Wednesday 20 January 2010

Paper verses Pixels

How do you get your information about your Hobby? If you're reading this blog then I guess there's a good chance you get some from the blogs you read and maybe from various Internet Forums like ENWorld or The Miniatures Page. I regularly use the Internet as a vast resource of news in general. In particular I follow (currently) over 50 Blog's using Google Reader and dip into this excellent pool of information several times a day. But I also enjoy that most endangered of species, the Magazine.

I subscribe to Wargames Illustrated and try to pick up several others (such as Battlegames and Minaiture Wargames) on the news stand on a semi regular basis. My reading selection covers the whole breadth of the hobby, from purely wargaming magazines through to those dedicated to roleplaying like Flagship and Kobold Quarterly. But there is an insidious trend spreading across the world of gaming magazines and I'm not sure I like it.

In recent years several magazines have stooped producing paper versions of their publication and either stopped entirely or made the move to PDF versions. The most famous example has to be Wizard of the Coasts decision a couple of years ago not to renue their licencing agreement with Piazo and to stop making paper versions of Dragon and its sister publication Dungeon. I used to buy both magazines on a regular basis when they were made from paper rather than pixels but I must admit they have lost their appeal for me completely now thay are pdf only. Part of the problem is I am not terribly interested in subscribing to WoTC's D&D Insider suite of tools which now includes the magazine content. However that is not the only down side for me, and others like me.

There seems to have been a concerted effort over the years to make readers feel like they are old fashioned or behind the times if they don't convert seamlessly to electronic format. I'm certainly not a Luddite when it comes to technology. I enjoy new tech and new modes of communication immensely. Aside from this blog I have an active facebook page and I participate in several dozen online forums. But I have to say that the electronic magazine is a step too far for me.

Part of the attraction of a paper magazine is that I can read it anywhere I like. In bed; On the bus: At my desk; Over lunch: In the bath and a dozen other places where a laptop or notebook just wouldn't be appropriate. I certainly haven't got the spare cash to pay out for a Kindle or other reader device. And I spend all day looking at a screen as it is without filling my spare time reading magazines on one as well.

I think that part of the problem is the nature of the format as well as its accessibility while sitting in the bath (sorry for the scary mental image). Digital information, especially when presented on a screen, tends to get skimmed across more quickly -its not called 'surfing the net' for nothing. That's not necessarily a criticism of the Internet per-se but a natural evolution of utility that lends itself to fast information presented in small parcels. I doubt if I'm alone when I say that I am more inclined to read something in-depth in a printed format.

On the plus side some pdf magazines, like Dragon and Dungeon are now in landscape format so they read better on a screen. And there has been a huge increase in the use of pdf sales to distribute smaller independent games. I've purchased lost of material this way, from Dungeon floorplans through to scenarios and sourcebooks.

Having said that I have to admit to being a hypocrite in that I do follow some pdf magazines like Kobold Quarterly and Flagship. But I would much prefer to hold a real life paper copy instead. At least with Flagship it's possible to purchase a paper version of the magazine as well as accessing it online. For my money that's a much better option than stopping the paper copy entirely.


  1. Really interesting posts, and I believe that recent research is showing that paper format is more preferred and easier to use than electronic.

    I for one am getting fed up of not having access to journals in the library, and having to download articles in pdf format instead. You get headaches from staring at a screen too long, it's nice not to have to work at your desk, and you can take out a photocopied article anywhere.

    Also, as far as magazines go, it's the same as buying models in a shop instead of online. Nothing beats walking down to your local store, parting with your cash, and carrying home your new prized possession in your grubby little hands.

  2. Couldn't agree more. I enjoy the fun of purchasing and owning my magazine as much as reading it. Its the full on visceral experience that a pdf just can't deliver.

    Having said that I have to admit to being a bit of a hypocrite. I've just downloaded another pdf only magazine called Irregular ( ) and it looks pretty good.

  3. You really should add Fight On to that list.

  4. I buy Soldatino and Tutto Soldatino in Italy

  5. Hi there, I'm part of the Irregular Magazine team.

    We are PDF only and don't have any plans at the moment to release a printed version,(although who knows what the future holds).

    The main reason we are using an electronic format is the cost. By using PDF we can ensure that the magazine is free to everyone.

    At a time when everyone is having to make cut backs in their spending, we wanted to make sure we are inclusive (at least to those with internet access).

    Irregular is a community project, we have no advertising and everyone contributes for free - which is just awesome. It does mean that we have cannot afford to have a set number of copies printed, with a hope to recouping costs, and if we did offer a printed version, it would probably be using a print on demand service such as LuLu.

    This is not a cheap option, and each issue would cost around £10 (obviously no profit would be added), which is really rather expensive.

    Some of the positives for PDF are that it's environmentally friendly, takes up no physical storage space in your house(!), the copy doesn't degrade, and the pages won't get torn. If you lose the copy, or loan it to a friend you can always keep a backup file.

    I'm not someone who will read a PDF magazine in the same way as I would a printed one (ie. cover to cover), but dipping in and out, and reading individual articles is a lot like reading a web page or blog article. ;)

    We've included hyperlinks into our magazine, so if it's being read online, then readers can directly access the sites for the contributors, or special mentions, just as they would if they were reading any other web page.

    I know some magazines have moved to publishing their content on their website, instead of creating a PDF, or printing - but I think this loses the magazine feel altogether, which is sad.

    I know a good number of our readers print the magazine out in its entirety and read it in its printed form.

    One of the reasons we stick to a portrait layout is to encourage that magazine feel, and make it easy to print out the whole magazine, or just a few pages to play a game, or follow a tutorial.

    It's an interesting debate, and I think as costs rise in the print industry more mainstream magazines will start offering their content in a different format - it's been fairly successful for newspapers.

    It may be the end of an era. I don't think technology has any replacement for the textural feel of paper on the horizon - but I hope that print doesn't die out.

  6. While I admit to preferring print in general, I think that as e-reading devices become cheaper and more common, pdfs will gain in popularity.

    Having access to all your reading material in one location, portability, and being able to read it without having to wait 10 minutes for your computer to boot up gives you the benefit of electronic formats and traditional print at the same time. Though I guess that battery life can still be an issue.

  7. In the past I would have said that a Physical Magazine was so - so much better than the Net, however I have recently found that most of my research is either Web based (I would say 80 - 90%) and the remainder is (still my favourite) visiting the very well stocked libraries in either Droitwich or Worcester (also Swansea when I'm visiting).

    I find that the relaxing atmosphere of sitting with books and a note pad and researching subjects from books beats the Net hands down, saying that the Web or Net is so accessible!

    I have found that I am now a lot more selective in the books and magazines I purchase, I've realised that I can scan a new issue of Military Modeller or as I did this week Tamiya magazine and realise that the only information that I need is one or two pages full and so I read what I need and file it in my MK 1 Human brain, and a sketch book (OK scrapbook).

    Finally keep up the good work - always a pleasure to read your Blog.



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