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Print is Not Dead at PAX

March 27th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 5 Comments · Media, PAX

It’s been a crazy couple of days, and I still haven’t met everyone I wanted to meet. I did, however, meet some of them at the panel about the future of print games media.

Of course, the panel title was “Is Print Dead?” – a much sexier handle than “What is the future of print?” but much less accurate. It was moderated byThe Escapist’s Russ Pitts – a perfect choice considering the online magazine’s early print-like pretensions and its continuing evolution into something very Internet. As the four panelist (Jon Davison, Julian Murdoch, Jeff Green and Chris Dahlen) made clear in their discussion, the issue is more about the form of print media in the coming years, not its obsolescence.

Davison was very up front about the costs of working in the dead tree world. It costs a dollar to print an issue, they are bundled in subscription deals where you get twelve issues for thirteen dollars, advertisers are moving online for more eyeballs (and where they have more power, he argued) and the demand for immediate news about games means that previews and reviews really have no place in print – he noted that no one complained about Gamepro’s Final Fantasy 13 review until it went online and was listed on Metacritic.

But print still has, for some reason, a prestige value for game publishers. Jeff Green says it’s because there are only twelve covers a year and everyone wants one. But as a writing enterprise, it’s clear that games magazines cannot be what they were. Chris Dahlen’s reader supported Kill Screen (which looks great, by the way) will be a quarterly magazine that tries to be a print version of The Escapist, I guess, when The Escapist was known for more than funny videos.

You will not make a lot of money doing this. Can you sell ads in a Paris Review type of games magazine – something feature heavy and review light? How long will people be willing to pay for a 20 dollar per issue magazine, even with high quality art and editing?

Dahlen likens the premium print market to that for vinyl records. Where most consumers are perfectly happy with their MP3s, there is in fact an increased demand, if tiny, for vinyl recordings since some connoisseurs appreciate album art and notes. In other words, somebody out there will buy it, and with the right printing model you can build a business around it.

It’s an interesting analogy. But it’s worth remembering that nobody is paying for eight tracks or cassettes. Vinyl just happens to have things that you can’t do on those forms or on the current preferred music delivery system. Online game sites are much more versatile as media forms. You can do features as well online as you can in print, plus use video & audio (Green noted that he didn’t become a “personality” until he was forced to do what became a very popular podcast) and other things that print cannot. (E-books may find a way around that but we’re not talking about that.)

From where I sit, print’s biggest advantage is coherence. There is a front, a middle, and an end. This means you can organize your material in a form that either matches or challenges reader expectations. Gaming websites are still largely a mess of links, constantly changing and never well organized. There is a reason we use the verb browse more than the verb read when we speak of online text. Most sites still do not use fonts or color or layout to heighten the effect of a piece the way a good magazine does. We’ll get there eventually, I think. But not yet.

In any case, the panel was top notch – even Julian.


5 Comments so far ↓

  • Jon Gad

    Say, was anyone recording the panel? It sounds quite interesting, and I wager that many of us who couldn’t make it to PAX would love to hear it.

    I know I would.

  • Jason Wilson

    I understand copyediting came up. Since I wasn’t there, Troy, could you e-mail me a bit about that discussion?

  • Dauntless_Dad

    Print’s big advantage is that all of the information is delivered to the hands of the reader in one easy-to-read package. In the electronic world the reader generally has to seek out the information, or has to be informed of its existence. Thus, print is much more effective (in my experience) at informing the reader on subjects that would otherwise not get his attention. I had this happen personally – I read a Computer Games preview article on the design of Guild Wars, and although I had no interest in MMOs or online play, I found the article very interesting and ended up buying the game upon release. If someone had told me about a web article about Guild Wars instead, there’s no way I would have bothered to look it up and read it. Delivering the content to my lap made all the difference, and Arenanet sold about a half-dozen copies of Guild Wars because I ended up recommending it to several friends and relatives.

  • Troy


    Copy editing did come up. Jeff Green called copy editors the real heroes of publishing, and that too few places bother to invest in them. A good copy editor, he noted, reads a piece differently than an other kind of editor – looking at mechanics and whether sentences make sense, not at the content itself necessarily.

    There was a general agreement that people don’t appreciate good copy editing, and that copy staffs have been hurt by that.

  • Jared H.

    Magazines used to compete with each other by the the advantages you listed. When websites started popping up they were ignored as competition because they were “largely a mess of links, constantly changing and never well organized”. Why would people bother reading those crappy articles online when they could buy our amazing magazine? It’s because customers don’t always care about things businessmen think they do; why should I pay for a magazine in which half the articles are about games I don’t care about when I can go to a website and get the information I want for free? A magazine’s strengths become weaknesses because those are things consumers don’t care about. Heck the same thing happened with 7th generation game consoles. The PS3 and 360 had major advantages; complex controls, bleeding edge graphics, HDDVD/Blueray player, and good online capabilities. None of those mattered to most consumers because the Wii had accessibility and motion controls.

    One of the guests on the podcast (I don’t remember who though) said that strategy game makers need to be careful not to view the genre as becoming a niche because once that happens its next to impossible to go back to the mainstream, like most boardgames. Vinyl records are a niche market compared to the mass one of MP3’s, and a premium print magazine would be the same thing against free websites.