On Satoru Iwata and magazines

So imagine you sell an entertainment product. Ten years ago it was very popular, with millions of customers prepared to pay decent money to enjoy the product you made. These days, sales have shrunk – in part because people are getting something similar, cheaper, on smartphones and the web – and some suggest that your product might die out entirely.

Sound familiar?

The other day, courtesy of the 8-4 podcast, I came across this interview with Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata, in which he discusses the 3DS and mobile gaming. And he makes the following point:

“I think within games you have two needs that people fill. One is the time-filler need. The other is that it’s a very important time for me and I want to have a rich experience. Those are two separate needs, I think.”

“The other thing is how much are consumers willing to pay to play. I think that consumers who are willing to pay money for a gaming experience are looking for something that is more rich and are willing to spend some of that valuable time on that experience. I believe that as environments change and as the world progresses we’re going to have different ways in which people want to spend their time. That being said, I don’t think we’re going to see the desire to have, again, rich and deep sort of gaming experiences… we’re not going to see that vanish. That’s not going to go away.”

Which, as somebody currently buried 30 hours into Tales of Graces F on the PS3, but also worryingly addicted to Super Hexagon while riding the train to work, makes a lot of sense. Many people will only ever dip in and out of video games, and 69p apps that can fill five minutes (or before them, those pay-to-download mobile games) will suit them perfectly. Other people want to enjoy splurging 50+ hours on a big immersive experience that sucks them in, and won’t mind paying £30-50 for the privilege. And many of us like both. See also: The Simpsons vs The Wire on TV, or supermarket fiction vs, say, Infinite Jest on the bookshelf.

Or, yes, magazines.

About ten years ago I first started writing for magazines. That first year, the mag I was working on recorded an ABC figure (Audit Bureau of Circulation – essentially, your monitored, verified sales figures) higher than the one before. And we celebrated, of course. Since then, year on year, sales have declined. Not badly, of course – I’ve been lucky enough to work on some great magazines that have held up comparatively well – but always slightly declining. Not something to celebrate, especially as you see, year on year, other magazines shutting around you.

So you can see why some are convinced that magazines are doomed entirely. But, while the audience might have shrunk, that doesn’t mean that no audience remains. And what good, thick magazines* provide is not the same as, say, a news website or blog** or cyclone of words, poorly aggregated from the web. Like a sit-down-and-play video game, a big novel or following the same godawful football team every week all season,  it’s a decision to spend a chunk of time doing something you actually enjoy. Or, to borrow some words, one where it’s “a very important time for me and I want to have a rich experience”.

And that’s not, I believe, going to go away.

So, money where my mouth is, on Friday I’m launching a new magazine. It will be big, will take time to download and – after the first issue, which is free – will cost money to read. And it will only be available (from launch, at least) on the iPad, because the concept of a magazine is no more tied to print than novels are to paperbacks. But I hope that it will fit into the “very important time” audience that Iwata-san describes, and that readers will enjoy it enough to want to set aside a few hours, and around £2, each month. I guess what we’re aiming for is the 50+ hour RPG experience of publishing.

Might not put that on the cover, though.


* There’s no doubt at all that some magazines are, at best, cheap time-filler – I assume these will survive only as long as their audience lacks cheap access to the same material online

** I like news websites and blogs, and spend a lot of time reading them. I have never, though, set aside a few hours of my weekend to do so

One response to “On Satoru Iwata and magazines”

  1. Sean Fleming says:

    Excellent analysis of the twin markets of gaming and publishing, Tom. I think you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head.

    It’s really exciting to learn you’re launching a new magazine!

    Well done.

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