A Year Into the Journey

One year ago yesterday, I released the very first issue of Worlds Without Master. Twelve months, five issues, and an Epimas Annex later, here we stand.

  • 157 pages.
  • 11 illustrated short stories.
  • 6 Oh, the Beating Drums!
  • 5 miscellanies.
  • 4 complete roleplaying games.
  • And 1 gloriously illustrated cover.

It is a prime moment for reflection and celebration. We'll get into a few more numbers in a moment and then scry into the future of the ezine, but before all that some gratitude is due.

I must pay tribute to the glorious Patron Horde, without whom all these worlds would be yet unrealized; to the wise, beautiful and ever-patient Emily Care Boss, without whom I don't think I would have made it past issue one; to my grand viziers, Meguey Baker, Vincent BakerEd Heil, Gregor HuttonJason Keeley & Joshua A.C. Newman, whose foresight has saved me from immeasurable misery; and, of course, to the contributors, all the authors, designers, illustrators and editors upon whose toils this ezine was built.

My sincerest thanks to you all for your indispensable part in this journey. You have been the very best of traveling companions.

So, is Worlds Without Master a success? Is it a sustainable model? What have we learned over the past year?

I'm going to begin with some sales numbers, broken down by issue. The dollar amounts from Patreon are estimated using Patreon's 5% fee and an average of 7% in credit card fees, but all other amounts are pretty damn accurate.

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Issue 1

  • Released on September 30, 2013, to 170 patrons, earning $805.76 after Patreon & credit card fees.
  • Sold 214 more issues since release, earning another $682.25 after fees.
  • For a total of 384 issues delivered, earning $1,488.01.

Contributors were paid $931 for this issue. When it was released, I was a little in the hole, but direct sales quickly paid me back. In addition to the money I put up for the other contributors, issue one went out owing me personally $654.10 for "Strange Bireme" and all the other work I put into it.

It still owes me just under $100, but it's getting there.

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Issue 2

  • Released on November 30, 2013, to 232 patrons, earning $1,050.14 after Patreon & credit card fees.
  • Sold 156 more issues since release, earning another $477.08 after fees.
  • For a total of 388 issues delivered earning $1,527.22.

Contributors were paid $941 for this issue. When this one was released, I made a bit of money beyond the contributor costs, but it still owed me $514.96 for my own work, including "One Winter's Due" and Wolfspell.

It has come a long way since, and has only about $40 to go before it can pay me off completely. I suspect it will be the first issue to do so. (I have some secret plans in the works for the anniversary of this particular issue. It's all very hush-hush right now, but a wary keep an eye out this winter.)

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Issue 3

  • Released on March 31, 2014, to 322 patrons, earning $1,292.84 after Patreon & credit card fees.
  • Sold 238 more issues since release, earning another $733.25 after fees.
  • For a total of 560 issues delivered, earning $2,026.09.

This is the outlier, the Swords Without Master issue. Far and away the best seller of the bunch, but also the most demanding to produce, both in terms of contributor costs ($1,354) and in my own sweat. Its page count alone is equal to the two previous issues combined. And Swords was a game almost five years in the making.

I was the tiniest bit in the hole when this one was released, but it paid me back those rather swiftly. However, it still owes me over $1400 for my own work on the issue.

Wait, over $1400? How the hell, Eppy?

I know, it's weird for me, too. Setting out to create this ezine, I had three rules:

  1. Everyone who worked on it would get paid in a timely manner and get paid fairly. No one works for free, even if they insist they are okay with it.
  2. If you have to fuck someone over, make that someone Eppy.
  3. But seriously, don't even fuck Eppy over.

So I hold each issue accountable for the money owed to me for the work I put into it. Using my own submission guidelines, it was pretty easy to calculate the price for my own writing, editing, and game design. I can satisfy all three rules by paying myself the same as anyone else, just at a slightly later date.

For the layout, cover design, and all the other hustle I put into the ezine, I decided to pay myself 10% of what I pay all the other contributors for that issue. This is clearly in violation of third rule, but works out well enough with the second, and it pushes the ezine out at a reasonable size.

To date, issue three has paid for all of that. What remains is cost of Swords. The word count of the game is so far beyond the usual submission guidelines, they are of little help, but they were also my only way forward. I estimated that Swords was about eight times the size of a game like Wolfspell or Sorceress Bloody Sorceress and charged the ezine eight times the usual amount.

In the end, this debt is between Eppy of the Past and Eppy of the Future and Eppy of the Present has spent enough paying off the debts of Eppy of the Past, that he finds it a bit refreshing to see something owed in the opposite direction. But it has also become something of a wager between me and the game. A dare to see if it can deliver on the pay rate I'm offering. So far, I'm rather impressed. It's managed to pay back all the other work I've put into it, including "A Slaying in Smoke," and then go so far as to dig an eighth of the way into it's Swords debt. And it's only six months in.

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Issue 4

  • Released on May 31, 2014, to 365 patrons, earning $1,314.64 after Patreon & credit card fees.
  • Sold 30 more issues since release, earning another $94.44 after fees.
  • For a total of 395 issues delivered, earning $1,409.08.

The first illustrated cover! About a month before this issue was released, the Patron Horde hit the $1,600 milestone that made it possible. Between then and the release date, the Patron Horde lost two members. There's nothing wrong with that. It is, in fact, one of the reasons I prefer Patreon to other subscription methods--no one's locked in. However, these two members happened to be advertisers. Again, there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, when I created the advertising patronage level, I expected a high turnover rate. But the exit of two advertisers caused a dizzying drop in the bottom line. It was a bit scary seeing an issue that was going to be completely covered by the Patron Horde suddenly fall under the $1,340 needed to pay the contributors.

The issue has since covered that gap, but it's still young yet and has about $545 to go before it pays me back for my own work. But I wouldn't be too hard on it, though. It's also the issue that paid for this very website and the design services of the talented Nathan D. Paoletta.

The lessons learned in this issue led to the rise of the Patron Horde initiative that lets any member, regardless of their pledge size, advertise on this site and in the ezine itself.

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Issue 5

  • Released on August 29, 2014, to 381 patrons, earning $1,306.67 after Patreon & credit card fees.
  • Sold 6 more issues since release, earning another $17.51 after fees.
  • For a total of 387 issues delivered, earning $1,324.18.

The first issue released since the new website! Issue five is barely a month old, and there's not a lot that can be gleaned from its data. But for the sake of completeness, it should be known that the contributors were paid $900 for this issue. So the Patron Horde covered all those costs right up front. Plus enough to pay me for either "Day of the Coward" or Sorceress Bloody Sorceress. In fact, one month into it I'm only owed $225.82 for my own work. Not a bad start at all.

This surplus is in part due to the fact that although the Patron Horde almost bounced completely back up to the $1,600 milestone for the illustrated cover, but not quite. And due to the fact that folks have started purchasing ads on an issue by issue basis, outside of the Patreon system.

At the end of the first year of publishing I can proudly announce that Worlds Without Master and its Patron Horde have managed to deliver well over 2,000* individual issues, to pay contributors $5,466, and to pay me $3,095.41.**

Not bad for the first year.

Let us now peer into the misty haze of the future. What paths lay ahead waiting to be discovered? How will we apply the lessons learned thus far? There are more Worlds on our horizon, but what shape will they take?

An interesting pattern may be forming. If you look at the total number sold for each issue, all but issue three fall between 384 and 395. The first issue has, as one would hope, the smallest Patron Horde and the second largest post-release sales thanks to having a full year on the market. And the latest two issues have obviously had far less time to make post-release sales. That said, it's still kind of dramatic to see that--again with the exception of issue three--the total sales of each issue remains almost the same despite a steady rise in the Patron Horde. As illustrated by this really shady chart.

It's only been a year, which has not produced nearly enough data to draw any reasonable conclusions, but we're on an adventure here and the last thing we want is to be reasonable. So let's draw some unreasonable conclusions.

We can safely attribute a significant portion of issue three's sales to Swords Without Master. Since it's release the game has been played at conventions all over the world and has earned it's own little following that rivals the size of the Patron Horde. (Though, admittedly, there's a fair number of crossover between the two.) I think this has driven a lot of issue three's sales, which is not to diminish all the other pieces in that issue. If you've not yet witnessed the massive wagon trains being pulled by teams of mastodons, you owe it to yourself to read Vincent Baker's "In Taruve: the Merchant Train." 

If there's a trend to be seen in the sales of the remaining four issues, it could be caused by . . .

  • . . . new Patron Horde members buying up the back issues they missed, which is good news . . .
  • . . . or folks joining the Patron Horde after buying issue individually, which is even better news.

I suspect more of the former, but if I stare at my data for just a bit too long, and perhaps massage it with a heaping dose of wishful thinking, there arises the barest hint of evidence for the latter.

So much haruspicy aside, it does look as if Worlds may be reaching the limit of its current audience. The quest for new audiences has begun. It may take us to some strange and unfamiliar lands. I do not know what we may find there, but I have heard words whispered in the dark: podcasting, YouTube, ereaders, fiction-based conventions. Thus far I've been resting on my gaming laurels. And while this tactic has served me incredibly well, and in all likelihood will continue to do so, it can only take us so far.

I would be lying if I said I was unafraid, but that is half of the appeal.

* This number is fairly inscrutable. The Twain and Adventuring Party patron levels let folks buy issues for friends at a discount and a whole fistful of issues one and two went out to everyone who participated in last year's Epimas promotion.
**  But still owes me $2,310.82, not that I'm counting.