Friday, June 12, 2009

Dragon & Dungeon Magazines on PDF: The worst of both worlds?

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?


Mike Leger said...

Interesting idea, i don't like how you just can't get a subscription to 1, why have 2 online magazines when there is no real separation. Either join them, or allow a 'player' account

greywulf said...

The sad thing is that Wizard of the Coast didn't even MAKE Dungeon or Dragon magazines - it cost them absolutely nothing to have them at the newsstands and pulling them have nothing to do with them making a loss. In fact, Paizo (their publisher) was doing rather well with the sales.

I'm not bitter..............

Medraut said...

RE: The sad thing is that Wizard of the Coast didn't even MAKE Dungeon or Dragon magazines

I didn't bring this up in my post, but I agree that Pazio was doing some great things with the magazines before WOTC pulled them back in-house and moved them to PDF.

My comments on the viability of the magazine publishing business were more to illustrate why WOTC didn't want to get back into that business, and why they spun off that side of the business to Pazio in the first place.

Why they pulled back in Dungeon Magazine and Dragon Magazine is probably two-fold:

1) Brand Recognition: Dungeon Magazine and Dragon Magazine had high brand recognition, so it made good sense (from a corporate point of view) to leverage that asset.

2) The desire for more control over the D&D brand. As has been talked about ad nauseum eleswhere, with the advent of GSL, Wizards has been locking down third-party product development of D&D. I think this is idiotic for several reasons, but I am betting that this desire played a big part in them deciding to take Dungeon Magazine and Dragon Magazine back.

You may have noticed that all of those reasons make sense from WOTC's point of view, but do not serve the customer.

So I guess that is my long way of saying you have a right to be bitter.

Rob McDougall said...

They lack of ability to perform searches on this content.

This isn't strictly true. The beauty of using a standard format like PDF is that it works with any search engine. Google desktop and Microsoft search can both understand PDF (although Microsoft search needs an Adobe plug-in, but still...).

Medraut said...

RE: This isn't strictly true. The beauty of using a standard format like PDF is that it works with any search engine.

I definitely wasn't suggesting Wizards move to some kind of proprietary format. I am just surprised they don't make it easier to search their own site for Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine content.

It is definitely true that products like Google Desktop will index the contents of PDF files, so that is a great suggestion on how to search for what you need.

Thank goodness for third-party products to fill the gap.

Scafloc said...

@greywulf: Paizo has long been the hero of the gaming community from my perspective. Of any "third party" publishers they always turned out balanced and internally consistent material (more so than many wizards products actually), and managed to do so with a lower price point in general. Heck, if Monte Cook were to move over and join them, I doubt he could do much better. No, wait, that is what happened. The result is Pathfinder.

Ok, back on topic... I can fathom no reason what so ever that the current model needs two subscriptions. Frankly, I don't see why the physical magazines and the PDF based web magazines couldn't coexist peacefully. Admittedly, the price for a subscription might change a little. Honestly, D&D has never had a good track record with electronic gaming aids, web based or no (with the exception of the outstanding HTML Dice). I just find it difficult to reason how it is logical to decide to remove a viable and well received product from the market in order to attempt to shore up an already weak link in the chain of success.