Friday afternoon I got into it on Twitter with the AngryGM about online purchases versus going to your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS). It got pretty heated back and forth. I think mainly I was viewing it as an interesting discussion while he was focused on winning his point. That is not what is important. What is important is the discussion itself.
Here’s the thing. I am not a model ‘buy local’ consumer. I don’t buy books, I borrow them from the library. I don’t buy music, I borrow it. I prefer to get electronic copies of things I will be using a lot, like game books. And when I see an outstanding offer like the Pathfinder bundle I talked about a few weeks ago I go ahead and get it rather than buying the hardback copies of all those books, either online or from my FLGS. I know that I am not the model for buying things locally.
But that is not my point. If I want to learn about a game, especially a new one, I do go buy it at the Gamers Haven, my FLGS of choice. I know that if I want to just browse figures, supplies or other game books I can just pop into the store and check it all out. And I do make it a point to try to buy things from the store when I can. For example, one of my monthly treat purchases will be to get Curse of Strahd from the store next week.
This argument/discussion we had last week happened because I saw a tweet from someone stating that they saw no reason to pay $50 for a book at the store when he could get the same thing for 10-15$ less online. And I responded, probably a little too harshly, that I hoped they would be happy trying to find other gamers or more supplies when their local store closed. And Angry called me out. He said he could get any supplies he needed or wanted online. And he could always find new gamers online. So why spend that extra money to the FLGS?
My biggest point was that most people learned about games and in some cases how to play games by going to the FLGS. And that the game companies were terrible about producing games that were easy to introduce on their own. That the FLGS served a necessary bridge there.
I granted that it made little economic sense to pay that extra money for that service. If you look at it purely in terms of economic value, the FLGS occupies a disappearing economic niche. But I don’t think that is the only role of that store. When I buy at that store I pay for the knowledge and expertise of the staff. I pay for the space where I have the option to play. I pay for the ability to browse around and look at a variety of products. I know there is an economic term for that added value, even if it escapes me at the moment.
Now maybe I am sympathetic because I have been frequenting the same couple of stores for close to 3 decades now, buying things from the same people over 2 stores. So I am vested in the success of those FLGS. But I still think that the staff at the store provides a value that makes my extra cost worth it.
Let me take a moment to discuss what I get when I go to my FLGS, which will help prove my point. And contrast with some experiences I had with my favorite local bookstore and record store. First, the store has what I want, or they can order it, this is not a big chain store that always carries the same inventory and anything else is hit or miss. I could say that for the book and record stores I frequented in my youth. Second, the staff is very knowledgeable about their products, able to describe a game, explain how it works, or even provide a demonstration. Not something you will ever get online or at a big chain. And the local record and book stores definitely had that for the most part. Third, the game store provides a space where people can play their games or watch others play in order to see them in action. Definitely not an experience you will get in a big chain. To some extent you could skim a book or hear part of a record in the bookstore but this is more something that is unique to the hobby. Now there is a growing trend online where companies will have recordings of people playing their games so you can see them in action; but obviously, you cannot play the game yourself. Fourth, because there are like minded people playing your games there you can find people to play with; or post on a bulletin board where you can post a request for other players. No way to get that in a chain store. And yes there are online forums where you can locate gamers in your area so the online experience is not a total negative here.
What all that boils down is that if you are paying the markup (where there is one) to buy at your FLGS you are paying for 2 things you cannot get online. The staff knowledge, and a game space. Now the staff knowledge can be a toss up, not every staff has friendly people, or knowledgeable. And for various reasons, not every store will offer space. So those elements are not guaranteed at every FLGS. Which means that it makes perfect sense to take the approach that the FLGS is passe. And I understand that approach. But I think that is more a case to open an FLGS that makes your purchases worth it, rather than shut them out of the economic chain.
All that being said, I do have to point something out. The original Monster Manual, sold in 1978, was priced at $9.95 and was 112 page. If you calculated the straight inflationary value that $9.95 becomes $36.16 in current dollars. The latest Monster Manual for 5th E is $49.95 and at 350 pages is nearly triple in size. So you are paying $13.79 for more than double the content. Some might say that some of the content in the book is fluff, but there are at minimum stat blocks for over 400 different creatures, by comparison, there were 350 monsters in that first Monster manual. And one could easily argue that the quality of the new books is much, much higher. So in economic terms, you are getting a better deal with the new books than has been previously available. Paying that suggested retail value instead of an online discount does not mean that you are getting an inferior product.