Publishing Advice - How to do things better (publishing, marketing and distributing a Magazine)

Posted by: kennyrobb On: Aug 25th 2010 edited

Hi there everyone as this is my first post then I guess I had better do some introductions. My names is Kenny Robb and 12 months ago I decided to publish a sci-fi and fantasy gaming magazine (in print) called The Ancible.

For those that don't know the magazine it is an 84 page full colour publication covering all aspects of tabletop gaming.

The only experience I started with was
1. I enjoyed reading magazines
2. I am a very keen gamer

OK before you all call me mad it was just one of those things. I saw a potential gap in the market and went for it. Most people who have seen the product think it is a good product and we have since produced 3 issues in print and then I did some maths. We have since moved to PDF simply down to cost of production (printing mainly).

Along the way I have had various issues with advertisers, printers, distributors and retailers (though these were mainly distributor related) and seem to have come out the other end without to many scars, least you can't see them.

The reason for coming along here was I heard the Shotgun or Graplle pod cast and thought that you guys with you massive experience may be able to give me some pointers as my ultimate aim is to get back into print.

Posted by: Malcolm Craig On: Aug 25th 2010

Hey Kenny,

Thanks very much for joining up and for being willing to talk about your experiences with Ancible. It's always great to see people grasping the nettle and trying something for themselves. For me, the important thing is not to lose your shirt over it! It seems that you've taken a wise, business-focused decision to move over to PDF and give yourself time to analyse the situation regarding the print magazine. While it was available in print, were you also selling the PDF version (for example, on RPGnow or Drive-Thru RPG)*? I'd really recommend broadening your PDF distribution base to increase sales and exposure.

From my own experiences, I would imagine that the costs of printing in full colour were extremely high. What kind of production runs were you doing for each issue? Would you be able to share the per-unit print costs of the magazine?

As for marketing (and this is a totally unrepresentative personal view), the first I heard of the magazine was when I happened to walk by your stand at Games Expo this year. Up to that point, I hadn't encountered any mention of Ancible. What was your marketing strategy, where did you market, who did you market to? Knowing that would be really helpful in giving feedback on the entire process.

I realise there are a lot of questions in the above post!


*Edit: Aha, I see it was available to buy as a PDF from your own webstore.

Posted by: kennyrobb On: Aug 25th 2010

OK Here goes...

We were not selling the PDF when we were printing the magazine as I initially thought that people would not be prepared to pay for content as there is a lot of free stuff out there so I initially concentrated on print.

printing costs depend on how many you print..the more you print the less it costs per unit.

for example....
1000 cost about £2.5K
2000 cost about £3.0K
3000 cost about £3.4K

Obviously you don't want to be printing too many of them otherwise you end up with a garage load of magazines so you have to try and balance the sales v print run. However if you do the maths you need a good book of advertising and need to do enough sales at a hig enough return. I gets complex once you factor in distribution and postage. Bottom line printing 1000 you can't make money so you are on a looser straight away. Printing 2000 providing you can sell them you can just about break even and then it starts to get interesting after that.

In order to achieve this you need good marketing and distribution...

On the marketing front your experience seems to be the norm, no one has heard of us despite all the activity we have out in. We tried TGN and as many other forums as we could find. We tried emails but that caused a few problems. Despite following all the rules relating to email marketing we still got people complaining. Our emails were from a valid email, it was targeted at gamers with a valid gaming related product and had the unsubscribe option. (thats a whole set of war stories for a topic all on it's own)

All of these had limited success. When I did my initial research and got distribution numbers for exisiting wargaming related publications I was convinced that there was a market all be it that they are mostly covering historical gaming. I just have not been able to date to hit that place that would give me the 000's of subscribers that the other magazines have.

I managed to persuade some of the retailers to put flyers in with purchases and we handed out 3000 flyers at Salute this year. We have a facebook page, a web site and a forum.

On the distribution front we had UK, US and Australian distributors.

Since going to PDF we have been hitting the web sites and forums and TGN and have our products on wargames vault and the associated web sites as well as our own web store.

Hopefully that gives you some more data to work with..


Posted by: Malcolm Craig On: Aug 25th 2010

It's and old maxim by now, but PDF sales don't scavenge print sales. Giving the PDF free with print copies bought directly from you also helps. The obviously corollary to this is that having a free PDF available and then charging for the print version is a different kettle of fish. But that's not the situation you are in.

PDF sales are, in some ways, free money. You don't have a physical product to produce, you can put them up on a site such as Drive-thru RPG and then pretty much forget about it. So, my first strong suggestion would be to hit that market and put Ancible up on DTRPG/RPGnow. You'll find purchasers who have never heard of the product before but, if the price point is right, will buy on spec. This will also give you an additional revenue stream to support your other efforts.

Looking in more detail at the magazine, I wonder if by trying to be all things to all men, you aren't generating enough appeal for each individual area. I remember someone on your Expo stall (perhaps even you) explaining what the magazine covered, and it seemed like a lot. Yet, in terms of RPG coverage, there wasn't enough, or the right kind of, content to make me want to purchase. It seems that your primary focus is wargames, but with a tangential interest in RPGs to try and broaden your market appeal. Linking into the above comments on PDF sales, a reasonable priced PDF might make me buy to see what it is like.

Got to duck out now, but I'm sure various people will swing by with other (and quite possibly very different!) thoughts.


Posted by: Newt Newport On: Aug 25th 2010

Hi Kenny

I take it that you are going for the mass market Wargaming/RPG magazine, kinda like the old White Dwarfs?

My background as a small press publisher was that I started publishing a magazine/fanzine called 'Hearts in Glorantha' which is targeted fairly and squarely at a very specific niche, ie. fans of Glorantha. Its done consistently well over the last 2 and a bit years that I've been putting it out. I publish via to provide the printed version, to avoid the whole boxes in garages scenario that WOULD cost me my marriage (The Boss has told me as much) and high outlay for stock that would sit there for years. Its ideal for the scale of my operation. As far as marketing goes I've got direct links into the Gloranthan fan community - through established gaming conventions and yahoo groups email lists.

Couple of questions/reflections based on my experience;

1. Why don't you consider Lulu, even as a stock gap it can allow you to keep a print version out there?

2. What have you done to build a community around your magazine? In my experience this is the most powerful and cost effective form of marketing that I have access to.

You might also want to look at, a uk based rpg forum.

Posted by: kennyrobb On: Aug 25th 2010

Firstly....Malcom the magazine is avaibale on The Wargames Vault group of PDF web sites which includes the two suggested. We set the price at £1.50 as we thought that was a reasonable price that everyone could afford.

I agree with your comments about there being a lot in the magazine but again having done research if I had listened to the various groups I would have produced 5 different magazines each with a niche group in mind. Instead I decided to do 1 and cover many things hoping to capture the maximum group of gamers. We still intend to continue with the mix though it does change issue on issue. When we put it together we try and put at least one article in for each of the sub genres.....modeling, fighting, new games, rpg, retro.

We also realise that there are acrd gamers out there and board gamers and if proplr wish coverage then we will try and include content for them as well but up till now we have had no requests.

I have looked at and am experimenting with Lulu at the moment but I havn't really exploited it fully yet. It is on my list of things to do round about number 1004.

We have a forum but again it a bit slow getting people in there. I can't force them to join much as i would like to try.

I will get one of the team to hit the ukroleplayers forum.

Posted by: Malcolm Craig On: Aug 25th 2010

kennyrobb:Firstly....Malcom the magazine is avaibale on The Wargames Vault group of PDF web sites which includes the two suggested. We set the price at £1.50 as we thought that was a reasonable price that everyone could afford.

Just as a quick note, a search on DTRPG and RPGnow doesn't show up Ancible. It does, as you point out, appear on the Wargames Vault site. I think (although I'm not clear on this) have to do something else to make the PDF appear on all of the related sites. What that 'something' is, I'm at a loss to say! But, it could well be worth investigating to spread your magazine across as many sales outlets as possible.


Posted by: kennyrobb On: Aug 25th 2010

Cheers for that Malcom I will investigate though I'm sure I have had sales from them.

Posted by: Neil Gow On: Aug 25th 2010

My initial thoughts have been based around the breadth of your content and whether the 'a little of everything' approach works.

Speaking as a consumer, I almost never buy magazines anymore because I have access to more up-to-date news and information online just about 24/7 if wanted. From a news point of view, the only thing that magazines can offer me are exclusives - news and content.

The only magazine I ever pick up is Wargames Illustrated and I only purchase it if there is a swathe of Napoleonics in that issue, usually about twice a year. Other stuff is essentially lost on me and a waste of my money beyond a cursory glance.

Essentially a magazine like that boils down to a gamble on the part of the consumer that the content will match their interests to an extent that they find utility in the purchase. The way I imagine you get around it is to provide utterly compelling content (I am reminded of the Bas Lag stuff in Dragon once, which made me sit up and take notice) or do themed issues (the Nap stuff in WI, as mentioned)

I am aware though, that I am but one punter, even if I am omni-geeky

Looking at the pdf preview of #3, I see a lot of ads. Thats encouraging as it means that retailers and producers are aware of the product. I'm intrigued as to your experiences with your distributors and how they have fared?

More later I am sure.


Posted by: Newt Newport On: Aug 25th 2010

"We have a forum but again it a bit slow getting people in there. I can't force them to join much as i would like to try."

Oh I know this one only too well. I've previously tried doing this when I've run forums for Glorantha ( I used to organise demo games under the moniker of The Ring Of HeroQuest Narrators), so when I set up the forum for I was under no illusions that it would light up with posts - its always been a very slow burner.

The good news is that to build a community around my games/magazines, I don't have it in one place.

For example for Hearts in Glorantha I've got two yahoo groups, three forums where I know fans of the setting hang out. I've got a bit of news I look at my list of outlets and let them know. As well as being subscribed to the yahoo groups, I've got a Google Alert set up for Hearts and Glorantha in general, so I know as soon as someone posts about, and if its appropriate I join in the discussion.

I'm lucky that the Gloranthan Community was there and waiting for me to launch my magazine, but I still have to work with them to keep interest up.

Posted by: Gregor Hutton On: Aug 26th 2010

I was getting confused between Ansible and The Ancible for a minute.

I guess the biggest barrier is distribution to get the product into people's hands (and you had/have distro). I personally wouldn't like the risk of £3.4k+ of magazines needing to sell to break even/make money. I think if you hit over 3000 readers then you can work on keeping them and building from there.

I don't have any answers on how to get to the 3000 in the first place.

Having seen magazines come and go (Adventurer, GM, Arcane, Valkyrie) it is tough to replicate the success of Wargames Illustrated and White Dward. They have good distribution, brand loyalty and name value, and have reached a level of visibility that allows for new readers to find it (and to cancel out old readers leaving).

Posted by: kennyrobb On: Aug 26th 2010

Neil, we look at our USP as being introducing people to games they don't yet know so our brief was broad and we do carry on to this day doing just that....something old something new..

On the distribution question that too is strange and bizzare place to go and a bit of a catch 22

Distributor will order copies based on the retailer demand. the retailer will only order what he is prepared to risk or if he had demand from customers. and how do customers know it exists...we have now come full circle.

Marketing is key. Also Distribution is not as financially lucrative as it might seem and you have to sell your product at about 50% and if you go back to my previous post about the costs of production that doesn't make sense till you have about 2k worth of orders.

Posted by: Neil Gow On: Aug 26th 2010

kennyrobb:Neil, we look at our USP as being introducing people to games they don't yet know so our brief was broad and we do carry on to this day doing just that....something old something new..

Ah! Now that! Thats a completely different kettle of fish. "Buy this mag and see things that you haven't seen before" is a far sexier prospect than "a Fantasy SF gaming mag". Far sexier!

If you wanted to pursue that angle, hunting down the obscure, the cutting edge and the downright unexpected would seem to be the thing to do. That might gain you some exposure in some stranger corners of the hobby.

Even having something like 'If you like this, you might also like...' in articles.

Yeah, I get it now. Thanks


Posted by: Tim Gray On: Aug 26th 2010

Issues 1-3 showing up at RPGNow, by the way.

Posted by: kennyrobb On: Aug 26th 2010

Yea..I had to go and work some magic to get them listed

Posted by: kennyrobb On: Aug 26th 2010

So I guess the question is how to reach more people..

Like I said we have a forum, facebook page, do advertising on various miniature related sites and sell our product on what I concider the best places to do so.


Articles and forum posts copyright © their authors 2007-2020.