It’s been a long while since I’ve really had my finger on the pulse of the hobby. I hardly ever visit the forums anymore. I have several dozens of Meeples and Miniatures podcasts left to listen to. Most importantly, sometime around beginning of 2014 I’ve decided not to buy any more wargaming magazines until I’ve gone through the very substantial stack of issues already resting on my to read-shelf. So these days my only contemporary source of information about developments in the hobby consists of feeds and news posted in a couple of Facebook wargaming groups I still belong to. It was from one such message that I’ve learned that Henry Hyde, as apparent consequence of change of the owner of this venerable wargaming publication, is leaving the position as editor of Miniature Wargames magazine.
This fact in itself made me quite sad, because Henry Hyde is one of the good guys in the hobby. To my best knowledge, he’s been doing his best promoting ‘hardcore’ historical wargaming for more than a decade. Also, based on his input in podcasts such as ‘A View from The Veranda’, I think he’s a really likeable person who seems to approach this hobby in a manner quite similar to my own. So personally I can’t imagine a more suitable person for the role of the editor of Miniature Wargames. A bit perplexed I went to the site of the magazine in search of explanation of this event. Once there, or more precisely, on magazine’s page at the site of new distributor of its digital version, I found out that Miniature Wargames is nowadays supposed to be some sort of jack of all trades that “looks at all forms of miniature wargaming, including historical, fantasy, Sci-Fi, pulp, steam punk and roleplaying”.
If that’s the future role for Miniature Wargames, I am not at all surprised that Mr. Hyde, being one of foremost champions of historical wargaming of current age, have gotten a pink slip from the new owner. I hope I’m wrong, but it seems to me that one of ‘institutions’ of the hobby is being put to sleep by some execs without a clue about what they’ve acquired. Not the first time it happens (‘Firefly’, anyone?), but it’s still a damn shame!
Anyway… after this probably far too long intro, let me get to the real topic of this post. As already mentioned, I’ve stopped buying wargaming mags couple of years ago? One of the reasons for this decision was the fact that all back issues of hobby magazines I use to read are available online as digital publications. Miniature Wargames, Wargames Illustrated, Soldiers Wargames & Strategy and more, they’re all online, every single issue easily available for your purchase whenever you’d need them or want them.
Well… as it turns out, that’s no longer the case, at least when it comes to Miniature Wargames! While “investigating” possible reasons for Mr. Hyde’s leaving the magazine, I discovered to my shock that only the two latest issues of the Miniature Wargames are currently available for purchase in digital format from magazine’s shop. In rough numbers, some forty issues of one of the most prominent publications in the hobby along with all the issues of Battlegames (magazine created and run by Mr. Hyde before he merged it with Miniature Wargames) have been removed and are no longer available to the public audience. And, just to add insult to injury, the new owner seems to have moved digital distribution of the magazine to Pocketmags, which in my opinion is nothing else but a rental service for magazines and publications.
I must say that this discovery made me quite angry. Naturally, I am seriously annoyed with the new owner of the magazine, who in my opinion have pulled a serious douchebag move on the readers of Miniature Wargames. But, if I am to be perfectly honest, I am mostly annoyed with myself. Over last couple of years I must have visited Miniature Wargames’ webshop some twenty times, thinking about getting a digital subscription. And every single time I didn’t, because “what’s the rush, the stuff is there today and it will be there tomorrow, right?”. So I’d decide that I would create an account next month or maybe at the beginning of next year and leave in belief that things would never change. And now those issues are gone. Hopefully only temporarily, while the new owner works out the usual legal wrinkles with the old one. But… they may also be gone forever, lost in some legal maze regarding publication rights or some other legal BS. Wouldn’t that be a shame?
This entire episode also rekindled all the doubts I’ve always been having regarding purchases of digital publications that are accessible only through online proxies, such as for example Pocketmags. True, as long as things work smoothly, it may seem like a perfect way to buy a magazine. But under certain circumstances, the restrictions of this type of access do seem to raise their ugly head. This particular case seems at least for the moment to be the perfect example of possible complications with access to digital publications through proxies – you buy stuff, but you never really own it. A magazine can be sold off to an owner with a different technical solution for digital material, forcing consumer to adapt or rendering his purchases useless. Or the company that owns the publication can merge or be acquired by another company, which in turn may perhaps even not care about digital distributions. In the worst case scenario, the owner of a magazine can even go bust, with the third party distributor naturally pulling the plug permanently as a consequence.
I don’t know about everyone else, but personally I have always refused to subscribe or ‘purchase’ digital publications that are not made available to me in some tangible form, preferably as PDF files. Yes, I know, a house may burn down to a ground along with everything in it, hard copies can get lost or destroyed, hard drives with PDF files may crash… But the fact remains - as long as I have a useable, tangible copy of a magazine, I can always read it, regardless of the fact that my Internet connection is down, or that I haven’t updated my reader app to latest version or that my tablet is five years old and is no longer able to run some software.
That’s my five cents, for whatever it’s worth.