ThoughtBubble 2022: A Retrospective
On the 12th and 13th of November, Peregrine Coast Press attended and tabled at ThoughtBubble. TB is an arts and comics festival in Harrogate, UK. It’s a pretty big deal for us in the UK because it’s a huge festival, and one of the only festivals of its kind outside of London. It was super exciting because this was our first ever event of this type and attending as a retailer of indie TTRPGs put us in a fairly unique position.
Let’s dive into some details about how it went. Firstly, the bit everyone wants to know: money 💸
Here’s a rough breakdown of our costs.
And here’s how our sales went:
By all accounts, we did really well. We didn’t really know what to expect, and chatting to other folks around us, it sounds like our totals were amazing.
One thing to keep in mind is that we’re a retailer, and so a lot of that money (usually 50% for TTRPGs, sometimes more for non-TTRPG projects) goes towards buying stock. When you factor in how much we spent on getting there and add in the cost of stock, our profit falls pretty dramatically. We’ve still got to run the numbers on how much profit we actually made, but it’s probably closer to £400 for the whole event.
We already had a card reader but ended up buying a new one, this time from Shopify. We moved our shop over to Shopify earlier this year, and their proprietary card reader plugs straight into the inventory management part of Shopify. That’s really handy when you’ve got as many zines as we do; it meant that we knew how much of everything we had left without having to go through and count everything after the fact (except for the one zine we lost because of a failed card payment, but hey ho).
Things that went well
ThoughtBubble had an amazing vibe - it’s a very diverse, queer-friendly con. Everyone we met was thoroughly lovely, up for a chat, and generous with their time. We also got the chance to meet some other folks from the TTRPG scene, like Matt Sanders and Zach Cox of Rook Rowan Decard, Colin Le Sueur of By Odin’s Beard, Leckie Stuart, Sandy Belmont, and even some of our Filmmakers Without Cameras contributors who we only ever talked to online. All in all, great turnout.
Logistically speaking, we got to pick up some extra stock from Colin and Matt on the day which meant we could save on costs and restock ad-hoc if we needed to. Hugh packaged everything up and had it couriered up to the convention center. We didn’t have to drive the stock, we didn’t have to hire a van, find parking, and so on. We just showed up on the day, picked up our boxes from the loading bay, and went on to unpack. Though we definitely need to buy a trolley because those boxes are heavy.
Our sales were really strong, too. We managed to average about £100 an hour for each hour we were there. As I said above, most of that went on associated costs, but if you’re a solo creator and you make a profit on everything you sell then it’d be a wonderful turnout. We did also have the added bonus of getting a table quite close to the front entrance, purely by luck. We missed the signup period earlier in the year and sent the organisers a “hail mary” email asking about last-minute cancellations. We scrambled to put everything together about two weeks before the event so it was all a bit stressful.
Read more in our manifesto.
Coming off that, our sales of international products were especially strong. We had people who were clearly into TTRPGs come up to the stall, look at our selection, and say: “You’ve got stuff here I didn’t even know you could get in the UK!” That in itself was fairly affirming: Hugh handles our fulfilment work and is consistently working with international creators to fulfil their work in the UK and EU. A lot of indie work from overseas comes through us at this point, which is a really rad position to be in (and one that hopefully sets us up to keep growing over the next few years).
A thing that went possibly too well was the number of dice we sold. It was to be expected, honestly, because folks love dice, but people who bought dice didn’t really buy our zines. I got in on a promotion a few months ago and bought something daft like £800 worth of dice for the low low price of £60, so the profit margin on these (we sold them at £5 a pop despite an RRP of £9 because hey… why not?) was off the charts. They’re light, they take up no room whatsoever (I bought a small rotating jewellery hanger off Amazon to display them on), and they had some folks go absolutely feral from a distance so… worth it, I guess?
On Day 1, our stall was a little disorganised. We had a lot of stock and most of it was scattered around our table. This wasn’t a bad thing per se; as a retailer, variety of stock is pretty key to attracting folks to the table. But, I found it hard to point people towards things they might like - I’d be waving my hands, saying “this and this is a solo game, as well as this and this” and folks would get overwhelmed.
In preparation for Day 2, I went through and organised our stock into three main categories:
- longform editorial (Filmmakers Without Cameras, A Profound Waste of Time, Unexplained Scotland)
- solo games (MIRU, Transmission For Them, Lichcraft, Signal To Noise, and so on)
- the Prep Is Play bundle (everything by Matt Sanders, basically)
- the 5e-adjacent and self-contained games (Book of Gaub, Genial Jack, Electrum Archive, and so on)
This made pitching so much easier. If folks wanted to dip their toes in, they could look to solo games. Experienced players would be drawn in towards Genial Jack, the Matt Sanders work, and Electrum Archive. Some would get their attention caught by A Profound Waste of Time. It also made the (affectionately titled) “5e Upsell” a lot easier - plenty of folks already played 5e, and I could point them towards their tastes by having things neatly categorised. Focusing on the 5e upsell meant we went from zero to 3 and 6 sales of Genial Jack and Book of Gaub, respectively.
The one downside of this is that every item in a category then low-key competed against everything around it. I felt this the most with Filmmakers Without Cameras (because standing next to A Profound Waste of Time… fair enough), and Tiny Library. Tiny Library was such an easy sell that it probably diverted attention away from other items. But we made the clever decision to give away a 10% discount code for our online store to everyone who bought something from us, which means folks will hopefully come back for more in the future.
Things that didn’t do so well
We went into ThoughtBubble with the plan of only taking card. A few folks approached us and asked to pay by cash as they didn’t bring a card to control their spending, which is completely fair. We made the split-second decision to take their cash and worry about it later. What a pain in the arse that was. Change, reconciliation, and cash tracking just added unnecessary stress to the whole ordeal. Next con we’re definitely not taking cash and sticking to it. Sorry if you're one of those people that prefers to pay in cash - unfortunately it's just too expensive and troublesome for us right now.
It’s no secret that our highest profit margins are on things that have been published under the Press, like Filmmakers Without Cameras, Transmission For Them, and Unexplained Scotland. We sold a single copy of Filmmakers across both issues, though Transmission and UnexScot sold 13 and 7 copies respectively. That’s pretty good! They’re both top sellers, though we would have liked to shift more stock. Because they’re our releases, we have a lot of them, and they mostly just take up space.
We were also missing some table decor: I only realised once on the train that I left our stickers and table stands at the print shop. It was a shame (especially the stickers, which we’ll still get a chance to hand out later), though our stall was so absolutely packed that it didn’t pose that big a problem. We did run out of business cards!
By nature of the event, a lot of people were either unaware of TTRPGs, or had experience mostly with 5e. A lot of stock we hold is very different to 5e, so it meant folks mostly looked wherever we pointed them. This meant that we could control what sold quite well , but it also meant that we had to be switched on and in sell mode the entire day. One thing we’re considering for the next convention (Dragonmeet 2022 — see you there!!) is a series of small labels that feature blurbs and countries of origin of the games we stock. A bit like you’d see at a wine shop, just to lean into the fact that we work with international creators. We’re not “hard sell” type people, and we want folks to just browse without getting interrupted or hassled, so short blurbs might be better at converting those folks into buyers.
Things to do better next time
A few loose ideas of what we could improve for next time:
- Stronger pitches of the products we have. We have a lot of stock and we’re not fully intimately familiar with all of it just yet - there were definitely times we could have done a better job of describing and selling some items.
- Origin labels. As mentioned earlier, leaning into the fact that we do a lot of import work gives us a slight bit of novelty that could attract folks.
- ‘5e compatible’ stickers. Cut down on the amount of upselling we have to do and show folks immediately that we’ve got something that they can relate to.
- More stock and a bigger table :-) this is a funny one because our stall was absolutely packed and we already had to make a decision to keep some things under the table because there was no room for it up top. But, a retailer lives and dies by their variety, so having things that appeal to more folks is always a good idea.
- As it stands, our stock is 99% TTRPGs, mainly because it’s the ✨Eryk collection ✨ but I’m keen to let everyone else have a say in what we stock. A large part of the Peregrine Coast Press “brand” is that we love print media and we need to lean into that more. More zines, books, novels, and magazines are on the cards. It’ll also mean that we can visit a wider variety of events and cater what we bring to the expected demographic ie. I don’t think we’ll bring more copies of A Profound Waste of Time to Dragonmeet, because the crowd doesn’t seem that way aligned. Plus they’re very big and very heavy.
Did you miss us at ThoughtBubble? Check out our shop!