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Subject: "The 'Death' of Game Magazines"? rss

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Lewis Pulsipher
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I am going to repeat part of a previous post to provide background for the present observation.

A recent Wired magazine included an article on "crowdsourcing". This is an Internet phenomenon: the Internet provides access to many, many "amateur" practitioners of a skill, such that they now compete with professionals (and lower the prices available to professionals). The first example is stock photography: companies used to pay hundreds or thousands for small numbers of stock photos, but now there are sources of good digital photos available for stock use at $1 a photo. Why pay a hundred times as much when the "amateur" photos are of excellent quality?

To turn to gaming, I believe that a form of "crowdsourcing" has happened to the role playing game industry. Quite apart from the glut of professional products, there are many, many products published by both standard publishers and PDF publishers that are written "by the crowd". And there are many more that are available for free online at a large number of Web sites. To put it another way, there are so many fanboys and fangirls willing to write RPG material for nothing or next to nothing, material easy and cheap to find on the Internet, that traditional publishers cannot charge much for their publications (and cannot pay their authors much, consequently). RPG publishing "collapsed" a couple years ago, as I understand it, and I don't see any indication that it will recover, because of crowdsourcing. (See http://www.gamesquarterly.net/, the article link at the bottom "Is the RPG Industry Screwed", if you're interested in more about this--and this article doesn't even take into account the large quantity of free material now available.)

My point today: crowdsourcing and podcasting have largely "done in" games magazines as a category, though there are still a few. I think magazines (game magazines, at any rate) are facing a form of crowdsourcing. Before the Web, if you wanted to read good quality (usually) writing about games, you had to read gaming magazines. Now there are so many free Web sites and communities such as BoardGameGeek (BGG) that readers feel little need to subscribe to expensive magazines. People write their stuff and put it on BGG and Web sites, or they put it in podcasts. At a minimum, the result is fragmentation of interests. And the more fragmentation we have, the harder it is for a commercial magazine to exist, because costs-per-copy go up as circulation decreases. At a "maximum", people are unwilling to pay for any commercial magazine because there is sufficient free material available

I understand that recently Game Quarterly ceased publication. However, this could be because the parent company's Game Expo 2007 failed rather than for for lack of readers. Further, WOTC recently decided not to renew the license to Paizo Publishing for Dungeon and Dragon magazines, which will cease publication. WOTC evidently intends to publish material on their Web site. Again, it may be that Paizo wanted to continue publishing, but WOTC preferred to stop a forf of competition.

This ties in with the newspaper industry. Newspaper readership is going down. Newspaper people know it, but it's hard for them to do something about it. Gannett started USA Today as an entertainment newspaper rather than a news newspaper, and that has worked for them. Local newspaper readership is (I'm told) generally people 35-50, then people older than that, and lastly people younger than that. Among other things, newspapers are too "staid" for modern tastes, but the main problem is that many younger people get their news online, either by word or by video, or from the television. Why read a newspaper unless you're really interested in local community content?

Early in the history of the Web, newspapers tried to charge for access to their online material. Readers then switched to free newspapers such as the San Jose Mercury, and soon the "pay" newspapers disappeared. Since newspapers depend heavily on advertising revenue in any case, the "newspaper business model" can be adjusted to take advantage of online opportunities.

To go back to the magazines, it's unlikely that Dungeon and Dragon could have been successfully started today. I was told the readership averaged mid-30s in age, IIRC. Young people as a group simply don't read newspapers or magazines--they read online or don't read much at all, preferring to watch or listen.

Some time ago I tried to find some figures for magazines to see if circulation was trending downward, as it is for newspapers. My quest was inconclusive. I suspect numbers may be buoyed by many "niche" magazines doing a reasonable business for people who are not, by and large, denizens of the Internet. Since boardgame playing is often associated with computer game playing, and computer gamers are usually quite comfortable with the Internet, I'd guess that gamers, as a category, are more Internet-oriented than many other groups of enthusiasts.

Dungeon and Dragon magazines paid five cents a word last I knew, a good rate compared to nothing. They also had the peculiar policy, required by WOTC, that they bought all rights to articles: that is, once they published your article, you no longer had any right to publish (including on the Web) or resell it. This is not customary in magazine publishing although it is now common in RPG publishing--another result of "crowdsourcing".

Game magazines still exist, such as Knucklebones . From my limited reading of the magazine I suspect it can continue to prosper because it depends for broad distribution on readers who are unlikely to be denizens of online communities such as BGG. This is not to say BGGers don't read it as well; but "regular" BGGers are a small group compared to the total of boardgame fans, and a slick magazine must rely on a higher circulation to prosper. (I know the editor of a scholarly numismatic journal which is published in the US, but printed in Asia. IIRC, he said as long as he could produce enough to fill half a container, it was more economical to print there, and ship by sea, than to print in the US. But game magazines with decreasing circulations may be unable to print in such quantities.)

ATO and S&T magazines maintain a presence based primarily on their "complete wargame each issue" philosophy. I don't know of a magazine that provides a complete non-wargame each issue, though there may be one that is touting a complete "expansion" each issue.

I was surprised when Games Journal ended publication, since as an online magazine it had virtually no expenses. It seems that even online magazines suffer from lack of contributions, when they cannot afford to pay contributors. It's easier to write an informal piece in a blog, or on BGG, than a formal pieces for something like Games Journal.

The trend can be seen elsewhere. InfoWorld, a venerable computer industry magazine that was free to qualifying individuals, recently ceased publication of a paper version. Other industry magazines such as InfoWorld and Business Week are much smaller than they used to be.

The Web is more suited than magazines to short attention spans common amongst the digital/playstation generation. I have been struck by the number of commenters on BGG who say "your post [not actually mine, in these cases] was so long I didn't read all of it but I'd like to say . . ." though the post in question was much shorter than a typical magazine article. It doesn't seem likely that such folks would read much of a magazine, but who knows.

There is a lot more material about games to read these days, but many fewer game magazines, than I recall from the 1970s and 1980s.
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Michael Kandrac
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Lewis, I read your whole article. But then again, I'm in the "over 50" demographic.

Gg
 
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Kristian
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lewpuls wrote:
(See http://www.gamesquarterly.net/, the article link at the bottom "Is the RPG Industry Screwed", if you're interested in more about this--and this article doesn't even take into account the large quantity of free material now available.)

The article ends mid-word. Any idea where the end of the article is?
 
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Martin
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lewpuls wrote:
To put it another way, there are so many fanboys and fangirls willing to write RPG material for nothing or next to nothing, material easy and cheap to find on the Internet, that traditional publishers cannot charge much for their publications (and cannot pay their authors much, consequently).


Do you have a position on whether this is good or bad for industries in general?

Speaking strictly of boardgaming, I feel as if my consumer experience is more rewarding now that I get lots of quality information directly from other consumers than it was in the 80's and 90's where I was more reliant on advertising and box covers.
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The Steak Fairy
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It's really not worth lamenting the death or imminent demise of any particular medium. Once we consume all the planet's resources we'll soon be just as extinct as any magazine could ever hope to be. In the meantime, it's nice that a few more trees will live so that attention-deficited OCD gamers won't have as much trouble keeping their rooms tidy.
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Enon Sci
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I can't speak for youth culture as a whole, as I'm nearing the 30-ish set and have always been a bit odd in my outlooks, but many "yoots" I associate with spend amble time reading magazines. Can't think of a single example that regularly reads a newspaper, and several that read online, but nobody that does so exclusively.

The general consensus is that reading via a computer monitor hurts the eyes after awhile, so don't fear print media vanishing anytime soon.
 
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Hugh G. Rection
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MisterCranky wrote:
It's really not worth lamenting the death or imminent demise of any particular medium. Once we consume all the planet's resources we'll soon be just as extinct as any magazine could ever hope to be. In the meantime, it's nice that a few more trees will live so that attention-deficited OCD gamers won't have as much trouble keeping their rooms tidy.


Exactly, because we need those trees for game boards that do not warp! Man, talk about going off on a tangent to shoehorn one's political views into any unrelated topic.

To the original poster: One advantage print media has over online publishing - it's easier to read a magazine in the can than a laptop.
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Randy Cox
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I read your lament and I concur that youngsters seem to avoid newspapers (and news on TV, for that matter). Of course, that's a generalization and planty of teens and early twentysomethings will tell me otherwise. But I think there is still a market for well-edited games magazines. See, on BGG I can get hundreds of opinions and dozens of "reviews", but only one or two will be worth a crap, when compared with well-written print material. So, down the line, I expect we'll see people go away from the barrage of information on the Internet and look instead to just the cream of the crop--and that's what editors are for. If someone can collect the best of the best and present only that, they'll capture the market, whether they're an on-line 'zine or a printed rag.

Also, I don't agree with your association of boardgames to computer games. To me, while many computer gamers may play a board game, I don't think most board gamers ride joysticks very often. Of course, that may be my near-50 demographic speaking.

Finally, the recent news about newspaper readership declining also points out that community papers (smaller markets) are flourishing. Maybe that's the key--we need game magazines geared towards the local gaming scene. The Milwaukee Game Report or the Peoria Game Dealer? Maybe not.
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Don Weed
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Games Journal, Games Quarterly, Dungeon, Dragon, Command, Wargamer, several iterations of S&T, Ares, The Space Gamer, Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society, Conflict, The General, Star Wars Journal, and so on. The graveyard has lots of tombstones for both RPG's and wargames: and they're not all recent either.

I thinks it's increasingly hard to publish quality material for smaller and smaller niches. White Dwarf is of high quality and is still going but my guess is that its really felt the pain of the pre-painted minis market. The magazine has devolved into a mega-house ad for the last decade or so and their game lines have condensed into only 3 main games (40K, Fantasy and LOTR).

I feel that the advent of the online forums and print-and-play games have allowed people to feel a closer association with their particular, favorite game(s). At the same time, it continues the fragmentation of the gaming public by breaking up the commumity and splinter groups becomming more and more specialized. Hardcopy print just can't cater to all tastes all of the time. Even Inquest (the early herald of collectable games) started to do video game reviews to try and cater to a diversifying crowd.

I don't see a bright future for the gaming industry in print.
 
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Michael R
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I used to have subsriptions to games magazines. However, I don't feel much of a romantic nostalgia about them. They were the best sources of information available at the time. I never felt I particularly trusted what they said about games. There were some fantastic articles but BGG and all the other blog, websites and podcasts add up to so much more. The ability to read and hear what 100 people think about a game before you buy tells you a lot more than you can learn from one person's half page review.

I also think the RPG industry has been steadily declining due to people playing other types of games. The period 2000-2005 saw a boom and bust due to the D20 bubble. I still don't really understand what drove the D20 frenzy. I have always been suspicious that it was Hasbro cash. In terms of quality, the RPG industry seems stronger now than ever. There are plenty of talented designers puting out fun new games. They may only be selling 1000 copies each but there is still hope. Table top RPGs give a feeling of freedom and collective creativity that is not provided by other forms of entertainment.
 
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Michael R
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statman8 wrote:
Games Journal, Games Quarterly, Dungeon, Dragon, Command, Wargamer, several iterations of S&T, Ares, The Space Gamer, Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society, Conflict, The General, Star Wars Journal, and so on. The graveyard has lots of tombstones for both RPG's and wargames: and they're not all recent either.

I thinks it's increasingly hard to publish quality material for smaller and smaller niches. White Dwarf is of high quality and is still going but my guess is that its really felt the pain of the pre-painted minis market. The magazine has devolved into a mega-house ad for the last decade or so and their game lines have condensed into only 3 main games (40K, Fantasy and LOTR).

I feel that the advent of the online forums and print-and-play games have allowed people to feel a closer association with their particular, favorite game(s). At the same time, it continues the fragmentation of the gaming public by breaking up the commumity and splinter groups becomming more and more specialized. Hardcopy print just can't cater to all tastes all of the time. Even Inquest (the early herald of collectable games) started to do video game reviews to try and cater to a diversifying crowd.

I don't see a bright future for the gaming industry in print.


This is very true. Why should I pay for a magazine where I am only interested in 5-10% of what's written? The magazines that seen to be going strong at the moment are about a very limited number of games like White Dwarf, No Quarter or Cry Havoc. These are all wargame magazines they include session reports, tactics, scenarios, news about upcoming releases, painting tips and in-house humour. They are perfect for fans of the individual games and 80-90% of the magazine will be of interest.
 
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Anarchosyn wrote:
The general consensus is that reading via a computer monitor hurts the eyes after awhile, so don't fear print media vanishing anytime soon.


This is changing with the development of new technology. The print publication is a dead-end, it just doesn't know it. Printing is not dead yet, it will continue for at least a few years ( probably another decade ) in the Print-On-Demand format. Soon you will be able to go to a Library-Booth or Newsagent-Booth, browse the magazines/books on a screen, select the one you want and then they will print it immediately for you.

The Print-On-Demand will die once we all carry around some sort of "electronic" slate, capable of providing our communication and information needs, along with a good reading surface.

Dont plan any long-term investments in pulp reading materials.

Bizarrely I dont think the fate of pulp-reading will be the same for board games. Games have bits.
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Mik Svellov
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It seems to me that those board gaming magazines that do exist have a much larger readerbase than thanks to the internet than they had before.
 
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brian
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Hugh_G_Rection wrote:
To the original poster: One advantage print media has over online publishing - it's easier to read a magazine in the can than a laptop.

Which is the only reason I keep magazines at work!
 
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brian
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Great article very well written. Glad I didn't have to buy a magazine to read it! Thanks for your contribution to crowdsourcing and the demise of game magazines!
 
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Jim Patterson
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Good piece, and a term I hadn't heard before. I think the case of Dungeon and Dragon has less to do with the inherent profitability or lack thereof of print magazines and more to do with internal politics at and the threat (and reality) of competition to WotC. But that doesn't affect the main point.

I've been, in some ways, at both ends of this phenomenon. I've certainly benefited from the decentralization of information and its general "free-ness." I don't subscribe to any magazines or newspapers, although my wife does get Time. I get most of my news from either free papers or blogs that I trust. On the other hand, I've done a professional-level edit of a couple of PDF RPG books, one of them over 200 pages, and gotten paid ... well, let's just say not much ... owing to an "overcrowded" market, slim profit margins, and the like.

I'm conflicted on the whole issue. At one level, I think the explosion of voices and contributors to media generally has been very good, especially as it's highlighted and sometimes corrected some of the weaknesses and biases of mass media. At another, I see the value of what I perceive to be my skills as a writer/editor eroding in a marketplace in which it's hard to compete with free and in which people's tolerance for errors and infelicities in writing seem higher than ever before.

At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, I think the decentralization of media and information more generally has been good up to a point, but maybe only up to that point. For a quick-and-dirty example, let's take political and public-affairs reporting. Good political blogs (I'll let you decide which those are) have added to the conversation and shown up some of the weaknesses of the few mass-media voices we've had up till recently. On the other hand, most blogs don't do much if any original reporting and live symbiotically (or maybe parasitically) off of "old media," linking to other people's original reporting, and such reporting isn't cheap or easy to pull off.

This isn't a perfect analogy to game writing, which has probably always had a hobbist element to it ("I'm just happy to have my article published!"). And I certainly don't want to give up BGG; I'd rather read a half-dozen user reviews within days of a product's release than one "expert" review available months after release of the product.

I think we're in a period of adjustment, for game writing and for information generally, and I'm not sure what things will look like in another ten years.

Geez this is long. Sorry.
 
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Mik Svellov
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Fewer people are buying RPG's these days so obviously will they also buy fewer magazines about RPG's. Just as the market for war gaming magazines has been decreasing.

Newspapers are dying because there are better ways of getting news these days, although the market for free newspapers seems to be increasing.

There are far more specialist magazines now than there has even been. People are willing to pay for specialist magazines about *anything* - in fact most newsstands have to limit the selection they carry because there too many to carry them all.
 
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I'm in my 40's and I fall into the group that no longer reads a newspaper but rather gets his info via on-line and TV. I also no longer buy gaming mags (used to get Fire & Movement, Command, S&T, and Moves at the FLGS and newsstand - I usually got Command and S&T without the games). I still get military history mags however. I suppose the difference - the gaming mags I bought for information (reviews, replays, rule clarifications) while military history magazines I bought for casual reading of the history articles. Websites like BGG, WebGrognards, and Consimworld have made the game mags obsolete for my purposes. However, there are no free military history websites that have articles in them that I can take to lunch (or other places!) with me.

One of the pet peeves with the print mags on gaming - back in the day, you would get one, maybe two reviews of any given game. If that reviewer had a bias against the game, publisher, designer, or just had a bad day, his review might be less than fair but the readers had no way of knowing that. Now, with sites like this, you get so many reviews, both formal and informal, you can form a more complete picture of the game, especially if you pay close attention to the comments of your Geekbuddies. I just find the utility of the web for creating and disseminating this kind of content so much better than print that I don't think I will ever buy another game mag again.
 
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FNH1 wrote:
The Print-On-Demand will die once we all carry around some sort of "electronic" slate, capable of providing our communication and information needs, along with a good reading surface.

I'll slot that one in for the year 2144 or so. Even if some marketer thinks a person will want to read their library book on their 2x2 inch cell phone screen, it ain't gonna happen. There will always be plenty of people who want their home-delivered-without-turning-on-the-computer newspaper with their breakfast. Young whippersnappers will discover that, as they age, they fall off the front of the wave and settle back into a more sedate lifestyle.

Mark my words, as slackers, Gen-Xers, Gen-Yers, etc get on up in years, they too will be saying "what happened to the good ol' days when I could go into the bathroom with a book/newspaper and read for awhile." And they'll say this even if they never experienced such, just to needle youngsters.
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Lew,

Since I've dismissed some of your earlier posts, I wanted to say that this one was interesting. It is a pretty good explanation of what we have seen happen to publications. I didn't read it as a lament as other have, but maybe I missed that.

The content of most newspapers and magazines have never impressed me much. The quality of the writing might be good, but for the most part the content is not very informative and often incorrect.

Now, if I want to know about something, I can usually find something on the web written by people who really understand and care about the subject. And if I have a question I can get an answer quickly.
 
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I question the premise of the original post. I've been active in the gaming hobby since the 1970's and there has never been what I would call a lot of gaming magazines (excluding electronic games) available. The fact that a few (or most, which amounts to the same thing) have gone out of business or ceased publishing over the last thirty years is not surprising. It has always been difficult to find a general purpose board gaming magazine.

InfoWorld is not a good example because it had to cease publication because it no longer had anything of value to offer. In the Information Technology world, they were hopelessly behind the times in getting news out to subscribers. About the best InfoWorld could do, in the age of the Internet, is provide a weekly news summary. Anyone depending on InfoWorld for their IT news would always be a day late and a dollar short.

The fact that Wizards of the Coast has decided to take Dragon & Dungeon magazines in house (and online) is not so much a knock against paper magazines as it is WoTC's recognizing the value of the brands they own and the desire to monetize those brands via a web subscription model that has the potential to bring in a lot more cash than a standard magazine subscription. (Monthly fee vs. annual fee is good for stable cash flow...) The profit margin goes up too as the cost of publishing online is less and the subscriber or reader pays for the cost of ink and paper (if they desire a hardcopy of the magazine or article).

While newspapers and some magazines are struggling to find a business model that works in an online world, I don't think the argument can be extended to a niche market that has never had a lot of to offer in the first place. The number of gaming magazines available today is not really that much different than it was ten or twenty years ago.

Is Role-Playing going to disappear because large companies can't afford to publish games and game supplements any longer due to the large amount of amateur material available? Hardly. The RPG industry, as a business may suffer, but the RPG gaming community will continue to flourish.

What we are seeing here is a sea change in how information is shared. Some business models may not be able to adapt (all game companies, for example may have to adopt the P500 model), but I to say this is the "death" of anything is pre-mature.
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The world is moving on; the traditional model for publishing is changing. But it is unlikely that it can be or will be revolutionized.

The traditional model had a business that paid employees to generate content. The business would then charge for this content. For example, you'd pay a subscription fee to get a magazine. Note that this model is very similar to manufacturing, where an employee on the assembly line adds value to raw materials or parts and the business charges for the finished good.

A variation on this model was to generate content and suppliment the profits from direct sales of this content with additional content people or businesses would pay to add... advertising.

The information economy combined with extremely cheap delivery systems have thrown a monkey wrench into these systems, but business has yet to determine a successful alternative to subscriptions and sponsorship/advertising. Just as you note, people can generate content and distribute it easily today. So, many people do so. Among many, some will be good. With ease in content creation has come ease in content consumption; the few good providers have become the most popular.

Perhaps one of the best examples of success in this area are the popular webcomics, such as Penny Arcade or pvponline. By providing content people really enjoy, they are able to sell advertising as well as spinoff merchandise. This approach only differs from the most traditional of media by relying more on advertising instead of on subscriptions. Nothing about the new technology prevents subscriptions from succeeding, but then digital work is easily copied and shared.

The market for information today in the new network medium has much the same atmosphere as the early mass publishing environment of the 19th century. Sensationlist, low quality, random publications are everywhere and anyone with pen and press (or editor and host today) can generate content. Given time, the same thing will happen and the best will rise to the top and the standard publishing model will likely re-assert itself.

We'll still have Jack Chicks cranking out annoying tracts though.
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One additional angle - role playing games, board games, other types of games... these are hobbies!

Hobbyists enjoy discussing and participating in their hobbies. Their payoff isn't in terms of money, but in their personal enjoyment of their hobby. Witness this very site - entirely generated content from the hobby users (well, thank you Aldie for the framework to hang it on!)...

Trying to compete with hobbyists and actually charge money for the work means you must be a great deal better than them... and they live for it. It makes for a very difficult arena in terms of business.

Consider the analogy to gardening and landscaping companies. Gardening is a hobby and many people (most) attend to their gardening hobby or desires personally as a source of enjoyment. Still, for special tasks or to accomplish work a customer is unwilling or unable to perform, professional services are available in the form of landscaping companies.
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I remember the days of, "The Paperless Office is Coming!"

It seemed like every commentator and analyst was predicting the imminent demise of printed records in business. However, studies now show that business is using more, not less, paper than before.

Now I'm even reading in some business journals that the lowly paper catalog is making a resurgence as an effective marketing tool capable of giving you an edge over your on-line competitors!

My point is that while it's sad to see gaming magazines disappear and gaming publishers fold, I doubt these are the last days of hard-copy gaming extinction. As long as people miss them, that means there is still a market for them.

As for professional writers / artists now having to compete with amateurs, that would really only be a problem if the internet were only increasing the number of suppliers but not the number of consumers. The problem isn't that availability of free content makes paid content obsolete (for a crude but decisive example, look at the porn industry), but rather just that it takes time to figure out how to alter business models in order to make money and compete against it effectively.
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Eric Jome
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W4st wrote:
I remember the days of, "The Paperless Office is Coming!"


It still is. People must learn to prefer bits to paper. The first generations of people who are developing this taste are only now coming of age.

Quote:
It seemed like every commentator and analyst was predicting the imminent demise of printed records in business. However, studies now show that business is using more, not less, paper than before.


The information age is progressing faster than the paperless preference. There is more call for information, so the old taste of paper information requires more paper to display more information. In the future, tastes will change and paper will decrease.

Quote:
Now I'm even reading in some business journals that the lowly paper catalog is making a resurgence as an effective marketing tool capable of giving you an edge over your on-line competitors!


Bits have one fatal flaw - they require machinery and electricity. There will always be a call for media that are not powered by electricity because there will always be times and places where electricity is impractical.

Quote:
As for professional writers / artists now having to compete with amateurs, that would really only be a problem if the internet were only increasing the number of suppliers but not the number of consumers.


In role playing games, it is not the breadth of consumers that matter, but the depth. There is an almost infinite need for new scenarios, backgrounds, characters, and material. It is like the consumption of art or literature - there is always a desire for more no matter how much is produced. Like food... food for the mind, eh?

Over time, the additional quality of professionals and serious businesses will offer more value than hobbyists and amateurs. At least, that's the safe bet as it has happened with every technology and skill since the dawn of time.
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