"The best they can hope for with this thing is to be as successful as the Mr. T cartoon back in the 80s. But really, it has no chance even of that. Back then, kids had some idea of who Mr. T was, and they might have cared about him a little bit. But kids don't know and don't care who some old guy from 30 year old movies is, and the fact that he was a governor doesn't exactly put him in the same league as Spider-Man, Harry Potter, or Spongebob. It's got about as much chance as launching the Mr. T cartoon today would have."...after which, he proceeds to talk about his experience working on things that he knew weren't going to work, but someone in the company was pushing for it - and so there he was, finding ways to work Dragon Dice into RPG product. But as he says, "It's better to know that you're working on garbage with your eyes wide open, collecting a paycheck so that you can later work on something good, than to actually think you're producing high art only to discover later that it's garbage."
What I wanted to talk about is the flip side of that coin: you're a buyer for a major chain, with a set budget and only so many products to purchase. You decide what gets sold in each physical location. And here you are, in charge of books and looking straight in the eye of the Governator, damn near convinced it's going to flop. Buying this piece of crap means that other, more worthy, books, will not be available for your customers to buy. So do you pass?
...you do not.
Once you get a certain level of bureaucracy in any business, you start to see a strange rule coming in: better to have a failure with good reasons than a missed success. Which is to say that your decisions are always going to be second-guessed by the executives above you (even if they say they back your decision at the time you make it). And there are four basic scenarios that can happen with The Governator:
1) It flops, and you bought nothing. This is your most probable scenario. You look like a hero. Well done.
2) It's wildly successful, and you went big on it. Weirdly, you get little credit for this. It was a wildly-hyped thing on the cover of Entertainment Weekly! It has Stan Lee! And Arnold Schwarzenegger! Everyone knew it was going to be a smash! Of course you went big, that's your job. You get a minor pat on the head and then everyone forgets you exist.
3) It's wildly successful, and you bought nothing. This is a very bad place to be as a buyer/merchandiser. Suddenly, your competitors are cleaning up, making money while you're not. And now your bosses come around, dripping with hindsight: Really, Jenkins? they sneer. That property was wildly-hyped on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. With Stan Lee. And Arnold Schwarzenegger. And somehow, you managed to miss out on this free money they were handing you? You now look clueless, a fool, for the very thing that they hired you for - your ability to see the Next Big Thing Coming and capitalize on it. Your next raise looks very meager. This one bad decision will be brought up over the next fifty decisions you make.
So what do you do? Well, there's always door #4:
4) It flops, and you went big on it. Thing is, your bosses will be okay with this. That was wildly hyped in Entertainment Weekly! you'll say. It had Stan Lee! And Arnold Schwarzenegger! And though, yes, the company's down however many hundreds of thousands of dollars thanks to your poor decision, your bosses will look at all of these extenuating circumstances, and shrug, and go, "Well, it certainly looked good." Your place in the company remains constant. Well done.
(You might say, "Well, why not split the difference and go small on The Governator? Just put a handful of copies in, just enough to cover your ass if it breaks big?" And you are correct, this is the sane maneuver. But any huge property also has an advertising budget, and the publishers will offer to buy endcaps and in-store posters and all sorts of free cash... If you buy enough to make it worth their while. After all, they argue, if there's only two copies in the store, the customers won't be able to find it! So you're pressured into "Go big or go home.")
The end result is, weirdly enough, that your bosses are happier if you flop with good reasons than if you pass and it turns out to be a hit. In retrospect, those reasons for it succeeding become obvious, the kind of idiocy that only the brain-dead could have overlooked - and then nobody trusts you. Your power dwindles. You get a rep.
So, unless you have a company that genuinely accepts that the price of "saving all that cash on several obvious flops" is with "being late to the party for the occasional big bestseller" - which is rare - then you go with #4, trying to buy as little as possible, flopsweating, knowing that this is probably not going to work but hoping against hope that it will.
This "better to have a failure with good reasons than a missed success" ass-covering rationale is, I suspect, why Hollywood is as dysfunctional as it is. A large number of people involved in the process are not necessarily concerned with making good films: they're concerned with having good excuses. Hey, this film had Tom Cruise! And Cameron Diaz! In a snappy action film! And so when Knight and Day fails, they can jab at the selling points and hammer home that hey, nobody could have predicted this. They did everything that was expected of them, and it failed. Who knew? And so their power is preserved, and nobody gets into trouble.
And the little films, the ones that could be good, don't get funded because they don't have good excuses. Sure, it's groundbreaking! But "groundbreaking" means "When it dies, you have nothing left to stand behind." Better to go with Tom Cruise.
It's kind of sucktacular. And you can get around it in one of two ways: either have a corporate culture that encourages missing the boat on "obvious" projects, or have unerring instincts that never ever choose wrong. Which, given William Goldman's old axiom of "Nobody knows anything," is a tough gig. Almost no one can do it, and those who can are legend.
(Or work in a field where you don't have to commit to merchandise until you see how it sells - what's it cost Amazon moneywise to put up a .GIF promoting it, and stick it at the top of the searches for a while? Nada. The e-merchandisers can sit back and see how it sells, and not have to worry about moving 50 copies of a hot product to that store in Tucson.)
And if you don't have one of those options, well... you're gonna be workin' on Dragon Dice at some point. And hoping that you pull it off, knowing that it'll be okay if you don't.