I caught up with GamerZines' Dave Taylor. We chatted about the new endeavor, its current success and its future plans. GamerZines is an online multimedia gaming magazine that is free to readers. Take a look!
Tyler Treat: When did GamerZines start up, and why was it created?
Dave Taylor: GamerZines: GamerZines were started because the three of us on the management team (Dave Taylor, Duncan Ferguson and Dan Hutchinson) wanted to launch a set of videogames magazines, but no longer saw the opportunity in the print magazine market, which is where we’d all worked for about fifteen years. I’d already created a digital magazine called Home Computer Magazine back in 2005, which did well, but had been put on hold while I worked as Publishing Director for a videogames magazine publisher. So we had a basic concept, but knew we wanted to develop it considerably before bringing it to the videogames space.
There are two sides to the GamerZines business, the first is contract publishing and the second is own IP. We launched our first contract GamerZine, called PES Fanzine, for Konami in August 2006 and we launched our first own IP magazine, 360Zine for Xbox 360, in October 2006 – there was a lot of behind the scenes work that had to go on for the own IP, such as discussing the idea with games companies, which meant we couldn’t launch them together.
TT: How many readers does GamerZines average?
DT: Our initial target figure was 30,000 readers, which we achieved comfortably. So far we have hit every internal target we’ve set ourselves, which might sound like we’ve aimed low, but we live by the mantra “under promise, over deliver”.
TT: All of your emagazines are free to readers. What drives you to offer this?
DT: Altruism. No, it was the business model we developed based on our own personal views on how we use the internet which we then discussed with several advertising agencies. Basically, we talked about how people use websites and we all agreed that firstly, content is free online. That’s a painful truth for media owners – as magazine publishers, you’re used to being able to charge £4 for a videogames magazine, but you can’t try and bring that business model to the internet. Secondly, any barrier to downloading would seriously deter users, so we decided to not even require registration. We run reader surveys regularly so that we can gather the information we need to feedback to advertisers, but these are also optional for readers.
TT: What can subscribers expect from your magazines?
DT: First and foremost, quality videogames journalism. We use a collection of the best videogames journalists in the UK. They deliver insightful previews, reviews and interviews. What we don’t do is news – websites are far better for news. We’re there for when you’ve got the time to immerse yourself in your passion for videogames, just as you would by picking up a print magazine.
Next, and this is very cool and the thing we get the most feedback on, our magazine pages aren’t static. They include games videos, and animation, plus multimedia, such as interactive quizzes, graphs, feedback, etc. So the magazines themselves come alive. One reader described it “like walking on the moon for the first time” and another told us we’d fulfilled his childhood fantasy of pages coming alive. I’m not sure I’d go that far myself, but there’s no doubt that, having launched many print magazines myself, the ability to combine different forms of media on a magazine page is probably the most exciting media evolution I’ve been involved in.
TT: We know competition is rough, so what do you do to keep your readers coming back for more? What sets you apart from other gaming magazines?
DT: Being completely unique. Nobody else has got the sophistication of multimedia in digital magazine that we have. It’s the reason we selected PDF, because while it has its downsides, it’s the only format that combines legible text and constrained layout with the ability to embed multimedia. No other digital videogames magazines use the quality of journalists that we use either. There are several amateur digital magazines out there and I read some of them regularly, and I love that the internet allows this form of publication, but by using professionals and because of who is involved at a management level and the contacts we’ve built up over the years, we get a level of access to games that non-professionals can’t get. So, with GamerZines, you get all of the quality of a print magazine, with the additional benefit of living pages, as it were. If that doesn’t sound too grandiose, which of course, it does.
TT: How is the downloadable magazine format working for you? Do you see emagazines overtaking conventional magazines in the future?
DT: It has been brilliant. It liberates you in an editorial manner, even down to the simple fact that if you want an extra page for a review, you can simply add one page, whereas in print, you need to work around section sizes (magazines are printed in 16, 32 or 64 page sections, so you can’t just add or remove pages).
The future for digital magazines is undoubtedly exciting. I think that what we produce today is better than what was originally created as a proof of concept, and we have some ideas of what we can do to push it even further, but more than that, digital publishing (as opposed to website publishing) is still in its infancy, so I’ve no doubt that what we’ll be producing in two or five years time will be even more advanced.
TT: What does one need to read one of your emagazines?
DT: All you need is Adobe Reader on a PC, which is a free download from Adobe. In order to ensure that the multimedia plays correctly, we advise people to install the latest version 8, which includes some security enhancements, so it’s a sensible upgrade. Additionally you need the Internet Explorer Flash plugin (which is already installed on 96% of PCs) and Windows Media Player 10, which is also part of Windows. Basically, if you install Adobe Reader, you should already have the other 2 bits installed.
TT: Can readers submit feedback about GamerZines? Do you publish any letters to the editors?
DT: Absolutely, we love getting feedback. We have a form on the website, but every magazine has a letters page where we publish the best letters. Each magazine has a feedback form built into the letters page and the key previews and reviews, so readers can tell us what they are hoping for on a game, or tell us what they think of a review. Several ideas for improving the magazines have come from readers.
TT: How can users stay on top of all the latest issue releases? Is there a subscription system or an email update?
DT: We have a voluntary email subscription service for all our magazines, so readers can add their name and email and then select which platforms they are interested in and we email them when a new issue of interest is published. We send out one email when a magazine they’ve subscribed to is published and one monthly update to let people know about what is going on with enhancements to the site, launches, competitions, etc.
TT: What influences, such as other magazines, have made an impact on GamerZines?
DT: Well, Dan, Duncan and myself have all worked in the UK specialist magazine industry (the industry name for videogames and tech titles) for over a decade, starting as writers and salesmen and working up to senior management positions.
As a team, we’ve been involved in many, many magazine launches, from the Official Windows XP Magazine, Official Xbox Magazine to the award winning Digital Camera Magazine and X360. We’ve all worked for both Future Publishing (UK market leader) and Highbury Entertainment (as was, their main competitor) at senior levels, so we can’t deny that our experiences there, and the talented people we worked with, shaped our views on what makes a great magazine. It’s that level of experience that has allowed us to create what we believe are mature, engaging titles from the start.
Our view was what makes a great magazine offline makes a great digital magazine too, which is why you’ll see all sorts of print ideas in our magazines that you would not see on a website.
For example, we often use boxouts to break up the body copy and put interesting, self contained bits of information in one place, common practice in print magazine design, except that in GamerZines we can go one step beyond and add interactivity, so if the boxout is on the different factions in a game, you can click on each faction name to see a screenshot and read about their abilities.
I think anyone who has read a videogames magazine in the past ten years will feel at home with the GamerZine’s layout and style.
TT: How many different emagazines do you offer?
DT: We currently have four monthly magazines: 360Zine for Xbox 360, P3Zine for PlayStation 3, PCGZine for PC games and HGZine for Handheld (DS, PSP and Mobile). In addition, we have contract magazines that are published on a less regular basis. All of them are free to the readers.
TT: How many contributors are involved in GamerZines, and what kind of experience do they bring to the table?
DT: Gosh, that’s almost impossible to answer. It changes every issue depending on what games are covered. We made a conscious decision when we started to ensure that games are covered by the experts in that field. There’s no point giving a FPS to an RTS writer, so if there are more games of one sort in a month, it will skew the number, but I guess in total about 20 different writers are used.
In terms of experience, they are all very established writers, which gives GamerZines great credibility with the readers. We do give breaks to new writers, though that’s down to Dan to decide what he feels he’d like to try out and see if he can help develop a writer. In this way, GamerZines are exactly like all the print magazines we’re used to working on.
TT: Are there any exciting thinTT we can expect in the future from GamerZines? Any future plans?
DT: There are lots, but I suppose I have to be careful what I talk about. We have just won another contract to produce a magazine on the amBX gaming technology for Philips. That’s a very exciting idea, to extend the gaming experience beyond the screen and speakers, and a digital magazine can bring that idea to readers in a far more useful manner than a flat print page could.
We’ve also got some ideas about how we can enhance the multimedia in the magazines further, but that’s still in the testing stage.
The other area we’re working hard on is delivery, to ensure that users get the best possible experience, which means upgrading the server structure (just done) and offering new ways to get the content. We have just launched an affiliates’ section, which allows webmasters and bloggers to embed the latest issue of a GamerZine, automatically updated, into their own pages, so rather than send people to our site, they can actually enhance their site with a free magazine for their readers. That’s proving very popular and we’re looking at ways to expand that.
We’re a long way from finished with our plans; that’s for sure.
TT: Anything else you’d like to add?
DT: Only that gamers should check us out, read a couple of our magazines and if they like them, subscribe so that they don’t miss an issue. If they really like us, they should tell their friends, and if they run a site or blog, they should write about us! Getting the word out is the best way to ensure that we can continue to grow and offer readers more free magazines, and recommendations are incredibly important to us.