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2016: The Bundle of Holding year in review

2016: The Bundle of Holding year in review

by Saturday 31 December 2016
I’m Allen Varney, operator of the Bundle of Holding. In 2016, a year of besetting difficulties worldwide, the Bundle of Holding enjoyed an almost tasteless prosperity. Counting the four in progress as 2016 ends, I presented 69 offers that sold a total of (at this writing) 37,288 bundles of tabletop roleplaying game .PDFs and RPG-related ebooks. This matches, almost exactly, 2015’s total of 37,789 bundles, spread among 54 offers. Sales per offer are down, on average — from 700 copies to 541 — but greater frequency made up the shortfall. Since the site debuted in February 2013, Bundle of Holding offers have sold a total of 140,000+ bundles, comprising nearly 1,600 game and ebook titles, to over 37,000 customers.

As always, 10% of each offer’s revenue (after payment gateway fees) benefited one or more charities. Bundle of Holding charity donations so far this year total US$75,364, plus thousands more when the four current offers finish next week. Charity donations since the site’s founding exceed $276,000. As always, I thank all the site’s customers for their generosity. In 2016 the Bundle of Holding supported nearly 20 internationally recognized institutions, primarily Doctors Without Borders, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Heifer International, Human Rights Watch, and Reading is Fundamental. Other beneficiaries included the American Cancer Society, the Environmental Defense Fund, Make-A-Wish International, Ocean Conservancy (the May Blue Planet offer), and Save the Children, as well as smaller charities dear to individual contributors. For his two Mutants & Masterminds 3E offers in August, Green Ronin owner Chris Pramas chose to benefit the Foynes Flying Boat Museum near Limerick, Ireland. It may startle you to learn this was the first time a Bundle offer benefited any flying-boat museum anywhere.

Other new charities of interest to gamers: Bodhana Group, which advocates for RPGs in mental health therapy, and (beneficiary of this month’s Valiant Universe offer) The Hero Initiative, which helps comic-book creators in need. The Family-Friendly RPGs Bundle +2 offer now in progress benefits The Game Academy, which uses RPGs and live-action roleplaying as teaching aids.

Landmarks of 2016

This year’s hits included January’s Dungeon World +2 (1,617 copies, $28.5K), November’s Old School Revival +4 (1,058 copies, $21.9K), and July’s Lamentations of the Flame Princess (1,611 copies, $38K) — the site’s sixth-bestselling offer ever. I was especially proud of the March PARANOIA Classic offer (888 copies, $31.4K), which brought to .PDF for the first time ever (legally, anyway) the original great adventures from the game’s Old Reckoning days at West End Games. My service to Friend Computer goes way back: I co-wrote (with Warren Spector) one of the first PARANOIA adventures, Send in the Clones (1985), and in 2004 I designed the Mongoose Publishing edition and packaged the support line.

This year I experimented with bundles of miniatures games and the RPGs they inspired. All these collections — Iron Kingdoms, Fat Dragon Terrain Sets, Osprey Miniatures, and Through the Breach — sold great! I’ll present more like these in the months and years ahead. Check out the new Elven Papercraft offer! In contrast, the first offer that included comic books, Valiant Universe (December 2015), sold poorly; I’m not sure what to make of that.

After a year of dormancy, the Bundle of Holding mailing list suddenly, inexplicably started growing. In September it passed 10,000 addresses, a symbolic watershed, then kept rising. At this writing the list has 11,840 members. (Have you signed up? It’s free, and spam-free!)

Meanwhile, the Bundle’s social media accounts continue modestly: Facebook (3,500 likes), Twitter (2,740), and Google+ (2,187). On the Bundle of Holding Pinterest page I post cover images, for lack of better ideas; that page has all of 33 followers.

My unsurpassable social media achievement of 2016, or indeed of any year, happened in December: I was interviewed by a frog!

Revivals in 2016

The 200th Bundle of Holding offer was the November revival of The One Ring Bundle. This year revivals continued at 2015’s frequency, one every month or so. Forty-two of the first 200 offers were revivals, compared to 20 reruns in the first 100 offers.

Customers seem to like revivals best as accompaniments to new companion offers. In February I resurrected the August 2014 Ars Magica Fifth Edition offer (its second revival) together with a new More Magic companion. And the March 2014 Mutants & Masterminds 3E offer returned in August, teamed with the new Power Boost sidekick. You’ll see more like that in 2017. As of now I’m scheduling only three revivals in the first six months of the year, but then a dozen from July onward, most in conjunction with new companions.

Challenges in 2016

The Bundle of Holding has presented titles from well over 200 publishers. In 2016 many (most?) previous contributors, large and small, returned for new offers, including longtime supporters Pelgrane Press, Cubicle 7, Monte Cook Games, Onyx Path, Catalyst, Pinnacle, Evil Hat, Atlas Games, Eden Studios, Far Future Enterprises, Osprey Publishing, and dozens more. This year’s first-time contributors included Kenzer and Company, R. Talsorian, Flying Buffalo, Troll Lord, Dream Pod 9, Daring Entertainment, Hunter Books, Ad Infinitum Adventures, and both Fat Dragon Games and Fat Goblin Games. I hope to work again with them all, and many new ones — if I can find them.

The hardest part of this gig is connecting with new publishers. Many RPG “companies” consist of one designer who posted one brilliant .PDF on DriveThruRPG and then resumed a day job. Some of these folks hold their contact information a tight secret, even get affronted at the idea they should give their customers a way to reach them — “How dare you, suh!” Even assuming I can locate an email address, well, maybe the designer checks email. Maybe not.

This year, reaching small companies got ever harder. Most mid-range gaming publishers know each other; they talk at Gen Con and on industry mailing lists; because I’ve worked in gaming for 30 years, they know me and the Bundle. But this means, by definition, the publishers who haven’t heard of the site dwell far outside the industry, so — if you follow me — they really, really haven’t heard of the site, never mind me. These guys (they’re all guys) are gaming’s Idaho survivalists. When I invite them to contribute, they openly question my invitation and my integrity. It keeps me humble.

Humility is also useful at the other extreme, among publishers too large to have noticed me. A marketing director at Fantasy Flight Games politely responded to my request: “It would take a significant amount of work for us to prepare the complete line of Midnight RPG products for this sort of bundle. I’m afraid I can’t justify the costs.”

Last Wednesday I dreamed Chaosium answered my Bundle inquiries, because Jonathan Tweet had set fire to their skyscraper and we were all fleeing together in an ambulance.

Speaking of giants who bestride the Earth like a colossus, whose merest exhalations make mortals swoon, Humble Bundle offered four collections of tabletop RPGs in 2016. Paizo Publishing’s sensational March Pathfinder Bundle sold 77,503 copies — more in three weeks than I sell in two years — earning $1.2M. The July-August Vampire: The Masquerade offer scored almost a million, and the two November collections of “Fiction Faves” and Frog God Games both sold in numbers I would drool to get.

These gigantic Humble offers reached lots of new gamers outside the hobby. This is good for all of us. But for the Bundle of Holding, Humble sets a ceiling on the size of publishers I can appeal to. Larger companies will go with the big player. At least, so I think in dark moments. In practice, little has changed; I’m still darting under the feet of giants, as I always have.

The year ahead

For all of us, 2017 will be a trying time. I’m planning many offers and, in contrast to my wayward past, scheduling further ahead. I faced four or five hair-raising scrapes last year — fewer than in the site’s tumultuous early years, but still. Right now I’m booking Bundle offers two months ahead, and I’m aiming for four.

I’ve asked site programmer Laura Dean to expand the Bundle codebase to support new, separate sites on different topics. I hope to launch sites that sell bundles of ebooks about military history, art and photography instruction, anime/manga/Asian pop culture, and other subjects not currently served by specialized sites. A friend suggested a site about fishing lures — yeah, okay.

I’m looking for site operators who can assemble and post offers as I do for the Bundle of Holding. The ideal operator is deeply familiar with the topic, with a curatorial sense, and is active on social media as a good citizen of the fan community. If you’re interested, get in touch: allenvarney (at) Gmail.

Meanwhile — sigh — this blog continues to languish. Sorry! I lack time and skill to serve it well. In one respect Beyond the Bundle heartens me: It proves people across the Earth, from the Americas to Europe, south Asia, Mongolia, and even the Pacific islands, all share a common goal: trying to hack my blog. Yet though much of this site’s traffic consists of relentless brute-force marauding — hundreds of attempts a day, sometimes hundreds per hour, all apparently coordinated through Ukrainian botnets — Beyond the Bundle also welcomes many humans just like you, and I’m not serving you as well as I’d like. One of these days!