I understood it when Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) first announced that Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine would be published in-house as PDF only magazines. The high-cost of printing media like newspapers, magazines, and comic books, combined with declining readership, have been devastating to companies in the publishing business, Many of these companies have had to file bankruptcy, increase prices dramatically, or (like PC Magazine or WOTC) move a formerly print product to an online only distribution model.
Moving Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine to PDF also made sense as part of the larger digital initiative. To sell subscriptions to Dungeons & Dragons Insider (DDI), they needed content. Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine have strong brand recognition in the industry, so it made sense to position these assets as the primary content generators for DDI.
As always, the problem is in the implementation. WOTC has managed to lose the benefits of printing physical copies of their magazines without fully leveraging the advantages of an online distribution model.
I have always felt the advantages of paper magazines were two-fold. The first is a sense of nostalgia. Many of us have fond memories associated with Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine over the years. A more tangible benefit is that they encourage casual reading and rereading. Greywulf, a fellow RPG Blogger, recently tweeted following about the loss of physical copies of Dragon and Dungeon:
I have a couple of hundred copies of Dungeon and Dragon mags dating back decades. PDFs just aren't the same. ::sigh::
When was the last time you randomly pulled out a twenty year old PDF and took it to the bathroom with you? No, thought not.
Similiarly, Bob posted the following to the comment section of my blog:
.... Still pissed that I can't get physical copies of Dragon and Dungeon at Waldenbooks.... Kobold doesn't come out enough.
(As an aside, does Waldenbooks even still exist? I thought it was bought by Borders.)
Regardless, I have to admit that I also miss the tangible product. However, I probably use the PDFs more because of their immediate accessibility. If a player of mine wants to use a power out of Dragon 374, I can pull it up instantly on my laptop.
However, the scenario above points to one of the areas where I feel WOTC has dropped the ball in their online distribution model. They lack of ability to perform searches on this content.
Think about it. Let’s say you wanted to create a kobold lair. Imagine if you could logon to DDI, type in kobold, and pull up all of the Dragon Magazine articles about kobolds. It would not only assist in the prep work, it would make it much more likely that those articles would be used!
On the other hand, PDFs bring several nice features to the table, like portability and offline access. The fact that you still have the PDFs even if you are no longer a subscriber to DDI is also nice. So I am not sure I would want to eliminate PDFs from the picture entirely.
So what would be my perfect world? Well, I would continue to publish the articles to the website throughout the month, just like they do now. These articles would be in a searchable database with links directly to them. At the end of the month, these articles would be gathered up into a single PDF, just as they are now.
So what about the print lovers? In my perfect world, these articles would be available for print on demand. Since this is bound to be a bit pricy, maybe they could adopt a build your own model similar to Time Inc’s Mine. I wouldn’t mind building my own “Best of Dragon” every six months!
Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world. I wouldn’t bet on any of these features being implemented soon. Wouldn’t it be nice if at least some of them were though?