March 17, 2014
Cards Against Humanity, the edgy card game that has topped toy and game sales on Amazon for several years, will soon be available in select retail stores, the game's creators plan to announce Wednesday at an industry trade show in Las Vegas.
The effort seeks to disrupt traditional game distributors by cutting them and big-box stores out of the process.
Cards Against Humanity, which is based in Chicago, instead will distribute the game directly to mom-and-pop novelty, toy and game stores through an online wholesale site they are creating. Sign-ups will begin Wednesday, with the game hitting store shelves in the next two months, co-creator Max Temkin said.
Temkin said the company hopes to allow other independent game creators access to the distribution platform. Big retailers, such as Target or Wal-Mart, would be blocked from making purchases through it, while game creators would get access very cheaply or for free.
"It'll be like Amazon or eBay," Temkin said. "We're creating a platform where anyone would be free to list their game. Retailers would then be able to browse and pick what they like. It's not a licensing agreement."
The model sticks to the image the game's eight creators, all graduates of Highland Park High School, have built around Cards Against Humanity. They're trying to run a business that matches the spirit of the game: nonconformist and anti-establishment.
Cards Against Humanity is a raunchy version of Apples to Apples.
In Cards Against Humanity, a prompt could be: "I got 99 problems but _____ ain't one." And answers could be: "Same-sex ice dancing" or perhaps "Boris the Soviet Love-Hammer." No insult or slur is taboo.
"Somewhere out there, someone is making the next Cards Against Humanity or Settlers of Catan," Temkin said. "It's crazy to me that in 2014 people still have to go kiss some publisher's ass and compromise their artistic vision to get it into production. Film has figured this out. Independent films are where art is being created. YouTube has figured it out. Obviously video games have figured it out. It just drives me crazy that board games are still stuck in the 1960s."
Cards Against Humanity will still be sold on Amazon for $25, and retailers will be able to buy it through the new online platform for $12.50.
"Typically, the way it would work would be, I would sell it to a distributor for $10, the distributor would sell it to the retailer for anywhere between $15 to $18.75, and the retailer would sell it to you for $25," Temkin said. "With our model, retailers get it for a way lower price, and we get a good relationship with retailers. …
"As far as I know no one's done anything like this in board games," Temkin continued. "And that's because the barrier to entry is high. We're building a lot of technology to manage this."
The company also is stocking up on high-quality recycled paper. Cards Against Humanity has sold out on Amazon from time to time. Retailers will be less forgiving than fans.
One of the greatest challenges for any business operating on a small marketing budget is figuring out how to turn buzz into sales, and fans into a sales force.
Chicago product designer Scott Wilson, the founder of Minimal Studio in the West Loop and a former global creative director at Nike, has crafted a solution for his own products, the LunaTik watch kits, ultradurable phone cases and touch pens.
Wilson's TikTok and LunaTik wristbands convert iPod Nanos into wristwatches. In 2010, the products broke a Kickstarter record, raising nearly $1 million and validating crowd funding as a platform for launching new products and businesses.
That put Wilson on the map; he won the National Design Award in 2012.
To keep the momentum going without the help of big retailers, he has created an app called Lunatik Rewards.
"Somewhere along the way, I was hearing all these people were selling our products by word of mouth, on the train and at the bar," Wilson said. "So I was like, how can we activate these fans?"
People can create an account on the app and, if someone says, "I love that watch," or, "That's a cool pen," the app with a click of a button will send the potential buyer an email containing a link that activates a 20 percent discount. If the email leads to a sale, the referrer gets a commission, which he has increased to 20 percent. Yes. In cash. No points. No credits.
To date, Wilson said he has sold about $250,000 worth of merchandise through the rewards app, costing him more than $22,000 in commissions.
"We've done a business-method patent around this," Wilson said at a recent Technori pitch event. "There's a lot of onesies, twosies. And we've got a ton of people using it. But there's this one guy, Clinton, who's a military guy, and we're cutting him a check for $700 to $1,000 a month. It's nice. Rather than give retailers 70 to 80 percent. We can give a little back to our fans."
Wilson said he plans to start offering the software to other word-of-mouth brands within three to six months. Or brands could hop onto their rewards store, which will be called Kikbax and will launch soon.
Of course, for any of this to work, one first has to create a product so good that people want to talk about it.
I'll be on vacation next week with columns returning the week of March 24. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @chiconfidential. Newsletter tinyletter.com/MelissaHarris.
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