An Open Letter to Wizards of the Coast, or How to Make Dragon Magazine Worth Purchasing Again Part I
Dear Wizards of the Coast,
First, I want to tell you that I'm looking forward to this new edition of the Dungeons and Dragons game. And I expect that after the last few years of lackluster sales you are too. I know that seems like a low blow, but as time has gone on your sales have noticeably slipped and your market presence has shrank to a level that I never thought possible when I first started in this hobby.
I know, I know, you've been focusing all your energies on the new edition through it's playtest - even to the point where you've put two of your best weapons into hibernation. Of course I'm talking about Dragon and Dungeon magazine here.
Let me tell you that I miss the days when those magazines were out on the newsstand because I bought each of them every month. Now I understand your reasons for going digital, and I think that in the long run you were right to do so, but let me tell you why I never bought them once you did.
I like the feel of a magazine in my hands and on the few occasions that I download one, I want it on my Kindle. You took both those options away from me when you went digital. So how about this for the relaunch: provide me with a print on demand option for the magazines and a way to subscribe to the magazines through my Kindle.
I know that it sounds crazy, but I'm willing to pay a bit more for my print copy - and I'm not alone.
Speaking of paying, if you're going to want to make some real money on this thing you've got to make some major improvements to it. Over the last few years you've let each of them languish to the point where a man would have to hold his nose to purchase them. At first I thought that this was because of the normal corporate obstinence that seems to hound every company of a certain size, but lately I've begun to think that it might be because you don't recognize the problem. So, let's fix that.
Over the last few years your articles have by and large been crap. Part of this has been the focus on where you're going with the new edition, but part of it has been because of some reticence on your parts that I just don't understand.
The number of articles per issue are way down and the topics they cover are so formulaic that I find it hard to believe that anyone on your staff is really enjoying this anymore. But it's something that we can fix, and something that you're going to have to fix if you want people to buy your magazines again.
Now I have heard the argument that part of the problem with the magazine is that you've got a backlog of over thirty years worth of articles and so it's practically impossible not to rehash the same thing time, and time again.
Well that's just bunk my friends!
I'll give you seven articles that you could run on a monthly basis along with your old stand-byes that would get more interest in Dragon Magazine and that will help increase its value to customers like me.
1.) Tales of the Dragon: In this series you would have an alumni of the Company (preferably someone from the TSR days like Tim Kask, Carl Sargent, Bruce Heard, or Frank Mentzer) write an article about what it was like to be involved in the early days of the hobby. They could talk about the process behind seminal products - like the Basic game or Mystara - or just simply share some of their favorite stories from the days long since gone. There is a hunger out there to hear from these individuals.
2.) Table talk: This one's easy, just put out the word that you're looking for the funniest stories from the games of your players and they'll come pouring in.
3.) Industry News and Reviews: This one will help move the magazine in circles that have long since given you up. By reporting on semi-current (you are monthly after all) news and reviewing products from across the wide spectrum of role-playing games you'll be able to expand the horizons of the magazine and increase your profile. Which is great, right? But here's the best part. By reviewing other companies products that have an attachment to the new edition you're helping push those sales and they, in turn, are helping push your own. So get out there and push Mongoose and Green Ronin. You were never better than when they were writing third party products for your game.
4.) Comics, comics, comics: While you've put some in here and there you've forgotten that often the comics were the best part of Dragon! So let's get three or four back as regular features in the magazine. Run a contest like Penny Arcade did or just go out and get solicitations from the best comics on the web and in print. Hell, d20 Monkey is putting out an amazing comic right now that would be great in there and you'd be crazy to leave someone like that on the shelf!
5.) Short Fiction: We need some good short fiction to come back into the magazine - and not from your regular, staff writers. We need stories that run across the gamut of fiction to inspire our games. Give us a mystery, and a pulpy action adventure. Give us tales of survival and tragedies. Go out and get some of these authors who are just making a name for themselves and then get a Ben Bova back for a few issues. Call up Illona Andrews, J.D. Robb*, Jim Butcher, and Glen Cook. Get us people we know and then give us some people we should know.
This is a part of the magazine that mattered more to me than any other when I was a kid and it should be an emphasis today. After all, many of your younger readers are only reading your magazine and their D&D books. If you don't inspire them by exposing them to the larger world of fiction you are looking at customers who will leave you behind because they can't be creative enough to keep playing.
If you must, think of it like planting a garden. The ideas that they read to day will inspire the adventures they have tomorrow. Give them something worth thinking about; give them an adventure that keeps them coming back for more.
6.) Chasing the Dragon: This one is a place for your readers to provide you with some amazing content. Place an open call for any magical items, spells, monsters, classes, feats, skill variants, and house rules. Pick the best of the best and publish them. I know that you'll find more great stuff then you ever imagined possible because I see it every day on blogger.
This hobby is filled with intelligent, creative, and mad people just looking for the opportunity to let everyone know about their vision for the game. Give them the opportunity and you will not regret it.
7.) The RPGA and You: Look, we both know that the RPGA hasn't meant a damned thing throughout its entire history. It's time to change all that. Let's turn it into a real organization with officers and a president. Let's put out reports on the RPGA's doings and goings on. Let's drum up support for RPGA sanctioned events at conventions and let's put our best writer on this beat so that we can get people excited to join.
If you want to people to really become involved in the new edition you have to do everything you can to get them to take ownership of the product. This is just one more way to get them to do so.
I know that over the last two editions that you've made it a point to create a look for the edition, and that's great, but for the magazine you need to forget that policy. Bring in new blood, absolutely continue to bring in new blood, but throw in some of the old guys every now and again. Let us see a Jeff Dee or a Larry Elmore again.
Show us our past so that we can be re-inspired and reinvigorated by the stories their art told; and then bring in one of the new kids so that we can see where we're going. The variety of art in your pages will not only inspire the future artists that will come through your doors but will set a tenor for the magazine that has been missing for so very long now.
By now I'm sure that you've noticed that there are several articles I'm recommending that rely on the audience for them to work, and that was deliberate on my part. We are a fractured hobby with people self identifying themselves by the games they play, and if you want to get a bigger part of that pie then you have to engage us.
You have to move beyond small surveys the make us feel like we have a say and let us take ownership of the hobby. The playtest was a good start, but if you want to carry that momentum over then you have to push further than you realized. I'll hurt at times when you feel like we're taking over, but just remember that when a customer takes ownership of a product line they do everything for it. Just give it a chance and you'll see your readers buying more product, proselytizing it to friends and family, and doing everything they can to see this brand through to the next generation.
*J.D. Robb is actually Nora Roberts, but don't let that throw you off. The In Death books are really quite good.