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Gaming Magazine

PC Magazine

Best Practices Vary by Category
by Linda Ruth

 

While the newsstand lives by certain "rules of thumb," success in marketing your product on the newsstand depends on learning the rules that will sell your category. What sells one category might be very different indeed than what sells another.

A good example of the ways rules might differ from category to category is computer magazines versus video gaming magazines. While the difference between these categories might be crystal clear to you and me, computer and video games magazines are virtually indistinguishable to many wholesalers and retailers, who frequently categorize them together, summarize their sales as one group, take similar marketing approaches to both, and display them together on the retail shelves.

Yet what captures consumer interest for one will not do for the other.

Consider the examples of Electronic Gaming Monthly and PC Magazine, both published by Ziff Davis, a major publisher of computer and video gaming titles. Each publication has certain standard design elements, elements that vary little from one issue to the next. Each publication has discovered sure ways of appealing to the newsstand reader. Yet two publications could hardly look more different. And what means success for one publication spells certain failure for the other.

Generation Gap

For the computer magazine, a clean look is de rigeur. The white background, the simple image, the clearly articulated lines (drop shadows are conspicuously absent from this cover) tell the business audience that the editorial will be clear, direct, and quickly grasped; that it will be presented in an orderly format; that it will not take excessive time to find, read, and digest the practical information inside.

For the games magazine, a too-clean look is death. Black background, lots of action, broken lines and competing images tell the younger, hipper reader that this magazine is exciting, contemporary, action-packed.

For each title, the cover is reflective of what the reader hopes to find within the pages: greater order and clarity for the business reader; lots of challenges and surprises for the gamer.

In the old photograph-versus illustration debate, computer magazines go with the majority – a photograph is better. (Much, much better). If the photograph is of a newly-released system, we’re in consumer heaven. But the wise computer magazine publisher keeps humans out of the picture: equipment works, people don’t.

Not so with gaming magazines. Illustrations, shunned by so many wise publishers, carry the day here. Inset screen shots are a plus. And if the video gaming title must have a photograph, a savvy publisher will at least make it some kind of superhero action shot. In this category the alert publisher will never put the equipment on the cover.

The games magazine uses another technique to establish it in the world of the younger, more entertainment-oriented reader: the edition number on the cover. This perhaps gives the title some claim to continuity, to having been out there for a while; but more than that, it links it to the comic book genre, and gives it a certain collectors-edition cachet.

The differences in the cutlines are obvious: battles and adventure for the games title versus lighter, faster, and easier for the computer title. The gamers want to whup E.T.’s butt; the business people want to stay connected and in control.

Some Things Never Change


And yet, for all the differences, there are some similarities here. The use of numbers: "58 Notebooks" in the computer magazine; "Over 100 Games" in the gaming title. The action words: “Surf the Web” for the computer users; "Take to the Sky" for the gamers. (Notice the sense of freedom conveyed in both of those action phrases).

The review/previews, found in both publications: The Best of '96 awards would work for either publication; the lab tests and reader’s choice cross category barriers. EGM has an "all-new" on the cover; PC Magazine advertises a special Network Edition. Either would entice both sets of readers.

The editors of both magazines know that their readers are looking for empowerment; for useful, practical tips to enable them to use the technology they own, whether for work or for play.

And they know that you can change the category, but for delivering that kind of empowerment to readers, some things are still the same.

 

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