How About Free PDFs?

digital files

Why aren’t PDF files free?

This question comes in quite a bit and I am hearing about it more from other publishers lately. People message asking why .PDFs of published titles aren’t free or why their print version doesn’t come with a complementary .PDF. It seems like a simple thing to deliver a digital version of the book to a customer. The thinking is that the publisher doesn’t need to print and handle a physical product, so why charge? After all, the customer has to use their own resources to print all those pages.

PDF filesWhat follows isn’t intended to be a “rant” or complaint. I am hoping it comes as an informational piece explaining why all publishers shouldn’t be expected to hand out free pdf copies of their work unless they justify it internally for other purposes.



What’s in a production?

There are a number of things that go into producing a book for gaming and other uses.

  • Writing
  • Play through
  • Editing (multiple passes)
  • Re-write
  • Illustration
  • Layout
  • Print prep
  • Digital layout adjustment

Each of these steps have a cost attached to them. Either actual dollars or opportunity cost of time and resources. getting a printed book and shipping it to a customer is not the meat of the operation, but it is the cherry on top of the work.

But you only have to email it!

Handling a physical print copy of a book is not the tremendous piece of work one would assume. What is the heavy lifting, is making sure all the production happens. Writing, editing, illustration, layout people all want to get paid for their hard work. The overhead is all in the creation of the files that go to the printer.

So just send me the digital printer files

This also doesn’t work the same way. Those files for the printer may be large files (Up to or over 100 MB depending on page count and art).  A layout person needs to take the file size file and compress it to a deliverable size for PDF. Also lay covers into the same file and double-check for image and text movement.

Just give me the file without art

We also occasionally get suggestions to provide complementary PDFs without art. That should solve that pesky “charging money” problem! Let’s look at why all these things are problematic for a company in the RPG world. This requires a layout person to go through the entire layout again, pull images and re-lay and align text. Then find any reference in the text to page numbers, or “See above / below” and tables for accuracy.

Layout is what keeps text readable, arranging images within text, matching art with text, fonts, tables, and much more. So it is a necessary piece of print production.

But _________ gives a free PDf with their purchases

Some publishers race to the bottom price and give their work away to get it downloaded or played. This doesn’t increase their profit margin in long or short term runs and is only effective marketing for very short-term advertising goals. It doesn’t improve their customer service or quality. It can easily end up being a situation where the publisher can’t afford to continue producing quality products because the expectation is set to “free” with their customers. Again, I don’t see the internal workings of companies that do this, so I don’t know how they do this.

So Yes, we charge for our .PDF files. They come cheaper than the print version because we don’t print and ship them. They are cheaper because we want you to play our games. The file you are delivered has still been through layout, proofing, testing, and editing. It is STILL a copy of the book, but delivered in a digital medium for your device, which likely resides on your gaming table for convenience and full use.


If you want to support the hobby and the publishers that work to improve and make it grow, respect the work that goes into creating great adventures. Sharing a .PDF on public sites for download or with other groups, hurts the small niche market we have built. Illegal sharing of the files is stealing from the creators and hobbling their ability to produce more and better content.

So yes, it IS worth paying a few bucks for the .pdf with your print copy. You are gaining value from the product by having it on your device, maps print easily, character sheets, search features and more. The .pdf isn’t an arbitrary after thought of a printed book, it’s the heart of the creation. So maybe it’s worth a little extra.




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