PHNX Hell : Designer Diary

I meant to post the blog last Thursday, but the audio wouldn’t upload correctly, and things got complicated. Before I knew it, it was nearly a week later.

Before I made solo RPG stuff and before I was a writer of anything resembling a book, I was a blogger. I enjoy blogging. Everything I do I tend to do fast, end to end and without much of a break. Blogging suits that feeling of immediacy.

There are two real drivers for this video and blog. The first is that after Pocketquest on the DTRPG discord last year, it was suggested that I create a book, a kind of primer for people new to RPG writing and publishing. So I did. I also know that this is an ever changing business, so I committed to annual updates. When I did the 2024 update it was obvious that we were in a period of transition from the old DTRPG, known as Legacy, to the new, known as PHNX or Pheonix. I think as I was writing the book the change was made to make PHNX the default landing page for all customers, prior to that it had been opt-in. After I had finished the book it was made default for publishers, and then there was a problem that no one could cash out royalties because they had not built that tool into PHNX, so we got an opt out button allowing us to downgrade to the older, working, website and get paid.

I imagine that the 2025 book will be almost entirely PHNX based, if they get around to making the publisher tools.

Sadly, almost nothing in PHNX appears to work reliably. It is almost weekly that there is a report of people not being able to check out with their purchases, and as a store, if people cannot buy stuff it is a major problem.

For us indie publishers the design has taken away one of the most important areas a screen real estate, the category sidebar and top publishers.

It was relatively easy to get exposure on those top publisher sidebars, and the sub cateogies being visible encouraged people to drill down to more specific categories. The more niche the category, the fewer publishers inhabited it, and the easier it was to be one of the top 15 that got named and linked. Links get clicks; those clicks filter out your competitors and, therefore, gain you sales. Dominate enough of the smallest niches and you will find that you have become one of the named publishers in the next level up.

Longtail marketing is about regular and frequent releases, and if you are in that process, then targeting those small niches is entirely possible, if you can start with the most specific niches in an entire branch of the tree, you can become named in a dozen of the smallest niches, and all those sales will help you become named in the next level up. Keep at it until you have hit every category in the tree and it can lead to ever greater exposure.

Or at least it did.

Now that those categories are hidden, there is nothing to draw the customer deeper into the range of titles on the site. How they filter for what publishers they do show is a mystery. The top-listed titles do not translate to getting a mention in the list of top publishers in the same category.

I have noticed a very real and significant drop in sales from DTRPG since the transition to PHNX.

Transitioning into a publishing business is a slow affair. We spend ages trying to build up a back catalog to generate longtail sales, so any change in direction will have no impact on that previous body of work.

When I started, I did a lot of titles for the Community Content Programmes [CCPs]. I then realized that CCPs do not give you any publisher promotion points [PPP], an internal meta currency used on DTRPG and sister sites for buying marketing placements, from banners to deal of the day.

In 2020, 37% of my income came from CCPs. In 2021, it was 25%, the same in 2022 and 24% in 2023. So far, it is sitting at 23% for this year. That change in direction in 2020/2021 was when I realized that I was harming my own future success by focusing on CCPs. The 20+% ever since is my longtail.

I also realized that being entirely dependent on one storefront was not a good idea. Over that same period, the percentage of net profits from DTRPG, etc., has changed.

2020 was 99% from DTRPG, 2021 was 87%, 2022 was 80%, and 2023 was 64%.

It is taking years to wean myself off of being dependent on DTRPG.

The result of starting three years ago to protect myself from DTRPG going tits up, is that I am somewhat more resilient now that PHNX is tearing up everything we know about how to make money on DTRPG. It won’t be long until the PHNX interface is rolled out to DM’s Guild and all the other CCPs with self-contained sites.

I am not exclusive, so I can publish my books anywhere that will sell them.

I use crowdfunding so I can raise money on Kickstarter/Backerkit/Indiegogo, etc, and pay them a much smaller cut than DTRPG, etc.

I do love a good cliches and getting your stuff on to as many sites as possible is about having all roads leading to Rome. You want people to find what you make, and make that discovery easy. This is also a warning about having all your eggs in one basket, it looks like PHNX is a not only a dropped backet, but it is also stamping on the wreckage.

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