With Sega Mania and Wireframe both closing down in recent months, it could be argued that independent print based magazines are difficult to sustain, and are largely perceived as being commercially unviable. However, this hasn’t stopped Dean Mortlock from creating Debug – a quarterly print based magazine that’s solely focused on indie games.
With the first issue of Debug having come out in April this year, I was able to ask Dean Mortlock (Editor) about his publication, and was also able to get his opinion on how media entrepreneurs can go about setting up their own independent print based publications. Enjoy!
You’re the editor of Debug (an indie games magazine), Sega Powered (a Sega-centric magazine) and the founder of Super-8 (a media agency). What steps are you taking to ensure that you’re able to handle working on all of these projects – whilst also not suffering from burnout and a conflict of interests in the process?
The conflict of interests part is probably the easiest bit to answer, as they’re all very different. We might cover the odd new SEGA titles in Debug, but it’s mostly indie games on modern formats, so there’s not much of a crossover.
Super8 Media was set up by myself and my partner around 10 years ago, and we do a lot of design work for local businesses, which my partner mostly handles. I have very little to do with that side of things.
Debug is currently the priority, as it’s obviously important to get it well established, but due to the nature of my work, it’s not uncommon to be juggling more than one project at a time.
It’s argued that print based magazines are deemed to be hugely irrelevant in a post-internet / smartphone age. What was your reasoning for launching a print based magazine in the age of the internet / smartphone? At the same time, and considering that print based magazines have huge overheads, and are pressurised into covering mainstream games so as to increase their commercial viability and sales, what was your reasoning for eschewing mainstream games entirely, and focusing only on indie games? How concerned are you that the twin factors of the internet / smartphone age, and an indie-centric editorial policy, will limit Debug magazine’s commercial scope and appeal? And what steps are you taking to ensure that Debug will be (financially) successful, have staying power, and won’t be closing (like the majority of all businesses) in two years?
As you’d expect, I personally don’t believe that print magazines are irrelevant. Magazine sales are miniscule compared with when I was on Sega Power in the 90s and working on a title selling over 100,000 copies each month, but we launched Debug with our eyes very much open, and sales are exceeding expectations.
An independently produced magazine can reach profitability far sooner than one produced by a large publishing company, and recent experience has taught me that there’s still an audience for print magazines. It’s not a huge audience, but certainly more than enough to cover the production costs for Debug – which was always the primary aim for the launch.
We chose indie games mainly because a) they’re the games we mostly play, and b) we believe that the indie sector deserves more coverage in the gaming media. None of the team really had any passion for a traditional multi-format gaming magazine. Debug itself is a larger entity that currently also covers events and demo discs. Over time, this will expand but all with a focus on helping to promote indie publishers and developers.
It’s impossible to predict the long-term future for anything, but by creating a magazine that’s professionally made, editorially interesting and visually appealing – as well as utterly rammed with as many games as we could squeeze in – we think we’ve given Debug the best possible start. And the reader response so far has been enormously positive.
Similarly, and as someone who has experience of launching and editing magazines, what tips would you give to media entrepreneurs who are thinking about launching their own print based magazine – especially in an increasingly digital landscape which has seen a number of high profile casualties in recent years (such as Sega Mania and Wireframe)? What advice would you give to media entrepreneurs who want to start their own print based magazine, who want to carve out a respectable niche for their product, and who want to be financially solvent in the process?
It’s extremely hard to launch a print magazine and expect to earn a living from it – I speak from experience here. Anyone considering launching their own magazine must treat it as a hobby to begin with, and expect to put in an awful lot of hours for very little financial reward.
I would recommend getting as much experience as possible with a good desktop publishing package – especially if you’re not lucky enough to know a designer who’ll work for free/pennies; spend some time learning the basics rather than rush something out. The quality of independent magazines has improved over the last few years, so you want to make sure you give your title a fighting chance.
What are your future plans for Debug, and where do you see the magazine going from here?
So there are other plans for Debug as a brand but nothing we can really talk about at the moment, aside from what’s already been announced – the magazine obviously, but also the Debug Dreamcast demo discs (which are free of charge), and Debug indie gaming areas at major gaming events. OLL ’23 was the first, in April this year, and the next one with be at the NottsVGE on July 22.
Last question… As someone who has been part of the media landscape since the early 90s, you’ve seen first hand how the prestige and fortune of gaming journalists and media outlets have greatly diminished in recent years. What do you think can be done to increase the prestige of gaming journalism, and have more gamers wanting to become journalists and open up their own (financially viable) gaming outlets – that will also include print based magazines? At the same time, do you think that we’ll ever see a renaissance in print based magazines, and what do you think can be done to encourage more people in wanting to be part of such an endeavour?
I think the prestige of gaming journalists is as strong as ever, just that more are obviously writing online than in print. We’re lucky enough to have a fantastic range of first-class gaming websites featuring some of the best writers in the business. The print side of things is well covered too, with superb titles like Edge, Play and Retro Gamer still going strong.
The great thing about the Internet for gamers is that anyone is capable of setting up their own gaming site or streaming profile with relative ease. It’s so much easier now to have a voice in the gaming world.
I actually think we’ve had a renaissance in print magazines, as there are now considerably more than there were a few years ago. Whether you’re into retro stuff, modern or indie, there’s a magazine now out there that’s got it covered – either through a mainstream publisher or an independent one.