July 2, 2022 Luke Miller

Why I’ve Happily Given Away $2k+ of Books as Free Community Copies

in Design and Publishing, Publishing

When I started getting more into tabletop roleplaying games in 2019, I noticed a new term popping up on various books and games I saw on the marketplace Itch.io: “community copies.” After learning more about these programs that various tabletop game publishers support, I knew that after I launched Journey I would want to have my own community copy program set up.

And I’m just really glad I did.

What are tabletop RPG community copies programs?

The general concept of a community copy is this: if someone visits your game’s page and would like to be able to play it, but might not currently be able to afford the game for whatever reason (we don’t ask, and we don’t judge), there are free copies made available to the community to allow those folks the chance to play.

The Community Copies form on Itch.io for Journey by Graycastle Press
What the community copies options for Journey look like on Itch.io

Those copies are finite, with only a certain number of digital copies of a game being made available at a time. Those copies get replenished every so often, with most publishers who have communities copies program tied to sales and community support.

Sales may replenish community copies by hitting certain sales goals. For example, maybe you sell 100 copies of your game and want to acknowledge the community, so you add some copies to the available set of those available.

Community support often comes in the form of a version of a game that costs a bit more than a single copy would, with the idea that someone can buy the game for themselves while also buying an additional copy to donate to the program, making the game available for someone who could use it.

How has Graycastle Press’ community copies program done?

Graycastle Press has offered a community copies program since the beginning, with our bestselling worldbuilding solo tabletop game Journey being available as community copies since the beginning.

Since then, my newest release Tome has also been release as community copies.

To date, since the beginning of my publishing journey, the Graycastle Press community copies program has been able to offer folks who might not otherwise have been able to buy my books 215 digital copies of books valued at $2,147.85. Those have come from a healthy mix of community support and my own addition of blocks of copies when meeting sales goals.

Not a small number, and one that makes me incredibly happy that the community of folks who have purchased and continue to support my books have the same support for their community at large.

How can tabletop roleplaying game publishers implement their own community copies programs?

If you’re a tabletop roleplaying game publisher who would like to offer community copies, you’re largely limited by your marketplaces. Itch.io is the only marketplace I’ve used (so far) that even offers tools that let you make it happen, and only through the use of their Rewards system (more on that below).

Selling DriveThruRPG doesn’t really offer a streamlined way to accomplish this, but I have some thoughts on how it could technically be done, albeit in a limited fashion.

Offering community copies on Itch.io

You can get an example of what this might look like on your page by visiting the Journey Itch.io page and scrolling down to the Community Copies section.

Head to your Dashboard, click Edit on your game, and look for the Rewards tab. It may be hidden under the More tab, but it’s definitely there.

Once there, set up two rewards for your game. You can refer to the image below for how I’ve done this on my game Journey:

Example of the Community Copies Setup for Journey by Graycastle Press
How I set up the community copies on Itch.io for my game Journey

You can see that I have one reward called “Donate a Community Copy” which is the option that allows customers to purchase an additional copy to be added to the available community copies, and one titled “Community Copy” which is the actual free option.

Note the price points on each reward, as if you flip these (as I have in the past) it will look like the free copies are paid, and vice versa.

In addition, also pay attention to the Total Quantity field. When creating a reward, this will indicate how many copies can be purchased by customers. The “Donate a Community Copy” option could be as high as you like (though note that visitors will see that on your game’s page), but set the “Community Copy” quantity to how many free copies you’d like to make available at launch.

Collecting Emails

You might notice that my “Community Copy” reward has a link to sign up to be emailed when more copies are available.

Example of collecting emails for Community Copies lists for Journey
Example of where I’ve added a link for those interested in community copies to sign up to be alerted when more are available

These are simply links to pages on the Graycastle Press website specific to each title where I added signup forms for their respective community copy programs.

The Community Copies mailing list signup page for Journey by Graycastle Press
Journey’s actual community copies mailing list signup form

This has resulted in hundreds of signups of interested people over the last year or so, far more than the actual number of community copies than I’ve been able to distribute. However, I keep them engaged and ensure to let them know first when more copies are being added. I’ll also occasionally offer these folks discounts on the game they signed up for, in case that price break makes the game’s price easier for them to manage.

I try not to market to my community copies lists outside of general mailings from Graycastle Press and deals exclusive to their own lists. I tried to sell to them more actively early on, and got feedback that some felt it was a bit predatory. Since that’s the furthest thing from my goal with this program, I scaled back the content they’re sent pretty massively.

How can I find other tabletop roleplaying game publishers that offer community copies?

Again, unless publishers add community copies programs to their own website shops, you’ll mostly be limited to finding community copies programs on Itch.io. You can search for community copies and you’ll find a ton of lists that users have assembled of games that have free community copies available.

The best way to find these collections on their site (which somehow doesn’t appear to, as of writing this post, offer the chance to search the collections on the site) is to pop this search query into Google:

"community copies" collection site:itch.io

That should find exact matches to “community copies” limited solely to their site.

Example Google search for Itch.io community copy collections
Example Google search for Community Copies collections on Itch.io

Community copies support the community, and that’s a worthy goal

While each book given away as a community copy is technically a hit to my publisher games’ profits, it’s worth it to me to do what I can to help folks who find themselves unable to spend the money on them currently to enjoy the game. I’ve been in that same economic position multiple times in my life, and whatever little things I can do to make this world a little nicer for someone else just feels nice.

They may not lead to money in my pocket, but money isn’t everything. Nor should it be.

What do you think about community copies?

Have you ever offered community copies of your games and books? What was that experience like, and what challenges did you run into?

If you’ve ever received a community copy of a game yourself, what was the experience like? How did being able to pick up a copy of a game you wanted feel?

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