After some excellent replies to yesterday's post, some of which were on the line with my own views, I got to thinking some more....
Let's suppose, and it's not unreasonable, given both Moore's Law and the expiry of certain 3D printing-related patents that will considerably reduce the cost of the technology, that in 3-5 years time, quite possibly less, I can get for the same price as my Brother multifunction inkjet, a 0.01mm resolution 3D printer that will handle print jobs up to the size of, say, a decent sized 28mm building, sitting on the shelf in my living room. (More likely the workshop, since they'll still be a bit hot, noisy and potentially messy.)
What's the market for wargaming products going to look like then?
I honestly think the closest analogue is the record market, or perhaps now the book market. In both cases, we can divide the world into three different types of producer:
First up, we have the big companies: in the record industry, the likes of Sony, EMI, CBS etc, even the 'indie' labels; in books we're talking Penguin, Random House, the big publishers. They produce volume product, and they win on economies of scale - the setup cost for a product gets swallowed up by the super-low unit cost and the high volume run. The analogue in the wargames business is plastics - GW, Warlord, Mantic, Wargames Factory etc. Companies who are popular, and can afford, and have the market to risk, the setup costs of plastic in order to reap the benefit of the low unit cost afterwards. The key target here is popular titles, popular artists, popular figure ranges, that the producer knows they can shift enough of to win on sheer volume.
Next up, the smaller companies. We're talking the bands with self-produced CDs on CD-Rs in the record business, we're talking print-on-demand or vanity publishing in the book market. The unit cost is higher, but the win for the smaller market is that the setup cost is lower. In the wargames world we're looking at the likes of Foundry, the Perrys, Crusader etc. The per unit cost of lead is higher, but the setup cost for mould making is massively lower by contrast with the tooling for plastics with the likes of Renedra. But the initial outlay is still non-zero: you have a setup cost: a mould costs money to make.
Next? In the music industry, you have the MP3. Stick it on your band's website, or pay a small fee to iTunes, CD Baby, whoever, and you're laughing. Outlay beyond the sweat of making the recording, next to nothing, unit cost to duplicate (and I'm intentionally not counting royalties in this) effectively zero. In books, it's the same. Self-publish on your own website, Kindle or iBooks: unit cost to you the producer to duplicate, effectively zero.
Let's pause for a moment here. Despite all the hoo-hah about DRM, unauthorised sharing etc, the fact remains that this last model clearly works. If it didn't, there is no way that iTunes would be claiming three downloads per human being on the planet (and remember Apple removed DRM from iTunes), and Amazon wouldn't be doing $5 billion a year on the Kindle store. (As an aside, it's an interesting point that over 25% of the top 100 Kindle books are from small independent publisher and/or self-published titles.)
Where does that leave the wargames business?
Actually, I think it leaves it in potentially pretty good shape. The intellectual property exists in the figure design, just as it does in the author's original writing or the musician's original recording. Yes, there will always be people who rip off intellectual properly... That's been true ever since the photocopier and the tape recorder, and probably before - the existence of MP3s and digital versions of books would, you think make it easier, but despite the protestations of, chiefly, the bigger end of the producers of content - this seems not to be killing the market. Despite the doom and gloom that was 'Home Taping is Killing Music', home taping didn't, any more than Napster, or iTunes removing DRM, did.
I see a future where figure designers will be much more prominent, because you won't be buying (say) a Warlord infantry man, you'll be buying a 3D design for a Michael Perry sculpt. I do think this needs the commercial equivalent of iTunes for 3D designs, and I do think it needs to be at least in part dedicated to wargaming and similar, because of two things: one being that search parameters would benefit from being tailored to a wargamer customer, and the other being a subtle distinction between us wargamers and the average consumer...
The distinction, of course, is that people tend to only want one copy of a book or piece of music, We as wargames want anything from one (say Marshal Ney) to tens (a French infantry battalion) to hundreds (a Zulu horde)...
What this does mean is that the pricing model gets interesting: the classy one-off 3D design of Napoleon and the 3D model of the Old Guard both take the same effort, the same disk space... and yet your customer will print one of the former, and potentially a hundred of the latter. If you were selling lead, it's easy - you sell 101 figures, ring it up, move on. Selling 3D files, you sold 2 designs. Question? Is the Imperial Guard design worth more? Less? The same? Can I as the designer add value to it by providing integral basing, model files that print you a block of 2 ranks deep, 12 figures wide in one pass to (say) Napoleon At War basing standards? And yet, by contrast, in a more skirmish-y game, you won't want 30 US Marines all alike, so you may well be willing to pay for multiple designs.
It's an interesting one. What would you be prepared to pay (say) the Perrys for a design that costs you circa 30p a figure to print on your 3D printer? Would it make a difference if it was a design you were only going to use once? Would you pay more for a unit block that your printer could handle in one go and then split up afterwards? If you're semi-useful with a 3D editor, you could do this latter yourself, of course. How much would you pay not to?
The comments section awaits... :D
[And yes. It's after midnight. But I'm counting this as Monday's post because I started it over an hour ago, the first draft was done before midnight, and it's IMPORTANT!]