Hobby distributors generally receive product four days before the street date in order for them to stage their one, two, and three day shipments to increase the likelihood that their nearest and farthest retailers will receive the product around the same time.'
And for its direct accounts, WotC also uses a street date. 'All of our direct accounts are informed of, and are expected to hold to, the street date.'
So there is a difference in how the hobby and book channels are handled, and the even-ness of release depends on WotC's success at timing its chain shipments so that individual chain stores receive their books on or after the street date.
(For a historical perspective and to see how CCGs are handled differently, see our in-depth analysis from December 2001 of WotC's release date policies -- 'Wizards of the Coast Readies New Street Date Policy.')