Following the completion of Issue 4, I find myself in limbo. Of course, we have started planning Issue 5, but I tend not to do any design work while I am waiting for the latest magazine shipment to arrive. Getting all of the copies out the door is a big exercise and I need a break before it hits me.
This being said, I am not finding myself drawn to any TV shows or games I have neglected over the last few months, despite the stress and crazy hours it steals from me, I miss the magazine.
So, I thought I'd do something related to it, but a little different and talk you all through how Sega Mania is made, right from the ground up. Those of you who are foolish enough to follow in our footsteps may find it interesting.
Design and Creation
I create the entire magazine from beginning to end using the Affinity suite. Mainly Affinity Publisher. Many years ago I had brief encounters with Quark and InDesign, and although I accept that InDesign is the defacto publishing tool, I really don't like Adobe's subscription model. So, as a new starter with no real experience and no expectations, I took a punt on Affinity due to its low cost and underdog appeal and so far I am pleased to say that it works well for me.
Having not used it before, I spent some time watching some YouTube videos by Affinity Revolution just to get me started and they were incredibly useful. Since then everything has been learned by doing, and the occasional google search.
In my personal life, I am a Mac user, but due to my job and WFH (which I have always done even pre-pandemic), I spend most of my time these days at my Windows workstation and so started the magazine on this system and there it has stayed ever since. I have tried to create the mag on both systems at once, but things like fonts needing to be on both operating systems at once have really limited this. On rare occasions, I will use my Mac to edit photos and images using Pixelmator as it's an app that I am very comfortable with. I also use my Mac to edit videos for our YouTube channel.
If anyone is wondering what my system specs are for creating the magazine, they are as follows:
- Self-built PC.
- Ryzen 3700x CPU
- Nvidia GTX 1660
- 32GB RAM
- 1TB NVME SSD
- MSI B450 Gaming Plus Motherboard.
My specs are more than adequate to work on the magazine without any major hiccups or performance issues, however, it does struggle to work on two publications at the same time, something I am looking to try and rectify.
We use three systems to plan the magazine.
The first is Trello, this is a great tool just for laying out all of the games and features into easily movable lists so we can get an overview of what is outstanding and who is assigned to what. We also have pinned resources in Trello stating our rules and mission statement that staff can refer back to.
For file and document sharing we use Dropbox. Trello's handling of attachments isn't great so all articles and accompanying images go into a shared Dropbox account.
For most of our communication, we use Discord. On our server, we have admin areas whereby we talk daily about ideas and problems etc.
The site you are reading this on is a Shopify site. Although I have years of experience with WordPress, I'm really not a fan of Woocomerce and so Shopify was the next logical choice as I have helped businesses use it in the past and am therefore familiar.
It has some major advantages and disadvantages.
- Easy to set up. Payments just work and it's easy to make a good looking site without much effort.
- Secure, we don't have to get involved with anyone's payment details, all of that is handled by Shopify checkout in the background.
- Selling focused with minimal bloat and good performance.
- Ability to sell digital products easily.
- Custom pages and templates are a lot of work. The theme you choose is fairly static unless you pay someone to make a custom one.
- Fairly high transaction fees per item sold unless you pay the higher monthly fee.
- No support for subscriptions which makes them very difficult to manage.
- No support for courier integration for users in the UK.
- Heavy reliance on 3rd party apps for extra features which come at a charge.
- Archaic data exports.
In addition to Shopify, I use a Microsoft SQL Server database. All of the order data is exported to this secure database. This allows me to write stored procedures to massage the data into something useful for a mail merge in Microsoft Word for our shipping labels. The data in raw form from Shopify is hard to deal with.
Since the UK left the EU, running a small business has become so much harder. Pre-Brexit we could have sent our magazines to any European country via standard post without any problems. However, doing that now would result in a hefty duty charge for the customer. In order to mitigate this, there are two options available. The first is to become EU VAT registered, this costs upwards of £2500 and is a massive investment, one that we cannot afford. So instead we work with an intermediary called CrossBorderIT which are the only company that integrates with Shopify to make the process seamless.
They register us with an authority in Sweden who then give us an IOSS number. Rather than charge our customers the duty charge, we pay it for them on every magazine sold and place our IOSS on the customs form. This means that our EU customers get their magazine direct to their door without any additional fees or delays. We also pay a 1EURO charge per magazine sold on top of this.
It saddens me deeply that we have to do this, but I am pleased that we can still offer the magazine to our European friends.
Manufacturing and Materials
We have used Mixam to print our magazines since Issue 3. Although I do not like the fact that there is very little in the way of customer support, their quality, prices and shipping times are excellent and their creation and preview tools are second to none.
All other materials such as toner, labels and sleeves are sourced via Amazon.
As you can see there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to putting a magazine together. Sure, there are some things we could probably streamline and make easier, but we try to do as much as we can ourselves to save on cost. More often than not, the solutions that can save time; cost money and we always try to reduce costs where we can to keep the magazine affordable.
The most important thing you need, however, when creating a magazine, is dedication and passion. It is an incredibly difficult task and although rewarding can swallow huge amounts of time and money.
By no means is the list above the way to make an independent magazine, many of our contemporaries may look at this and think we are nuts and should be using X, Y and Z instead. But it works for us and if you are thinking of taking the plunge, then hopefully some of the above might prove useful.