Ten Golden Rules For Maing A Diskmag
Written by Adok
Friendly hints for new fellow editors
1. The basis for a good diskmag is a good interface. The best articles are no good if nobody can view them. So if you decide to go the traditional way and embed your mag in an original interface, you really have to ensure that the interface is stable and free of disturbing bugs. Test the interface on as many computers as possible before the release of the mag, try to fix every bug your beta-testers report and try to implement all suggestions of theirs which you appreciate. As soon as the interface runs fine, you can start thinking in detail about the mag's visual appearance and special features. Not the other way round.
Magazines that are spread in text or HTML format have one advantage: You don't have to care about the stability of the interface. The problem with text-only mags is that they look unattractive. But text-only can also be advantageous, e.g. if you want to keep the file-size down or reach people from various computer systems. HTML offers interesting possibilities: Without having to sacrifice good visual appearance, you can avoid compatibility problems that can occur with a self-coded interface.
2. Don't try to be perfect. There will never be a perfect diskmag. Actually the last sentence isn't perfect either: There can be a perfect diskmag, just like two parallel lines cross each other somewhere in infinity. However, it's unlikely to happen, so all a diskmag can do is appeal to these people who like its style. Whether a diskmag is accepted by a large audience is just a matter of taste.
I often had the dream to make a magazine with the quality of "Der Spiegel" or "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" for the scene. But that isn't possible. While big magazines and newspapers have a large, paid staff, a few people are involved in a diskmag, and they do everything for free. Besides, newspapers can buy items from news agencies for use in their publications. Apart from a few news sites, there are no such agencies in the scene. The editors have to do a lot of research alone. Also, as diskmags can't pay their writers, they have to rely on the support by volunteers. Most of them are young people involved in the scene with little writing experience and knowledge of the English language. So it's hard to get good articles for a diskmag.
3. There is no formula for getting to the top. Rather than struggle to become the best diskmag, find your own style. If you copy the most popular diskmag's style in order to eventually become better than it, you will hardly succeed. Just try to find your own style, make your own special diskmag. Some people will like it, and as soon as your diskmag finds some adherents, it will become more known and widespread. It makes no difference whether your magazine is read by a few enthusiastic people or by large masses of readers. After all, you don't earn money with your mag. What else can you gain from popularity of your mag? OK, personal satisfaction. But it isn't personal satisfaction if you only adopt the taste of the 'masses' in order to make your magazine and yourself more popular. You also have to enjoy creating the mag. Find topics you have good knowledge of and have fun writing about.
4. If you want to get famous really fast, the first issue of your mag has to be especially good. The beginning is always the hardest part of every project. Making a diskmag is a lot of work, and especially making the first issue can be real pain. You probably haven't got a lot of supporters yet, and so you have to write most of the articles and probably do many other chores yourself. It doesn't really matter if the first issue of your mag doesn't look perfect. Almost every disk magazine started off in a small way. Just take a look at the first issue of Hugi! You'd probably laugh, compared to what it is like now.
Anyhow, if you really want to make your mag a smash hit from the beginning on, your first issue has to be very good. Most importantly: It must have a well tested, stable interface. Moreover, it ought to have as many good articles as possible and both appealing graphic and music. There is a psychological trick: By having many articles of an acceptable quality, your mag already seems to be big and well-known. As a consequence, people are more likely to support it. It's true that most sceners want to have their articles spread as much as possible. So they support mags that look big, widespread - even if they aren't widespread yet in reality.
As soon as someone has supported a diskmag, he will somehow feel connected with it. As a result, he will advertise the magazine among his friends. In this way you will get new readers and, if they like your mag too, perhaps new supporters. It's a kind of chain reaction.
5. If you want your diskmag to be well-known, you have to take care of it. The best magazine wouldn't get very far if its editors didn't advertise for it. If you only upload your mag to some FTP site, a few people might find it and download it, but it's unlikely that your magazine will become well-known. So especially at the beginning it's important to announce your magazine in scene newsgroups, news-sites, and maybe other diskmags. It would be useful to post a little note before the release of the first issue. People will then, more or less unconsciously, remember the name of your mag and hence recognize it when you post the real announcement. In your announcement, it's better not to exaggerate when it comes to the quality of the mag. Just list the facts. Otherwise people will have too high expectations and be disappointed when they face the truth. A funny, attracting writing style can also be a plus.
At the beginning, it can also be highly advantageous to talk to individual sceners directly and inform them about the release of your mag. IRC is very good for that purpose. Later, when your mag is more known, people will start looking out for new issues themselves, and posting announcements to scene news sites will be enough to get the news spread.
It's important to set up some sort of web-site for your magazine so that there is a place where people can regularly find the latest issue. As well, BBS/FTP dist sites and mailswappers who support your mag are helpful. List them in your mag so that everyone knows who they are.
Once someone reads your diskmag, he will be likely to continue doing so. I heard somewhere that finding a new customer is 600 times as hard as to keep a customer. This also applies to diskmags. So, invest your energy in getting new readers. You don't have to care so much about the old readers; provided you have a place where they can find the latest issue of your mag, they will get it automatically and send you feedback if they feel like doing so. (Of course you should answer the feedback in any case.)
Finally, don't get discouraged if your statistics say that your magazine gets few downloads at the beginning. Today, 200 downloads within the first three days is a normal number for new zines which have been well announced at news sites. The more famous your magazine is, the more downloads will it get in the future. And after all, a diskmag editor's aim can't be to get the mag read by huge masses of readers. If that's your goal, you should create a tabloid.
6. Get supporters for your mag and find new members for your staff. For the first issue, you will probably have to do most of the work yourself. It can be a great benefit to already have staff with people doing various tasks efficiently. But most of the time it's all up to the main editor at first. You certainly don't want to work like that for ever. So what do you need? It's easy: supporters. The problem is how to get them. Only a small minority of the readers will send you articles automatically because they are so fond of your mag. Particularly at the beginning, it's necessary to ask people for support.
Support can be many things: spreading your mag, writing articles, working on the interface - this is all support. Different people have different skills. When talking to a reader of your mag, try to find out what he's good at, unless you already know. For instance, if someone is good at sound coding and also has talent at conveying knowledge to others, he may be the right person to write an article about sound coding. Ask him politely if he would like to support your mag. If he refuses, accept it. Don't force people to do anything they don't want. Remember, they are doing it all for free. It's your mag which profits from the readers' support. If someone agrees to support your mag, be happy. Respond positively. If he wants to write an article, draw a picture or compose music for your interface, agree on a deadline by which he must send it to you. It's always better to set deadlines, as people are more likely to submit their contributions in time. If the deadline for an article is over and you still haven't got it, contact the author and ask him what's up. Before the deadline, don't ask the person about the article unless he starts talking about it himself or you have some news he urgently needs for his article. Otherwise he might feel under pressure, and in the end you might get a bad article or nothing at all.
An important thing is to keep contact with your supporters and 'closer' readers. Inform them on what is going on with the mag, how many articles you have, what topics are covered, when you plan to release the next issue, etc. This will motivate them to contribute to your diskmag. As a result, they might spread the news about the planned release date and the topics to their friends, which can be a good advertisement for your mag.
If a supporter turns out to be very active and valuable for your diskmag, ask him if he wants to become a member of your staff. By making someone a staff member, this person will be honoured and starting to feel really responsible for the magazine. You will probably get support from them regularly.
7. No matter what feedback you get: Don't take it to heart. You have done a lot of work. Finally the first issue of your magazine has been released. You announce the release at some public places and anxiously wait for the first feedback. And when you get the first reactions, you are discouraged. Don't let that happen. On the contrary, look forward to any reaction you get! It's just normal that people have to complain a lot after the release of the first issue of a new mag. Some people express their suggestions by constructive criticism, but many sceners haven't had any psychological training and so may sound a bit harsh. Besides, they usually haven't had any experience with making a diskmag themselves. In any case, don't take criticism personally. Stay cool when reading the feedback and try to distinguish between destructive and constructive reactions. Those suggestions you find useful, try to follow. Once your diskmag has survived its initial phase and the ugliest bugs have been removed, the feedback will improve. You just need to endure the first phase. And, don't forget: All opinions are subjective, nothing is absolute, and you are just doing the mag for fun, without any serious ambition regarding money or something similar.
8. Release new issues of your the mag as often as possible, but only if you really consider them finished. Readers appreciate it if a diskmag comes out often. However, publishing a regular mag is hard work for the staff. Most diskmags are irregular, usually for the same reasons: Either the GFX, the music, the code or the articles aren't finished at the desired release date. If your graphician suddenly gets sick and has to stay in bed for two weeks, your mag can be delayed tremendously. The same happens when you do not have enough articles. This is a serious problem. But it can be avoided: You can try to get the music and the graphics needed for two or three issues in advance. Regarding the code, you are in a superior position when your interface is already stable from the beginning. Then you only have to make minor changes to it. So the real problem is usually the articles. To get a lot of articles, you need lots of supporters and also have to be ready to write a few yourself.
An interesting question is: How many articles should a diskmag have? That mainly depends on the editors. Some people prefer diskmags with masses of articles, no matter what their quality, while others prefer mags with only a few good articles. It's a matter of the style of the magazine, and there are various opinions on that topic. In general, it's no use trying to create a monthly magazine with 2 mbyte of articles, new GFX and four original tunes. That would be a full-time job. No scener and no scene group has ever managed something like that. I personally most like mags that are released often and have a good overall quality.
9. Start writing your Editorial early. A mistake diskmag editors often make is that they write the editorial as the last article before finishing the mag. In this way they have to hurry up, and as a result many editorials contain more grammar mistakes than the rest of the mag and sound incomplete. However, the readers usually read the editorial first, before all the other articles! Therefore it's important to have a good editorial that can be compared with the level of the other articles. So try to start writing your editorial early when you still have lots of time before the release of the mag. You can always make changes to it later on, whenever something pops into your mind. Same goes for the news section.
10. Always remember that you are making the diskmag for fun.
"hugi is the bible of the scene"