I have mixed feelings about PDFs. On the one hand, they allow authors to write material that would that otherwise might never be published because its target audience is too small for a traditional print run; they also serve as a proving ground for content that proves popular enough to merit hard copy publishing. PDFs also save older books from Out of Print Hell, a singularly unhappy place.
On the other hand, I just can’t get into reading PDFs as they’re sold. When I first started using a computer at home, I spent hours upon hours in front it, reading whatever that happened to be in my field of interest at the time — confession: there were a lot of Doctor Who episode guides and fan fiction on the family Performa‘s hard drive in those days. Somewhere along the way, probably around the time I started spending a lot of time using a computer to do actual work instead of devouring fan minutiae, in college and later professionally, I lost all ability to read long form documents at a computer, or at least the will. A couple times, I’ve done some PDF consumption at Muddy Waters, but even then, I’ve found it a fiddly, unpleasant process. There’s always scrolling up and down, because the content I want is still laid out portrait style, and fooling with the zoom level to make the text readable at a distance without trimming margins.
In short, I’m predisposed to prefer a printed book. So the only PDFs I read are those I want to read badly enough to bother printing out. Granted, I could go the print on demand route, as many of the smaller role-playing game publishers sell their content through printers like Lulu, but that rankles my sense of cost to return ratio. All content being equal, the increased cost of ordering a book printed on demand isn’t worth it. And no, all content isn’t equal to me, but I think you get the point.
Fortunately, I picked up a decent laser printer and inherited most of a case of printer paper some years back. Considering the reduced cost of a PDF versus a traditionally published book combined with the cost of the printer — which steadily amortizes the more things I print with it — and toner supplies, the eventual need to buy more paper and paying Kinko’s five bucks to coil bind a book, I’m still probably paying a bit less than market rate for a text of comparable length and utility.
That works out great, cost-wise. It just becomes a bit more of a chore to pull it all together, in contrast to picking up a book from the local game store or online retailer. So I only do it for books that I absolutely want to read and don’t think I’ll ever be able to get through traditional means. Preorder PDFs mean nothing to me; I’ll wait for the full release. An old White Wolf release? Nah, those are still mostly dime a dozen on eBay. So it’s gotta be out print and hard to get or of interest to such a small portion of the gaming population that it’ll never see the game store shelf.
On the matter of printing PDFs, I typically do it the ordinary way: portrait orientation on 8.5 x 11″ white paper. Most recently, when I ran that Labyrinth Lord game, I tried something different. Since I’d be consulting the text in play, something I’ve never done before, as the PDFs I buy are typically setting material, I experimented with printing two pages to a sheet of paper, single-sided. The end result is a book with printing on one side of every page, making flipping through easier, but the text is about half the size of a mainstream role-playing book, more like a paperback novel in terms of size and legibility.
The layout has its uses, for sure. I think I’d need to get some more table time to see if it was actually useful, or palatable. I don’t think it would ever be my first choice. There’s that bias of mine for “proper” — read: not from Kinko’s or Lulu — printed and bound products again. So it goes, I guess.