As someone who was once the creator and editor of their own self-funded videogames magazine, it’s always nice to see enterprising individuals come up with their own take of what an “indie” videogames magazine should be. And whilst I’ve never really been a Sega fan, it’s hard to deny the fact that Tim Hugall (and his team) have produced something really special with Sega Mania – a love-letter to the Sega company of old, and also a love-letter to the Sega magazines of old.
At a time when there are so few videogames magazines being made (with Future Publishing being the biggest mainstream videogames publisher that still produces Edge and Retro Gamer), there aren’t that many “indie” companies that are putting out their own videogames magazines. However, this situation has been changing in recent months, with a number of “indie” videogames magazines being produced by people who have either resorted to crowd-funding, or in the case of Tim Hugall, have decided to self-fund their own magazine themselves.
Sega Mania‘s success proves that not only does there still exist a thirst for print based magazines, but that there’s also a demand for titles that cover hardware specific manufacturers. And whilst this has already been proven with the likes of Amiga Addict, there are also other magazines that are being put together by enthusiasts who want to deliver a product to those who still value print media (like Ninty Fresh).
Producing a magazine is a costly business, and whilst one can understand as to why magazines like Ninty Fresh would have resorted to crowd-funding, it’s arguable that it’s far more admirable for an individual to put their own money where their mouth is – as self-funding a magazine requires passion, dedication, and self-sacrifice. And these are the very tenets of what separates a “journalist” from those who are but mere poseurs. For “it is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat” (Theodore Roosevelt).
What Tim Hugall has achieved with Sega Mania is laudable and worthy of high praise. And hopefully his success will inspire others to start up their own magazine. In any case however, I wanted to know a little bit more about Sega Mania, and also wanted to find out as to what Tim Hugall’s future plans are for his magazine. Enjoy.
There’s a common consensus which suggests that magazines are dead in the age of the internet. At the same time, print based gaming publications have also seen heavy decline over the last decade – to the extent that there are now only a few magazines left in newsagents. Despite this however, you decided to fly in the face of conventional wisdom and launch your own magazine. What were your reasons for doing this, did you experience any doubts during the creation of the magazine, and how were you able to maintain firm resolve at a time everyone was else was stating that producing a magazine (in this day and age) was an awfully bad idea?
The difference between what we do and what “conventional” magazines do, comes down to the business model. Having worked for a once incredibly successful local magazine (which is now defunct after 70 years, which is incredibly sad) I saw first-hand the problem and decline that the mainstream print industry faced. Traditional magazines relied (and still do rely) heavily on advertising to supplement their cover cost, and their shareholders required increasing profit from this revenue year on year. With print advertising losing ground against online marketing, the cost of said advertising was no longer a valuable proposition for businesses, and slowly the business model that had sustained magazines for years began to vanish as advertisers looked elsewhere.
However, when looking at indie magazines that came before us such as Amiga Addict, Ninty Fresh, Fusion, and the countless coffee table books created through crowd-funding, you can see that the demand for printed media is still strong, just the methods of funding and delivery, make producing them on a large scale like the days of old unsustainable. With all of this in mind we never once thought that this was a bad idea because we were determined to not repeat the mistakes of the past. Our magazine is only produced to meet demand. We don’t charge for advertising; we don’t chase profits and we don’t even pay ourselves. We do it because we love doing it and people purchase it because they enjoy it. As long as we don’t get greedy or set unrealistic goals then there’s no reason it can’t continue indefinitely, and we don’t fear the online world at all.
You could argue that the rise of independent print magazines is a disruption to the industry much in the same way that Netflix broke the cable model, and Soundcloud and Bandcamp broke the record label scene.
Tangentially, what was the print run and total production cost for the first issue? How did you fund the magazine, and what were your biggest financial mistakes? Knowing what you know now, what steps could you have taken to lower costs whilst making sure that you didn’t compromise on quality?
Our first Issue sold 1000 copies with about 500 reprints done since its launch. Although I don’t discuss financial figures publicly, I can tell you that I funded the magazine entirely myself in the beginning. Having run my own business for several years I decided to then join a proper company and make my own dormant. There were some funds left over from the old business and I had no real use for, so, when the idea of doing a magazine came about, I put everything from the old business into getting the first copies made. The alternative would have been to crowd-fund, however I’ve always believed it’s easier to sell something that actually exists, than an idea, so I took a gamble, printed the magazine and the initial sales were more than enough to cover my initial investment. It was a risky move, but it paid off! There is of course nothing wrong with crowd-funding and it has its merits, but you have to be really good at marketing it and that’s not my strong point. I also acknowledge that I was incredibly lucky to be able to self-fund in this way.
As for improvements and changes, knowing what I know now, I would have put more research into distribution and packaging in the beginning. Still to this very day it is done by hand, and I literally drive copies of the magazine to the post office whenever a break in real life allows for it. However, the difference between now and then is that I have better and faster methods for dealing with this, such as automated generation of labels and SQL scripts to build manifests faster. The first few issues used to take me four to five days to pack and ship, now it takes one to two. None of this saves me any money but it does save me time which is equally as important.
Given that most startups encounter problems of marketing and getting the word out, what steps did you take to promote your first issue and generate sales? What steps have you taken to increase awareness of the magazine since?
In the beginning we printed 40 test copies and sent them to various high profile Twitter users and prominent Youtubers in the Sega scene. Coupled with social media posts and a low budget Facebook campaign, this was enough to start the ball rolling and help us gain traction.
Since then, we have relied heavily on social media and email campaigns to get the word out. Occasionally we have run competitions and promotions, but we have often found that anything which actually shows the magazine as a real-world physical object is the biggest driver of sales. People quite often can’t believe what they are seeing and can’t wait to hold it in their hands once they purchase.
Physical magazines are normally found in newsagents. Given that Sega Mania started out (and is currently being distributed) as a mail-order magazine, do you have any plans for the magazine to be distributed in physical retail stores? If so, how do you plan to achieve this, and when will we be seeing the magazine in places like WHSmiths?
It is something we have talked about a lot, but we don’t think we will ever do it. The reason being that is it a very quick way to lose money. Appearing in places such as WHSmiths is actually likely to cost us more than we would make for a multitude of reasons. We would need to approach a store release as a marketing exercise to try and convert more people to online sales and subscriptions rather than making any profit.
We’re not saying it will never ever happen, but for now we are happy as we are.
What have been the biggest challenges that you’ve faced in creating and running Sega Mania? How have you overcome these challenges, and what lessons have you learnt in the process?
Time management has perhaps been the biggest challenge. Everyone who works on the magazine does so as a volunteer and we do it on top of our real life, full-time jobs. Some of us have young children, and those of us who don’t have other commitments. Although we release a magazine once every two months, each copy takes around 400 combined hours to put together and sometimes this can weigh very heavily on us. We have put more effort into streamlining the production process (especially for our next issue) without sacrificing the quality to try and reclaim some of that time so that the magazine becomes less of a burden.
Another large challenge was the UK’s departure from the EU. During the creation of issue two, we found ourselves in a customs nightmare and this took a lot of planning and funding to put right. We are now in the situation where we can ship to the EU without our customers incurring customs charges however thanks to the lack of help from the government, and the lack of effective communication between the UK and EU, we have lost about 60% of our EU customers. Despite assurances from Sega Mania to our customers that everything will be ok, it seems trust between our country and the EU has eroded and they are responding to the wider event and not purchasing, and we are feeling the effects of that.
Lastly, the loss of an entire shipment of issue three was a stark wakeup call as to how irresponsible and reckless couriers can be. That incident cost us thousands of pounds to resolve. What we learned was to trust nobody and document everything to the extreme across all aspects of the business. To give an example, I now video the courier collecting the magazines from my home, it feels awkward and uncomfortable but due to what happened it has to be done.
You’re not a major publisher (like Future Publishing), and therefore don’t have access to major resources. Despite this however, you’ve still been able to print what is essentially a love-letter to the Sega magazines of old. Considering that you self-funded Sega Mania, why aren’t we seeing more fanzines / magazines being produced by gaming enthusiasts, and what do you think can be done to encourage more individuals to take enterprising steps in launching their own magazine? At the same time, what tips would you give to someone who is looking to launch their own magazine?
We’re probably not seeing a huge number of indie magazines being produced because most people aren’t completely insane and have a degree of common sense about them! It is an extraordinary amount of work and a massive commitment that goes way beyond just writing and putting together pretty pictures. Fifty percent of the time is spent on admin, shipping, budgeting, marketing, and planning. To some degree these things can kill some of the romance of it and may be a hurdle to those who are looking into doing it which is completely understandable.
On a serious note, however, to anybody reading this who is thinking about doing it, we truly can say it’s an incredibly rewarding and satisfying thing to do and can be a lot of fun. Our tips would be to get a good handle on the finances and the numbers before a single word is written and also account for worst case scenarios and how you would deal with them. Once people start paying for your product you are responsible for what they receive and expect, and that can be challenging and occasionally scary.
A good team is also important and while enthusiasm and talent go a long way, it is important to properly interview potential candidates and not only understand what their goals are but ensure that they know what yours are too, especially when it comes to committing time to the project and sticking to deadlines. Whether your business model is not for profit like ours, or you intend to try and get rich, it is fair to say that there is little to no money in independent publishing and remuneration for staff will be small. Therefore, you need to be looking for the rare combination of self-sacrifice and passion from your team members.
The alternative to starting a brand-new magazine from scratch would be to perhaps approach some of the larger independent publications and see if they can help you get started using their resources. Sega Mania as a franchise model is something I have been thinking about as there is a lot of value in the infrastructure we have created that could to some extent be repackaged for a new publication.
What are your future goals for the magazine and where would you like Sega Mania to go from here? At the same time, do you have any plans of expanding your roster of titles – so as to become an “indie” rival to the likes of Future Publishing?
As mentioned in the previous question, we don’t deny that there is some value in the systems and methods we have created for Sega Mania, that could be easily translated to other publications, and expanding our range is something we have thought about many times. Everything we have done is bespoke and tailored to make producing independent magazines as easy as possible. This being said, time is always the enemy and managing one magazine occupies every waking minute of our life, so a second is out of the question in the short term, but there may be something new towards the end of the year.
As for the future of Sega Mania itself. Well, in the last six months we have tried many new things with varying degrees of success, we launched our podcast in January which has performed excellently, but expansions into merchandise and a Patreon programme have not faired as well, mostly due to the additional resources they require which we cannot provide at this moment in time. It has been good to experiment and explore options, but as of today we are all in agreement that the magazine is our number one core focus with the podcast as a supplemental. Everything else has been wound down or scrapped (with the exception of segamagazines.com which is a sister project) with the idea that we just focus on what we’re good at. Anything that grows naturally out of the magazine getting stronger and better in the future, will be an added bonus.
We’ll keep doing the magazine as long as we can and as long as people keep buying. I think we all agree that our lives would be a lot emptier without it.