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2017: The Bundle of Holding year in review

2017: The Bundle of Holding year in review

Sunday 31 December 2017
Allen Varney here — I founded the Bundle of Holding in 2013 and have operated the site ever since. Amid worldwide calamities and distress throughout this awful year, I’m almost embarrassed to report the Bundle of Holding enjoyed placid prosperity. And as clickbait headline writers would put it, this one simple trick made 2017 far and away the Bundle’s best year ever.

This year I presented 67 time-limited offers of tabletop roleplaying game .PDFs and RPG-related ebooks, down from 69 offers in 2016. (Since its February 2013 debut, the site has presented 276 offers with over 2,000 titles.) Every other number this year went way up. Back in 2016 you all bought 37,938 bundles and paid, on average, US$22.77 per copy; this year, with one day left as I write, you’ve already bought a record 50,396 bundles and paid an average of $24.61. (Lifetime, over 46,600 customers have purchased a total of 191,000 bundles.) Average sales per offer in 2017: 771 copies, a high not reached since the site’s balmy beginnings (2013 average: 914 copies). As always, I thank all the site’s customers for your generous support.

The simple trick behind the rise? Each bundle ran longer. In years past, the average offer lasted two weeks. In February, almost on a whim, I extended runs to three weeks. No one complained, and sales never suffered. After its first few days, it seems, each offer settles into a steady linear increase, earning the same daily increment whether the run lasts 14 days or 20.

How long might a Bundle offer run before publishers resist or customers complain? Maybe a month, like a typical Kickstarter campaign? The issue here is the number of simultaneous offers. For six days this past month, 21-27 December, the Bundle site ran a record seven offers at once. Though sales were strong, this risks overchoice. How many offers do you want to see at one time?

Ten percent of each offer’s revenue (after payment gateway fees) benefits one or more charities. The Bundle of Holding’s 2017 earnings for charity total nearly $121,000, counting the six offers still in progress. When I send the checks for those offers, lifetime charity donations will surpass $396K. The most frequent beneficiary this year was Doctors Without Borders. Other established charities benefiting from Bundle offers this year included the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Environmental Defense Fund, Human Rights Watch, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Reading is Fundamental, and several others. Some contributors chose charities close to their heart, such as Arion Games founder Graham Bottley, whose Advanced Fighting Fantasy and Maelstrom Bundles benefited the Yorkshire (UK) Air Ambulance. (“In the area where I live it is a literal life saver,” says Graham. “I very nearly needed it myself a couple of years ago.”)

Eight offers this year benefited the Roleplaying Game Creators Relief Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides financial assistance to tabletop roleplaying game creators facing medical emergencies, natural disasters, and other catastrophes.

Milestones, 2017

As I reported in my 2016 review, in September 2016 the Bundle of Holding mailing list shook off the slumber of years and started growing sharply. That growth continued through 2017, and in December the list passed 18,000 addresses — a wonderful holiday present. It’s free (and spam-free), so please join us!

In April 2017 the Bundle of Holding helped Hero Games bring the entire Fourth Edition line (1989-2001) of Champions, The Super Roleplaying Game to .PDF for the first time. Some of the first work in my 30-year career as a writer and game designer was for Champions 4E, and my heart warmed to see Hero’s Jason Walters take great pains to do right by this fine line. Customers approved, buying the Champions 4E Essentials and 4E Universe offers in superhuman quantities.

The July 2017 Flying Buffalo Catalyst Bundle prompted Rick Loomis at Flying Buffalo to convert the Catalyst CityBook line to .PDF. In the 1980s and ’90s these generic fantasy supplements presented many imaginative designers. I was glad to help bring their excellent work to a new audience.

And for the November 2017 Worldbuilder’s Toolkit +5 offer of gamemastering aids, Palladium Books kindly brought to .PDF the 1999 fifth printing of its classic Compendium of Weapons, Armour, & Castles. That terrific book was just one ornament in a stellar collection that also featured an exclusive collection of cartographer Alyssa Faden’s Hand-Drawn City Maps, among many other treasures. Of the site’s regular annual series — OSR, Indie Cornucopia, Nerves, Tentacles, et al — the Toolkit sells best, and this year’s Toolkit +5 scored a record for the series.

But the undisputed sales champeen of 2017 was September’s spectacular Bundle of Lamentations +2, the all-new sequel to the July 2016 collection featuring James Raggi’s gorgeously horrific weird-fantasy RPG Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I tell you true, the LotFP line’s conspicuously non-worksafe, 18-and-older content and heavy-metal attitude — well, it scared me. I feared attacks from some moral entrepreneur rousing panic. But James pushed the offer as if on a mission from Satan, and his promotion was — what’s the word? — unique. He got a list of the Bundle’s past top sellers, and as the Lamentations offer moved up the ranks, he would taunt the game on the next rung up, hoping to draw notice. Who even thinks of that?! But it worked: When James trash-talked Cyberpunk 2020, somehow the 4chan gang got wind of it and flocked to see the offer. Sales exploded, and by the end of its (extended) run, the Bundle of Lamentations +2 topped the Bundle of Holding all-time bestseller list.

Lowlights, 2017

Aside from half a dozen unpopular offers, 2017 brought embarrassments and a tragedy. In January, with the first Fading Suns offer, I made my biggest mistake ever in a Bundle lineup: I claimed the rulebook was the Revised Second Edition (2009) from Redbrick Limited, but it was actually the Revised Edition (2014) from FASA Games. Ooops. I had to prepare a Fading Suns Bundle +2 in May to rectify the error.

The year’s other big blunder continues: October’s Shadows of Esteren Bundle +2 included the beta version of the long-awaited Esteren campaign book, Dearg. Publisher Agate RPG swore up and down the final version would be ready before the offer launched — and then before it ended — and then soon after it ended — and, and, and… A month ago they said they were just fixing “a few last typos.” They still haven’t provided the complete book. That was/is a learning experience. [UPDATE 04 JANUARY 2018: I’ve received the complete Dearg .PDF and posted it on customers’ Wizard’s Cabinet download pages.]

All that paled, though, compared to the June death of Stewart Wieck, co-founder of White Wolf Game Studio, founder of Pendragon publisher Nocturnal Media, and original designer of Mage: The Ascension.

The year ahead

I’m planning 67 offers in 2018, including a dozen revivals with 9-10 new companion offers. (Compare 2017’s 16 revivals with eight new companions.) I already have all these offers penciled in, though mostly I haven’t yet (ahem) informed the contributing publishers. Right now I’m lining up offers for April, and I hope to stay months ahead throughout the year — a calming change from the weekly hair’s-breadth escapes of the site’s early years.

The Bundle codebase changed little this year, as the site programmer struggled with the aftermath of grave illness. But I’ve brought in new talent, and I hope in 2018 we’ll make the site more mobile-friendly (an app, maybe?), add new payment gateways (especially some for international customers), and even spin off new bundle sites that appeal to different audiences.

For America and the world, 2018 means another 365-day horrorshow. Andy Richter’s December 2016 tweet still holds: “It’s a great time to be alive if you’re dumb and mean.” But as long as the Bundle of Holding can entertain hobby gamers who are smart and kind, I’ll keep doing my best. I hope the new year’s offers please you, and again, thank you for your support.