During GenCon, I had the opportunity for a brief interview with Phil Reed, Chief Operating Officer at Steve Jackson Games, in which we discussed e23, Steve Jackson Games’s PDF e-book store. We’ve mentioned the store a time or two in the past, as when “Reverend Pee Kitty” talked about how the program had expanded beyond its original intended goals. I took the chance to find out from Mr. Reed some more about how this program was working.
Me: What gave you the idea to do e23?
Phil: When I joined the company in ’99 it was already in the works, and it was just Steve looking ahead and saying, "Hey, this PDF format’s neat, maybe we can do something with it." It took a few years to get things up and running, and e23 launched in 2004. The issue was just as it is all the time with our ideas–time to execute an idea.
Me: Now I understand that the original plan was just to reprint out-of-print works?
Phil: Not exactly. The plan was to release out-of-print material in PDF but when I got in there in ’99 we were already discussing completely new releases for e23.
Me: Did you all expect it to have an impact on your print sales when you were going forward?
Phil: We didn’t know. It was something entirely new, and at this point we can say that in our experience the e23 releases have not had any impact on print. We still sell volume.
Me: So basically it added a new revenue stream without taking anything away from the old one?
Phil: As near as we can tell. Part of the issue is the RPG decline in general. There are a couple of key games that are still doing very well. Pathfinder, for example, is doing phenomenally well. But from what we can tell, the e23 releases are, yes, giving us another revenue stream on top of the print releases. We have some fans who actually buy both because they want both.
Me: Do you think that roleplaying games are always going to be PDF electronically, or do you see it moving toward another e-book format that’s more compatible with the readers people use?
Phil: I honestly do not know. I’ve not purchased any other reader except for a Kindle, which I no longer really even use because I decided that I preferred having the physical library. When it comes to RPG releases, I’ve always just used my netbook or laptop.
Me: Have you had any problems with piracy of these e-books that you’ve noticed?
Phil: We’ve seen piracy, and we take care of it whenever we can. When we spot it, we do the best we can to put an end to it. But there hasn’t been so much piracy that we’ve discussed "maybe we should quit" or "maybe we need DRM" or anything. We haven’t seen so much piracy that it’s affected our decisions.
Me: Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Reed.
Phil: No problem, thank you!