Any kind of fall is a worry for publishers of course, but the drop in PC and PlayStation mag sales is not definitive bad news for the sector or the industry.
The weakening of the hardcore computer titles was surely expected, as more people use their PC or Mac to search for the same sort of news and reviews online. It makes perfect sense having that content delivered daily by the exact device you’re reading up on, instead of once a month by the newsagent. And who among us would have anticipated a rise in the circulation of PlayStation titles when Sony is in such a transitional phase.
Look at the figures again for the six months from March for PS-related mags and the results will certainly be different. You don’t have to be Sherlock Weinberg to see what led to the healthy jump in sales for both 360 and Nintendo mags. Decent growth and a steady portfolio of titles for Microsoft’s console coupled with autumn’s launch Wii-mania has stemmed the tide just like the PS3 launch will.
Gaming as a hobby continues to boom and its reach is getting wider than ever. There is increasing coverage in the national press (for the good and yes, the bad), plus growing space in more generic magazines – including those aimed at women. It’s true you can’t deny that in general kids don’t buy magazines anymore. You only have to look at the demise of Smash Hits for evidence of that. And you’d be an idiot not to admit readerships will continue to fall slightly in favour of a migration to the web where you can get videos, preview clips and demos for free – rather than paying up to a fiver for a cover disc every four weeks.
But quality games journalism, as exhibited by the majority of these magazines, will never go out of fashion. It will always win out against the fan sites, and poorly written and lengthy web reviews. I’ve always thought there are far too many mags out there ploughing the same furrow and a bit of ‘natural selection’ over the next year or two might not be such a bad thing.
The good ones will survive and the not-so-good will either merge or disappear allowing a consolidation of the hardcore readership. The media landscape may be changing but I think rumours of the specialist magazine’s death are – to coin another phrase – “greatly exaggerated”.