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February 1, 2010
Publishing for People Who Want to Read (Magazines)
The state of magazine publication is the suck these days. You can read it anywhere - the magazines themselves are smaller, printed on cheaper paper, and so full to bursting with ads that you get barely any content. This is in large part because the single-issue and subscription prices do not cover the costs of print publication and newsstand distribution. So many unsold magazines end up as pulp it's a shame and an environmental mess.
Bucking this trend comes the first issue of the official World of Warcraft magazine
. They claim it's "...more like a softcover book" than a typical magazine these days. There are no ads, it's printed on high quality paper, you can't get it from a newsstand distributors, and it's designed as a collectible item for people who love the game.
And the cover price reflects it. At USD 10 for a 148-page zine it's more expensive than most trade paperback books and certainly more than any magazine I could find scanning the extensive shelves in Harvard Square (not counting some very pricey tech journals). Because the magazine only sells to subscribers, the publishers are pretty much guaranteed that every copy they print will be sold. I imagine they have some free issues that are going to be sent to review sites, but those are probably negligible compared to the copies that will be snapped up by the millions of WoW fans.
This is, in essence, the patronage model of publication, which we've discussed in the past. The people with the money (game fans) pay to have works of art made for them. Mass distribution here happens because the game is so hugely popular that printing a magazine for subscribers only makes sense. If you were to do this with a less-popular subject matter you'd have to charge each patron/subscriber a higher price per issue.
If you're interested in the thinking that went into making this a print-only art item (no online edition) you can read various interviews and blog entries on gaming sites; ars technica's Ben Kuchera published something on this last August and has a brief update on the first issue.
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