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Recently it was announced that after 24 years of service, Nintendo Power will no longer be published after December's issue. NP is considered one of the longest running game related magazines around, and I have had my subscription since the late 80s. Over the last few years the magazine has been improving: better previews, subscriber only covers and a lot of exclusive content. But it turns out that it wasn't enough.
On one hand I am sad to see them go, but on the other hand, I'm surprised that it took this long. Everyone knows that the writing is on the wall (no pun intended) for print and thinking about it, I feel the problem is that magazines like NP, are trying to fight the Internet on its own terms.
Video Killed the Radio Star v 2.0
When we look at history, a new technology or standard usually spells the end for the previous. With the Internet came the ability to instantly find information whenever you want. One of the original functions of print was that the consumer wasn't able to do that. Showing my age yet again, I remember a time where if you were stuck on a game, your only hope was that it either appeared in a magazine, or you wrote or called the company asking for help. Which I actually did for Alone in the Dark for 3DO and got a walk through mailed to me.
The same goes for reviews, previews and basically any game related news. Buying a game in the early 90s was a lot riskier for people, as game reviews were never available at the time of purchase. Either you wait a few more weeks for the next issue, or hope that the magazine got an exclusive early review of the game.
But with the Internet, everything that a magazine would provide, websites did for less money and a lot quicker. This begs an important question: “Why should someone subscribe to a magazine?"
In the mid 90s and early 00s, as more game related magazines sprang up, editors released that they needed more than just reviews and previews to stand out, they needed a voice. That's when game magazines started to have exclusive columns and features written by experts. From Tom vs. Bruce in Computer Gaming World, to column writers like Desslock in PC Gamer. These pieces were well written and focused on a variety of topics in the industry. More importantly, they were exclusive to the magazine and the writer.
Reviews and Previews to be frank are a dime a dozen, but being able to read a critical piece is something different. While I've never played a racing or flight sim, I still enjoyed reading Andy Mahood's column every month when I had PC Gamer.
This is one area that magazines excel over internet sites. Because of the rate new content appears which shuffles out old ones; it's hard for a critical piece to stand out. But with a magazine that is obviously not a problem. This is one of the reasons why I don't like to post content more than once every few days is that it would be too easy for something to be lost in the shuffle.
With Nintendo Power, there were very few features that weren't either focused on games or extended previews. None of the writing staff ever wrote anything critical in the magazine, which prevented the magazine from ever evolving from being a Nintendo advertisement. This by itself wasn't a bad thing as it was how the magazine was started, but that no longer works in today's setting.
The problem with magazines today is that they are trying to compete against the main strengths of the internet. No quality magazine can come out at a rate that it can keep up with the daily updates on the internet. Instead, if magazines want to survive they need to play to their strengths.
One area that magazines can do better than websites on is developing a voice. By having a stable of quality writers they can produce content that is unique and can't be copied anywhere else. What they need to do is focus on features and columns that showcase their talents. If there are any reviews then they have to do the same thing. Instead of having 30 reviews that are one paragraph long, have 10 reviews that are anywhere from one to two pages long.
One of the most respected magazines around would be Edge. This is known in some circles as “that really expensive game magazine” with an annual rate of about $78. Each issue has exclusive articles and in-depth reviews that you can't get anywhere else. The only major turn off would obviously be the subscription fee which is several times more than the average.
With Nintendo Power, the only pieces of content that were unique to the magazine were the developer spotlights and fan submissions. Everything else was news related that would either be announced before the magazine was printed, or shortly after.
In the end I feel that the real killer of Nintendo Power was Nintendo. The magazine's goal was to promote Nintendo and Nintendo related products has not changed since its inception. However the rest of the industry has. The writing team at NP couldn't develop a unique voice because theirs was already predetermined. I do wonder if NP is just the first to go and that Playstation Magazine and OXM are going to be next on the chopping block.
With the continuing rise of digital content, it will be interesting to see if print will survive the decade, or if we're heading for a completely paperless publication system.
Reprinted from my blog: Mind's Eye