1UP's editorial director tells us that Electronic Gaming Monthly was probably going to shut down in its 20th year even if UGO hadn't gotten involved -- but that game companies could have stopped it.
Why is there no longer an Electronic Gaming Monthly, a magazine that fell one month short of being a leading industry publication for 20 years?
1UP editorial director Sam Kennedy and I talked about this earlier this week after news broke that 1UP was being purchased by UGO, a purchase that appeared to result in the shutting down of fellow 1UP outlet, the Ziff-Davis-owned EGM.
Kennedy, who kept his job in the purchase, cautioned me not to conclude that the UGO deal was the cause of EGM's demise. He argues that EGM -- which was under his purview until UGO purchased 1UP -- was already on shaky ground because video game industry just wasn't advertising in the magazine with the fervor it used to.
"The same companies begging for a cover of EGM -- and [that] would love it when they got an article in it -- were the same companies pulling advertising from the magazines."
"The games industry didn't support it," Kennedy said during our half-hour phone conversation. "The same companies begging for a cover of EGM -- and [that] would love it when they got an article in it -- were the same companies pulling advertising from the magazines."
Kennedy's complaint is a familiar one. Beneath so many headlines decrying the death of print, many editors, business people and pundits have blamed a declining advertising market for the cancellation of magazines and the shuttering of newspapers. EGM's last editor, James Mielke, described just how the pain of a dropping ad market was hurting the magazine in a farewell blog post he wrote earlier this week: "Word from on high was that we weren't sure if the [final EGM] issue we were working on would be published, and it really depended on how many ads we ended up getting for the issue."
[UPDATE: A reader's comment to me about this story begs for an expansion of one idea here: Kennedy's comments about gaming companies not sufficiently advertising in the magazine underscores EGM's dependency on gaming-company ads. The magazine was not supported by so-called non-endemic ads from non-gaming companies. Theoretically, EGM could have been kept afloat by companies like Coca-Cola and Honda advertising (to name two at random) and why that wasn't an option is a question for which Ziff Davis, not video game companies, is accountable.]
Kennedy's comments and Mielke's blog tell a tale of a magazine editorial team that worked on their final issue without the knowledge of whether it would be printed. And both make it clear that EGM publisher Ziff Davis was getting understandably cold feet about supporting the magazine in 2009, beyond the typically advertising-rich holiday season.
"The readers were there," Kennedy said pointing out the magazine's circulation, was still over 600,000 (mostly paid) in 2008. "The fans were still supporting [the magazine], but the ad markets was not there."
(Ziff Davis' press office did not return a request for comment for this story.)
Game publishers aren't charities, though, and EGM had been ruffling feathers with its independent editorial stance. Might those have been factors?
Kennedy said no to both.
EGM had been ruffling feathers with its independent editorial stance. Might that have been a factor?
On that charity point: He said that game companies' decision not to advertise in EGM as much in 2008 is a problem that other gaming magazines will be dealing with as well, if they aren't already, simply because they exist on paper, not on computer screens. "I think the thing about advertising is that it's become a lot more metrics-driven," he said. "Online is the best mechanism for that. Print has taken a hit for that." What Kennedy kept circling back to, however, is how much value those companies seemed to put in getting those EGM covers and articles -- just not enough value to back it up with the ad dollars to keep the publication going.
As for EGM's editorial voice: Kennedy knows that publishers bristled at some of the scores the magazine gave. He argues that they didn't appreciate EGM's full use of a 10-point scale, motivating the switch to letter grades. That kind of thing did not kill the magazine or the a market, he said. "I think they believed … in what we stand for and were trying to accomplish," he said. "There was a lot of respect that came with that. Whatever we lost in terms of relationships -- and having to mend our relationships over the years with publishers who didn't believe in our review scores or whatever articles we published -- it only strengthened our relationships with [other] publishers." It was Ziff Davis' need to declare bankruptcy in 2008 that did more to scare off advertisers than any words printed in EGM, as far as Kennedy is concerned.
Those are the breaks of the magazine business. This week, UGO, a website company, bought a website in 1UP.com and related sites. There was no home for EGM at UGO. And there was apparently no longer any will at Ziff Davis to keep EGM alive. Game companies didn't give Ziff a reason to and so, in its 20th year, a gaming institution folded.