Paper games magazines are dead

The latest magazine circulation figures are out and it is not looking good — but the forests of the world must be breathing a big sigh of relief.

I remember in the eighties when the Spectrum alone supported three magazines in the UK, each with a circulation in six figures. They satisfied a vast craving for news, information, listings, gossip and so much more. Each was a sub-culture in it’s own right.

This was the high point of consumer gaming magazines; it has been downhill ever since.

The first real blow for the 8-bit magazines was games piracy, something they did very little against. Basically the game publishers were selling a lot less games because of the copying, so they had less money to spend on advertising. So the magazines had to cut back on content, so they lost the plot and faded away.

Of course there were later, smaller highs for the Amiga and ST and then for the Playstation, but by then the internet was rearing its ugly head. Soon this became bigger and it was a lot better than paper magazines, and news got out a lot more quickly.

Web 2.0 has removed any need to ever spend a penny on a gaming magazine. The blogs and forums now have so much more and better content (once you have sorted through the dross and fanboys) than the magazines that it is amazing that there are any of these left on the newsstand.

But the final blow is video. Video is the fastest growing area of the internet and it is perfect for games. It shows the games actually working with movement and sound. This just makes a paper magazine look silly. So silly that most will be gone before too long.

Now for an anecdote. At Codemasters we ramped up our web traffic until our editorial content was reaching far more people than the total output of some of the games magazine publishers.

We had newsletters, forums, competitions, microsites for every game and so on. It was dynamic and exciting.

So I was in London at a trade event and met a very senior executive from one of the paper mag publishers, somebody who I have known for more than 20 years. His company’s web offerings were pathetic and I tried to tell him about some of the exciting things we were doing online that were bringing content to vast audiences.

But he cut me dead. Rudely.

And within two years he had lost his job precisely because of those pathetic web offerings.

Schadenfreude, me? Surely not.

So do you think paper games magazines can cling on to life? Comment away!


  1. I hope there will always be a place for print media in the games industry. But print will have to transform it’s content and purpose.

    No one honestly needs game magazines for reviews and previews anymore thanks to the immediacy of the web. But magazines can manage to stay relevant by offering a more academic, reflective and in-depth take on their subject. I think Edge in particular is one publication that already does a great job of offering an experience that’s impossible on the web, and they don’t skimp on the design and materials for the magazine, creating a wonderfully tactile and beautiful object to hold and pour over.

    I may be out of the ordinary, but I am more than happy to get the freshest news from the web while still reading print for a broader, more thoughtful viewpoint. I think print will always have a place, albeit a smaller more refined place, in the market.

  2. “We had newsletters, forums, competitions, microsites for every game and so on. It was dynamic and exciting.”

    And as Codies’ web editor I hope it still is 😉

    As a sidenote, we as an industry lag behind other media providers in using third party web (2.0) tools effectively to promote video games, but it’s something I know we at Codemasters actively look to use and abuse for getting our own message out there, whether it’s Youtube, Flickr, blogs, Myspace etc etc.

    So with all these tools available there’s less need for magazines if you as a company can talk straight to the consumer without going through the middleman of the press.

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