An old marketing adage that remains true in most cases is that it costs much more (sometimes many times more) to acquire a new customer than the costs to sell additional products or services to existing customers. At a time when World of Warcraft has an amazing 11.5 million players (market saturation yet?), it’s safe to say that the costs of acquiring new, virginal WoW players is likely to be significantly higher than simply creating new things to sell existing fans, particularly the superfans.
In geek and mainstream culture, the superfans are the ones who stand in lines to get new releases, tickets, and merch, and they are the people who create and consume fan art and fan fic, immersing themselves in the likable bits of their chosen fandom. Nearly everyone goes through some phase of fandom in our lives, whether it’s a particular kids’ show that we had all the toys for and made a point to be in front of the television at a certain time each day like it was our job, or whether it was a particular brand of shoes or computer that made us feel kinda cool just for owning them. Apple and fashion brands make a killing from superfans. Niche media like comic books practically live or die by catering to (or alienating) their superfans.
And the great thing about superfans is that they genuinely want to buy more of whatever it is you’re selling, so long as you are respectful of the things they truly love about your offering (in other words, you don’t fuck with their emotional attachments and badges of social status). Sure, if you mess up, a superfan can go incredibly sour on your company (think Kathy Bates’ character in Misery when she discovers her favorite fictional series is ending in the next book). But that’s a small risk when all you need to do is find out what your fans love, and build off of that.
This is why the Blizzard magazine makes sense. Maybe not for the long haul, but for right now while the superfans are hungry for more. This new magazine has nothing to do with the overall prospects for the mainstream sorts of magazines you see (but probably never buy) at the grocery store. The WoW magazine is actually an extension of some of the community features Blizzard has already identified, via their web site and popular 3rd party sites, as endless oceans of superfan joy. Fan art, especially beautiful painterly and comic style art, has been prominently showcased on the WoW community site for several years because the fans can’t get enough of the stuff. Ditto for WoW humor (how many dwarf beard jokes do we really need? “A plethora, El Guapo,” says the superfan). In addition to the t-shirts, action figures, and multitudes of other swag offered to superfans over the years, a magazine is just a natural extension of the art, fan fic, comics, strategy guides, developer interviews, and other popular fare that superfans already consume for free. Except now, Blizzard wagers the superfans are going to pay for it, at least for a while, because it will be in print.
And I believe it would not be a viable offering if the magazine were digital. Why? Because the lure here is to get all that free stuff superfans love in tangible, glossy dead tree format. The superfan collector will slide her issues into plastic covers to save them for some future auction or convention. The superfan art patron will have particularly beautiful color pieces from the magazine hung on the wall (matted and framed if she’s artsy herself). And all of the superfans who snap these precious (and probably short lived) rags up will have a touristy souvenir of Azeroth in their hot little hands. Like when that girl in the first Freddy movie pulls his hat out of a dream and into her world, except, uh, in a fun way. The magazine, like the action figures, is a means for superfans to get hold of a little bit of the dreamscape, the virtual place that they have lived so many hours of their life in. It really makes sense as fan service, and as a potentially high-margin new product aimed squarely at existing customers (a coffee table book is nice too, but a periodical feeds the superfans ongoing cravings for fresh, timely, I-just-saw-this-exclusive-shit-before-you-did content).
All that remains to be seen is 1) whether the editorial and graphic design staff do a good job of catering to the superfans above and beyond what is available on the many excellent 3rd party WoW sites, and 2) how long Blizzard can milk the epic cash cow that is WoW.
What I would love to see is a Second Life subscription-free digital publication (with optional pay-per-issue print-on-demand issues) highlighting all of the excellent Second Life user-created content. Partly because things don’t live long on the grid, and partly because SL graphics don’t look so hot in the viewer but can look stunning after light post work in a graphics program. It would be a small revenue stream (and additional advertising vehicle to augment the janky SL in-world classifieds) as well as a nice (and MUCH needed) way to show appreciation for all of the content creators who take a loss to build the experiences that make SL relevant. What SL superfan wouldn’t buy a print issue if their build, art, or avatar was featured in the magazine?
News via Mashable