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Keep Taking the Tablets

There comes a time when even the most technologically challenged Luddite, namely me, emerges blinking from his cave to embrace the wonders of modern technology. Today I stumbled forth to face the dawn of a new era, I subscribed to a wargames magazine in electronic format.

Of course electronic, or PDF, versions of magazines are nothing new, Duncan MacFarlane and Iain Dickie both produced back editions of Wargames Illustrated and Miniature Wargames on CD and my old chum Henry at Battlegames was the first to give his customers a choice between PDF format or hard copy for the current editions of his fine magazine. Indeed it was purchasing “The Motherlode” of all the back editions of Henry’s magazine that first made me sit up and take notice of this new format, although I continue to subscribe to his publication in the paper version for reasons we shall discuss.

Changing a habit of a lifetime is not something one does on a whim. On the shelves in my office I have a collection of wargaming magazines which includes every single edition of Wargames Illustrated, Miniature Wargaming and Battlegames, not to mention many copies of Battle for Wargamers and nearly all the editions of Practical Wargamer. I have always hung on to these and put them in binders on the theory that one day they will be useful. As I get older and the space needed to store all of these magazines continues to expand at the rate of around an inch of shelf room each month I have begun to wonder if working on the rainy day principle is actually sensible. So, today I took the plunge and subbed to the electronic version of Wargames Soldiers & Strategy, also grabbing all of the back numbers since the re-launch two years ago, and all I can say is “Wow!”.

The Genesis of this “big decision” was the recent purchase of an iPad. I wasn’t overly convinced that a tablet would be a life-changing acquisition; more a case of toys-for-boys, I assumed. However, I did want one as we are increasingly making more of our products available specifically formatted for tablets and I thought I should see what this was all about for myself.

What I hadn’t expected was quite how much of an impact this tablet would have. Whereas I used to religiously wander down to the village shop to pick up my daily paper each morning, I found that I could now download this onto my iPad and read the news that way. Within a month the physical newspaper was only used if I popped down to my local pub for a quiet pint and a read, the rest of the time I was “consuming” my news (trendy, eh?) in electronic format. If nothing else the iPad allows me to expand the page size so that I can read the text without resorting to my recently acquired, and much detested, reading glasses. A major bonus in itself!

As it happened we began some major building work on Lard Island this summer, work that will much increase our office space, bring a permanent wargames table into the work space and allow us a bit of elbow room. This in itself got me thinking about efficient use of space and how to minimise clutter and, with the newspaper experience under my belt, I realised that now was the time to make the break. I could, and where possible I would, make the leap to taking my wargames magazines in electronic format. Instead of a dozen foot of shelf space I could keep a “library” of magazines on my iPad with the files backed up on my computer.

We live in a world which from the point of view of technology is in a state of flux, and consequently some companies are more advanced than others in the choice of formats available. Of the four UK wargaming magazines only Wargames Soldiers & Strategy provides what for me is the perfect “off the peg” solution. A year’s subscription is very cost effective and allows me to download the magazines in fully searchable PDF format, so if I am looking for articles by Rick Priestly I just type in his name and I am whisked to his piece in an instant. If I am on the train then I can take my entire magazine library with me.

At the other end of the spectrum Wargames Illustrated offer only the hard copy edition, with even the old CD versions which Duncan produced up to (around) edition 200 seemingly unavailable. This is disappointing to say the least and frankly appears somewhat primitive in an age when most newspapers and magazines can be had in some kind of electronic format. More on that shortly.

In between the two extremes we then have Miniature Wargames and Battlegames, both of which are run by very decent chaps, Andrew and Henry, and come under the auspices of their parent company Atlantic Publications. The good news is that both of these magazines are available in either hard copy of in electronic format. The bad news, and I consider this to be very bad news indeed, is that they are not available in PDF format which one can then simply store on your hard disc or in your iPad. Instead one must install an ‘Ap’ which allows you to “gain access” to these magazines which are hosted by a third-party organisation, “Exact Editions”. So long as you continue to subscribe to this company you can access these magazines, however if you stop subscribing then that’s your lot. In other words you never own the electronic magazines you are “buying”, you are merely purchasing a readers card for somebody else’s library. And frankly that is not what I am after.

I have always considered wargames magazines to be a long-term resource and that is amply proven by the fact that my book shelves are now groaning under the weight of magazines dating back as far as 1974. What I want is the solution offered by Wargames Soldiers & Strategy where I can actually buy the magazine and keep it on my system, backed up on disc and on my iPad. In other words I want the file to be MINE so that I can retain my purchases to consult in the future. This was actually an option offered by Battlegames prior to their acquisition by Atlantic, and the removal of this is, I feel, a colossal retrograde step. Indeed, as we have previously advertised in Battlegames on a semi-regular basis I am now, frankly, concerned at the loss of potential viewers with the system being changed, but that’s another matter. Suffice to say that as a punter there is no way that I am going to subscribe to anything stored by Exact Editions whereas if a straightforward PDF were available I would immediately subscribe to both magazines as a matter of course.

I would strongly suggest that wargames magazine publishers need to consider the changing world in which we live and look at the various options that are available. Consult your customers and you’ll find that the demand is there. Since we began producing rules in PDF format eight years ago we have found a huge amount of those sales are generated as people are keen to address issues such as their carbon footprint. Now I have never hugged a tree in my life, but in a world of limited resources one cannot fail to see that they have a fair point. So, brave magazine publishers of the world (actually this is aimed specifically at Atlantic and at Wargames Illustrated) how about responding to your customers, be they eco-warriors or merely fat blokes running out of shelf space, and joining Karwansaray in the 21st Century?

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12 Responses

  1. Phil says:

    I couldn’t agree more – in fact, I think you must have downloaded most of that from inside my cranium…

    With the exception of the ‘pub’ bits. On the subject of the pub – why read the paper paper in the pub – why not read the electronic paper in the pub too – by simply taking the iPad with you – and then you could leave your reading glasses at home too?!

  2. Well said, and as you suggest when Henry was in control then Battlegames had PDFs. Hopefully in the future there will be a return to PDFs once the financial realities hit home i.e.: selling less electronic copies.

  3. Steve says:

    Excellent piece. I haven’t bought BG since the PDF stopped and have no room for the paper edition (I hadn’t realised that you now only rent BG from the publishers these days, that does suck, i objected to having another app and another format, I like the mags in one place).

    I sub to e-WS&S and love the fact they are all on my iPad wherever I take it (will be sat in the car on Dad’s taxi duty for an hour later and will have them all with me).

  4. Tom says:

    Yes, it is very short sighted for publishers to not get with the program. My spend has increased with the availability of the tablet. In fact I shall now go and give WSS a look. Having a subset of my library with me at all times is truly liberating. Haven’t got much ink on my hands lately.

  5. Big Rich says:

    Steve, I read mine on Dad’s taxi duty last night. Brilliant resource. The idea of renting a magazine seems like madness to me.

    To quote Paul Weller.

  6. Lorne says:

    As gamers we’re quite well served with reading material today. There’s a range of regular magazines and pubs jostling for attention with innumerable websites and blogs. Against that backdrop, it was the ability to get Battlegames electronically that encouraged me to subscribe – it was a justifiable “impulse buy”, a sale that would not have otherwise taken place.

    In thoughtlessly abandoning this and replacing it with the inferior rental/pay-per-view model, Atlantic have succeeded only in losing another customer here.

    Conversely, WSS providing this PDF facility has greatly increased the likelihood that I’ll continue with a sub.

    Lesson for any publisher is surely that 100% of a smaller sale value is better than 100% of no sale.

  7. Curt D says:

    I agree. Currently e-subscribe to both BG & WSS. I will not renew BG. HATE the Exact Editions app. I also want to control digital material I purchase. I have the same issue with the whole cloud concept. Digital storage is cheap these days I don’t want rentals. I want ownership.

  8. Andrew Hubback says:

    Rich, I have conveyed the substance of your comments direct to the boss of Atlantic so we’ll what happens. It is not really my place to comment on the non-print edition of MW, much less BG, but I can say reader feedback is continually taking into account by the magazines’ management so don’t feel you are whistling in the wind. We are listening!

  9. Jim Bambra says:

    That’s great to hear. Having moved to Fuerteventura last year, I took out electronic subscriptions to Miniature Wargames and Battlegames thinking it would be easier to cut out the vagaries of overseas mail and download my mags as soon as they were published. I have a slow internet connection (mobile dongal) which makes reading the magazines on-line a hugely painful process. So much so that I’ve stopped even trying so I won’t be renewing either subscription, and have already switched to Wargames, Soldiers & Strategies more user friendly pdf service. Here’s hoping that Atlantic Publishing will go move to a more customer friendly service.

  10. Graham Knight says:

    I am much taken with both magazines on the ipad and my daily paper. To have both downloaded to read at my breakfast table even though I am half a world away from the UK is brilliant. I still have my Battlegames copy sent by post in hard copy though for the reasons you give. However the most useful thing has been the several sets of rules IABSM 3 among them that have also found there way onto the tablet. The instant cross referencing links are a real boon in a game and save the endless searching through and comments of “thought you said you’d read the rules” that used to accompany first try outs of new systems.

  11. MInondas says:

    One can only hope that Atlantic Publishing will “see the light” and realize soon that even publications in electronic format need to have tangible form to be an attractive option to hard copy. Requirement of having internet access to be able to read the content is an annoyance, but in my case the real problem with the model they are using will come up in the event of them going belly up. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but it may… and some of us still remember the untimely demise of Webmag.com.

    Another thing I hope for to happen is that people who have copy rights to old WI and MW will realize that they are sitting on a small treasure that with a bit of effort could bring in a very nice revenue stream if digitalized and handled properly. All they need to to is to put together a searchable database over the articles and make them individually available for download… for a small fee. So you’re looking for middlesized ACW scenario on regimental level or articles on uniforms of Byzantine levies? OK, make a search in online database, pick articles that catch your fancy and pay a dollar per scenario.

  12. Bob Roughton says:

    Came across your article whilst hunting down CD versions of old magazines. Just started subscribing to WSS electronic version following my Christmas acquisition of a tablet. One or two minor glitches with the PDFs, but much more convenient to have them on one device.

    Have also just got rid of my collection of old WI and MW magazines in favour of the CDs. Might buy the occasional paper version, but there’s no way I will be ‘renting’ copies on a subscription basis. WSS have got it right.

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