Behind The Joy #12: Cracking The Distribution Nut
Distributors are the gate-keepers to the board game industry. They are the industry middlemen that sell your game to game stores so gamers can buy them. They also sell to online stores, so unless you plan on selling games yourself online, you will need to go through them anyway. To be honest, international fulfillment and distribution have been the toughest parts of rolling out Commissioned. There are a hosts of reasons for this. We hope our experience makes it easier for you to crack the distribution nut.
Just The Facts
Distributors buy your game at 40% of MSRP, and sell it to game stores for 50-55% MSRP. This means they buy a $45 game (like Commissioned) from a publisher for $18, and sell it to stores for $22.50-$25. They make their money by working in volume. This means distributors have a vested interest in stock (read games) that will sell quickly. They buy from publishers accordingly. Typically a new game will sell well for 3 months, and then trickle off. It is a lot of work for a distributor to establish a relationship with a publisher, so they want to focus on publishers who will feed them a steady stream of awesome new games to sell. As a new publisher with 1 product, you are simply not who they are looking for.
The Big Boys
Board game distribution in the US is handled largely by three companies: Alliance, GTS, and ACD. Alliance policy prohibits them from working with anyone who has less than 3 published products. As a result, lots of new publishers, like us, are clamoring to get into distribution with GTS, ACD, or both. GTS screens their new publishers using an email form. ACD buyers actually play-test everything they distribute. This means you will need to reserve a prototype for them while your game is in production.
Meeting a distributor in person is absolutely key to success. The best place to do this is at the New Manufacturer’s track at the GAMA Trade Show. The show is held in Las Vegas each year during the month of March. The focus of the show is building industry connections. It is a closed show. This means you must join GAMA (Communicating membership costs $75). Hands down, this was the best money we spent in the publishing process! The distributors have reps at other conventions, but at GAMA they are specifically focused on meeting new manufacturers and retailers. We met the buyers at GTS, ACD, PhD, and Southern Hobby. These meetings opened doors. If we had not gone to the GAMA Trade Show, we would be way behind the eight-ball on distribution.
Let’s say you have done all this, but have only encountered brick walls. Your last option to get into distribution is to use a distribution marketing service. With the rise of Kickstarter, at lease two companies have made getting you into distribution their business. Impressions and Greater Than Games both act as middlemen between you and the big distributors. They bring network connections and warehousing. You bring the game. For this service, they charge a portion (18%) of the distributor price. For our example, this would be 18% of $18 or $3.24. It significantly reduces your profit margin, but it sells games. A third option is to join Double Exposure's Envoy program. This is a marketing/convention service, but they have begun approaching distributors on behalf of their smaller companies, like us. This can be a huge help!
Next time, we will take a look at the final steps you will need to take as you get ready to release your game into the wild. As always, fire away with comments & questions!
Pat & Kat Lysaght