It was with heavy heart that I read my email from Henry Hyde of Battlegames magazine. (If you are wondering what I am referring to, follow the link above and read the news on the front page. In brief, his print edition of the magazine is running at a financial loss and there are not enough subscribers to continue with a digital version.) My favorite wargaming magazine, bar none, was possibly going down the tubes.
To start, I took the survey he asked all subscribers to take and I was direct: raise the price if necessary, go digital, and pass the cost of printing on to the user. For me, I am willing to accept that in order to continue receiving great content.
The magazine's content catered to the old school wargamer, and although I like a lot of the principles that they follow (fun game, easy to remember rules), I don't consider myself one because of some of their other gaming principles (I like 'tournament tight' rules, not frameworks to build upon).Second, I emailed Henry and told him that I just needed a process to change my subscription to digital, as he seems to have taken down all subscription options from his web site. For me, I was a paper subscriber because that is all he offered when I started, he didn't have an obvious process for me to convert, and there wasn't enough of an incentive to convert from paper to digital. Had he sent me an email six months ago and said "Dale, I have to raise prices on the paper subscriptions 100%, but I can convert you to digital at no cost, just tell me what you want", I would have converted then and there. As it was, I bought two issues digitally because the UK postal system was late in delivering the paper copy and "I want it now"! (Of course, duplicate digital copies were only $1, so there was incentive to get it early in those cases. I never printed them out.)
One of the reasons this is so distressing is because I was interested in the Classic Wargamer's Journal and it too is no longer publishing. I received the pilot issue as a PDF and wanted to keep getting digital issues, but he only did subscriptions, and I was still not sure if I liked the format (it had a lot of battle reports, which I am not too keen on, unless it gives me enough information to replay it myself). What is it that is causing this meltdown? I see Wargames Illustrated and it appears to be doing well (but so did Battlegames, to be honest); Miniature Wargaming has been around for a long time, and although it was not my cup of tea, it was definitely a survivor. As for Wargames, Soldiers, and Strategy magazine, I had collected back issues whenever I came across them, but never subscribed. Great eye candy, but I cannot say I ever used the information in their articles; not even for scenarios. That said, they went bust (but were resurrected by another magazine publishing house), which shows the weakness of this market.
I personally do not think it is the market, per se, that is saturated. Henry spoke of the advertisers leaving when WSS started back up. Companies knew BG was niche and so probably decided to spend their advertising dollars in the bigger magazines that got broader distribution. Spencer-Smith Miniatures, for example, admitted that they really did not know if advertising with BG brought in more sales, but they knew that it was "their kind" of magazine and that a general wargaming magazine is probably not the way to go.
So, are niche magazines and journals doomed to forego the paper route and be digital, or not at all? I for one, hope so. I hope they can show that digital publishing is the way to stay alive. If they succeed in getting people to pay for niche wargaming content in a digital format, we may get more people to try that, getting richer products. For me, whenever I see a new digital magazine, I want to buy (or get for free) a recent issue so that I can see whether it is for me or not. If it is, I will go ahead and subscribe.
What I don't like are unprintable digital issues. If you use Flash animation and such, to me that is a turn-off. I would want the copy that would normally be sent to the printer, and preferably an option to have a "printer-friendly" version without heavy artwork and backgrounds.
My hope is to see Battlegames continue on in a digital-only format. Quarterly journals are an interesting idea, but I don't really need the paper, and if I do, I can deal with printing it out myself, as I do with back issues of Slingshot magazine, that I have on CD.