The Alexandrian

One-Page Rip-Off

July 5th, 2010

I received an interesting e-mail this morning from Tabletop Adventures:

[W]e also have other news about the Dungeon Codex: you now have an opportunity to get this great product in print! Tabletop Adventures and Philippe-Antoine Ménard, the Chatty DM, have jointly set up a project on the website KickStarter. This is a site that assists people with creative projects to raise funds to make their plans a reality. We are using KickStarter to gather support for a small print run of the Dungeon Codex.

The One-Page Dungeon Codex 2009 contains the winning entries from the One-Page Duneon Contest, including my own Halls of the Mad Mage (Best Geometry). I wasn’t getting this e-mail because of my contributions to the book, however. I was getting it because I’d downloaded a copy of the PDF.

Following the link to KickStarter, I found a pledge system: For $3 you’d get an acknowledgment in the book. For $30 you get a printed copy. For $300 you get 10 copies.

What’s a little hazy, however, is exactly where this money is going. The project promises that the PDF will “become available as a special printed product”, but what does that mean, exactly?

Are they just talking about the copies being provided to pledgers? While they’re charging about $30, a quick investigation at Lulu reveals that you could print up a color copy of the book for about half that. That’s a pretty awesome profit margin for Tabletop Adventures.

(And if they’re not using Lulu, then they’re using a service like it. The minimum pledge threshold for this KickStarter project isn’t sufficient for anything larger than that.)

Are the pledges being used to fund a larger print run? Which they will then sell? If so, that’s an awfully one-sided business model they’re pitching to you. They’re basically asking you to provide the investment capital and then they’ll pocket all the profit.

Despite what you may be thinking, this post isn’t about freelancer rage. By submitting the Halls of the Mad Mage to the contest I released it under the Creative Commons license. They’re free to do whatever they want to with the module (along with everyone else in the world) and I’m not entitled to see a single penny of they money they make along the way. (Although the fact that they’ve turned a fun little community contest into a profit-generating enterprise will certainly influence my decision on participating in future versions of this contest.)

What I’m warning you about is a company trying to rip you off as a consumer.

So if you want a printed copy of the One-Page Dungeon Codex, here’s what you want to do:

(1) Download the free PDF.

(2) Go to Lulu.

(3) Set-up the PDF as a personal print job.

(4) Buy a copy for yourself.

This, it should be noted is perfectly legal: You have a copy of the work you are legally entitled to own (the PDF). Making additional copies of that work for your own personal use (even using third-party services like Kinko’s or Lulu) is legal. What you can’t do is distribute additional copies of that work to other people. (So don’t do that.)

And you’ll pay about half the price that Tabletop Adventures is looking for. Heck, you could even print up a hardcover edition of the book and still end up paying less.

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One Response to “One-Page Rip-Off”

  1. Justin Alexander says:


    Or do what I do: own your own duplex laser printer, print out any PDF you want, go to Staples and have them bind and cover it (spiral binder, up to 350 pages) for $3.49 a pop. No shipping required and no one questions whether you have the legal right to own the document.
    Thursday, July 08, 2010, 6:26:52 PM

    Justin, you write: “You have a copy of the work you are legally entitled to own (the PDF). Making additional copies of that work for your own personal use (even using third-party services like Kinko’s or Lulu) is legal. What you can’t do is distribute additional copies of that work to other people. (So don’t do that.)” It seems to me that the Creative Commons Share Alike license makes sure that all derivatives (including the PDF uploaded to Lulu) may be copied and distributed under the same license. Thus, anybody can take the PDF, post it on Lulu, and try to make whatever profit they want (or none at all). Whether that is or is not cheaper than what Chattty DM is offering, I haven’t looked at.
    Tuesday, July 06, 2010, 8:21:52 AM

    I touched on this below in a response to Justin. The PDF isn’t entirely covered by a CC license, and CC licenses don’t infect other non-CC work in a compilation, like the GPL and some other licenses do. (See section 1, part a. of CC-BY-SA 2.5.) Because of that, republishing the PDF (or even portions that include non-CC layout graphics on the same page) wouldn’t pass Lulu’s policy on copyrights.

    However! If someone wanted to take the original dungeons and the one-page template from the free download (as those are entirely licensed CC-BY-SA 2.5) and do the layout for a new PDF, that could certainly be republished where-ever and at whatever price.
    Tuesday, July 06, 2010, 11:39:02 AM

    Ah, interesting. I had missed that. Too much time spent reading the GPL! Smile
    Tuesday, July 06, 2010, 5:37:22 PM

    d7 is correct regarding the copyright of the Deluxe PDF. He remains wrong regarding Lulu’s terms of service.
    Tuesday, July 06, 2010, 11:57:02 PM

    This is a possibility, and I’ve said as much. It would still be poor advice to tell someone to try it without pointing to a clear statement from Lulu. Their “do not upload anything you don’t own” statement is strong enough to call for more than hearsay.
    Wednesday, July 07, 2010, 1:48:48 AM

    Justin Alexander
    It’s adorable when people just make up quotes.

    I encourage everyone to look at the Lulu Member Agreement for themselves. No one in these discussions is a lawyer, but I’d strongly urge people not to rely on d7’s made-up quotations and demonstrably false claims regarding Lulu’s privacy options when making any sort of decision. And if you feel uncomfortable with Lulu as an option, then there are plenty of other POD and local print shops that will do the job for you.
    Wednesday, July 07, 2010, 11:18:50 AM

    The Chatty DM

    With that said, it’s clear to me that your willingness to investigate this properly was coloured by your intent to cry foul from the get go, otherwise you’d given us the benefit of the doubt (which you didn’t) and you’d have taken a few minutes to actually contact me (the contest’s initiator and main sponsor of the printing of the book) to voice your concerns and we’d have had a civilized discussion about this.

    You chose another path that, I find, too many uses on the net currently.

    I built my place on the net on being straight and supportive of the community, the crap you just pulled validates 100% why Chgowiz left the arena in disgust last year.

    I expect an apology, at the very least one by email.
    Tuesday, July 06, 2010, 7:46:09 AM

    The Chatty DM
    I’m really really sorry that you posted that up before checking with Tabletop Adventures and myself. I won’t honey my words because you didn’t either. You are saying we are ripping people off and I say that you were biased from to get go or too lazy to do your ‘investigative job’ right.

    The book is being printed , in color, by one of Tabletop’s supplier and put through Kickstarter because no one on our side can afford to finance this project and keep it as a non-profit one in the sppirit of the contest. Thus the project allows fans to get their hands on the book at a price as close to cost as possible, after Kickstarter’s and Credit Card charges. That includes shipping.
    Professional off-set printing runs, when below 500, are expensive. The book costs around 23-25$ to print in the numbers we estimated we’d get pledges for.

    We were planning to get the book into POD but for that to happen, our volunteer working on the PDF would need to make significant changes to the file, time he can’t commit to right now.

    Cassandra’s comment about printing more to sell at cons is confusing, granted. We haven’t planned up to that point beyond “it would be cool if we could manage to have a few for people to get copies at Gen Con”. As of last night’s discussions with them, any extra money that would come from the supporters (including the 3$ pledge, of which we only got one so far) will go toward printing more books that we’ll offer at gaming charity auctions or give away in contests and the like.

    Thus, as I understand the project, Kickstart won’t provide enough ‘free capital’ to print more books for sale… or if it does, you are calling us thieves for a handful of copies.

    It is my intention to provide TA with my own capital to add a certain number of copies to the initial print run to create an inventory for cons that we can hopefully sell to finance future runs, in that d7 is right that this might bring the cost down for the whole print run (But I plan to just add 10 or so copies… so I doubt this will change anything).

    I will clarify all this in my post… thanks for bringing this up.

    Tuesday, July 06, 2010, 7:46:00 AM

    Justin Alexander
    “As of last night’s discussions with them, any extra money that would come from the supporters (including the 3$ pledge, of which we only got one so far) will go toward printing more books that we’ll offer at gaming charity auctions or give away in contests and the like.”

    I’m glad that being called out publicly has caused you to figure out exactly what you’re doing with people’s money. That’s a positive development. And I’m sorry if you feel like you got your toes stepped on, but your rationale for soliciting donations to fund a marketing campaign for an endeavor you admit is for profit remains hazy even after you clarify that it’s only a marketing campaign that you’re looking to fund (and not the actual production costs of goods that you’ll sell).

    My suggestion? Do business like professionals. If you have a product you want to sell for profit, then you should market it as a product that you want to sell for profit. Create a budget. Solicit preorders (not donations). Print the books. Ship the books.

    As it is, you’ve taken a fun little community contest and commercialized it into a for-profit venture which you’re funding through a solicitation for public donations. That doesn’t make you a thief. But it does mean that I’m going to recommend that people try to find a cheaper and less questionable method (within legal means) of obtaining a book built on CC content that I, in part, created.
    Wednesday, July 07, 2010, 12:19:44 AM

    Hi. I posted a rather lengthy explanation of how this print project developed, as a response to The Chatty DM’s blog post. It appears that my quick comment needed to be much more clear, as it seems to have generated a lot of confusion. I would like to point out, though, that the policy of using any extra funds to finance copies to be donated to the RPG community was set long before anyone was “called out publicly” this week. It was discussed – as in, “yes, that is indeed what we are doing” – but no change has been made since Chatty’s blog post was written.
    Wednesday, July 07, 2010, 2:35:47 AM

    It’s not actually possible to use Lulu (legally) for private printing because product pages are public and searchable, so anyone can buy. Lulu’s terms of service specifically forbids using it for printing of PDFs that the uploader doesn’t hold the entire copyright on, for that reason.

    Judging from Lulu’s pricing information and the size of the PDF, the cost to print the book perfect-bound is $16.30. (That may be $0.40 off, depending on whether they count the covers in the page count or just cover that with the perfect-bound charge.) Considering Lulu’s shipping and handling costs are usually $10 to $20 for a single 8.5″x11″ book (depending on how close the ordering customer is to one of their printing partners), Lulu probably wouldn’t be cheaper even if it were legal. (However, it might be slightly cheaper for a customer in Germany since the Kickstarter project has international shipping at $40, while I know that Lulu has local printers in Germany that make it significantly cheaper for German customers than it is for, say, Canadian customers who get US-printed Lulu products. Still would be a TOS violation though and likely illegal in most countries.)

    I don’t know how Tabletop Adventures typically does their printing, but since they’re an established publisher and seem to do small but significant print runs for their other products, I wouldn’t assume that they use a POD service like Lulu. More likely they use a print shop local to them that they have an ongoing relationship with.

    On the subject of profit motive, from the item in my feed reader two below this one announcing the Kickstarter project it sounds like the print copies are priced at or near cost. So, I’m not too worried that this is an attempt to overcharge anyone. Possibly early adopters will be overcharged in the sense that they’ll be paying for the offset printing setup costs; if the price is kept at cost and another print run is done, later buyers will likely get it cheaper. That’s a justifiable danger of early adoption though.
    Monday, July 05, 2010, 2:27:40 PM

    Justin Alexander
    It doesn’t appear that the “Private” option has been removed from Lulu. Nor do the terms of service you link seem to say what you’re claiming they say. And when I order a book of comparable size on Lulu I get a shipping cost of $3.99. And if I bumped my order to $20, I could get free shipping. (For example, you could toss this in your cart.) So, basically, nothing you’re saying about Lulu appears to be true for people living in the United States. It’s certainly possible that international customers could have different math (and different laws) at work.

    The post from ChattyDM you link to doesn’t really help to elucidate the matter. We’re told that this is a “non-profit endeavor”, so where is the money going from the $3 donations? Ah, apparently “any extra funds will go to finance extra copies for conventions that I and/or Tabletop Adventures would attend.”

    And I’m assuming that these extra copies, in ths spirit of this “non-profit endeavor”, will then be given away for free?

    Oh, no. Not so much. Cassandra from Tabletop Adventures adds the comment: “We hope we can print enough copies to have a few to just sell at GenCon, but there’s no guarantee of that.”

    That’s a… fascinating definition of “non-profit” they’re working with there.
    Monday, July 05, 2010, 8:48:08 PM

    My mistake, it’s not the “Terms of Service” to which I linked; it’s the Member Agreement. As for that, “you cannot post content that you don’t own or have permission to publish” is clear enough to my mind. The further details in the Content section back that up with (relatively) straightforward legalese.

    I didn’t know about the private upload option, but looking through Lulu’s support topics indicates that printing from a private upload is supported. So you’re right there. However, looking through the topics further, the only context covered are when the owner is printing their own work privately. This seems to support, though not confirm, people’s reports elsewhere that I’ve read (that I do not have a link to, alas, as it was several instances over time, a while ago, probably somewhere on of their experiences with Lulu that indicated it was policy to forbid uploads of any kind that were not uploaded by the copyright holder.

    As for shipping costs, Lulu seems to give non-Americans a raw deal. Less than a degree north of Washington State the shipping cost is about five or six times what you quote, and free shipping isn’t an option at any price (despite Lulu taunting us Canadians with ever-present notices that our items are eligible for “Free Summer Shipping in the US!” when we check out). So you’d be right for Americans that a private Lulu print would be cheaper, assuming the question about private printing of others’ copyrighted works was answered positively.

    (Incidentally, and I can only speak for Canadian customers of Kinko’s, the cost to get it printed as an inferior spiral-bound book is $46 (CDN) before shipping according to their online tool.)

    Alex mentions up-thread that the CC license means the whole PDF could be resold legally. If that were the case, then all of this (apart form shipping costs would be moot. However, only the contest entries and the Template are covered by the CC license, and CC licenses are not infectious in the same way that the GPL is so the rest of the PDF is still covered by copyright (as it states on p. 3). So, even if a private print were found to be acceptable to Lulu, a public print as Alex suggests would certainly get taken down by Lulu.

    As for the post from ChattyDM, I linked to it only saying the Kickstarter supporters would be getting the book at or near cost, and it was your contention that supporters would be personally ripped off. The post claims that this is not the case, and I didn’t really touch on what might be happening with the $3 supporters. So, my words are not your correct target here. My entire initial comment was intended to provide what I understood to be the facts of the matter (errors and all), to add to the information available to judge the situation.

    Others’ words, I’ll leave to them to defend.
    Tuesday, July 06, 2010, 11:13:10 AM

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