Sad news stumbled into gamers’ lives on August 21, 2012 when word got out that the publication and distribution of Nintendo Power would come to a halt at the end of the year. The first full issue of the magazine was published in July/August of 1988, which will make the publication nearly 25 years old by the time it shuts off its lights.
Gone, But Not Forgotten
Nintendo Power was an internal publication until Future US took over the magazine in 2007 and published some exclusive stories that actually managed to scoop game websites. Alas, exclusives or no, the game magazine market is having a very rough time of things. Last year, Gamepro (another long-running publication) brought its own presses to a grinding halt. Game Informer Magazine, which is owned and published by GameStop, is currently the only game magazine that can boast good health with a circulation of 8 million subscribers. Otherwise, the old guard seems to be popping off one by one.
It’s not surprising. People who play video games and are interested in the industry’s progression also tend to be quite internet-savvy. Game news streaks across Twitter, Facebook, and countless tech websites the second it leaves the lips of a PR representative. There’s no reason to shell out a subscription fee for month-old news and reviews, right?
Yes and no. Magazines like Nintendo Power go beyond news and reviews. There are features, community highlights, retrospectives, and intelligent breakdowns of gaming culture. Sadly, even the good stuff isn’t enough to keep subscription numbers up. But contrary to what much of the gaming community has been claiming, the end of magazines like Nintendo Power and Gamepro doesn’t signal the end of the long partnership between video games and the printed word.
The Rise of Print on Demand Projects
There will always be a demand for printed game magazines and collections, particularly among the demographic that grew up with them. The real problem is that the dwindling demand for subscriptions makes it difficult for magazine companies to sustain themselves and pay staff. Also, major magazine publishers end up printing and distributing thousands of magazines that linger on magazine racks before they’re returned, unsold.
This, however, is where independent publication steps in. Even as one magazine after another shuts down operations, print-on-demand resources like Lulu, MagCloud, and Booksurge are doing brisk business. In particular, game writers that were inspired to take up their trade thanks to game magazines have been keen to preserve their heritage. The result is a small but meaty collection of self-published magazines and books like Gamespite and Scroll. Unlike traditional magazines, self-published game magazines can dedicate entire issues to niche topics, including in-depth evergreen explorations of the role-playing genre, action games, or even a single game series like Pokemon or Super Mario.
In other words, the demand for printed game material may have dwindled, but it hasn’t disappeared entirely, and it probably won’t for a long time.
We'll Carry On
Game magazines aren’t dead: they’ve matured, slimmed down, and go directly from the printer to the reader. Moreover, said magazines still manage to sell physical copies even though the teams that publish them typically distribute the articles for free on a website and/or as part of a digital magazine after a small amount of time has lapsed.
We’re living in a strange time. Habits and items that have been the norm for ages seem to peter out overnight and are replaced by something newer, shinier, and digital. It’s an exciting time, but make no mistake, it’s still heartbreaking to say “Goodbye” to old friends like Nintendo Power. Nevertheless, its legacy endures in our hearts and minds, to say nothing of our own print-on-demand projects.
Thanks for 25 years, Nintendo Power.