h1

RETRO Videogame Magazine: “Celebrate Gaming’s Past, Present, and Future,” The Mission Statement That Sums Up The Magazine & Its Founder To A Video-T – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Mike Kennedy, Founder & President, RETRO Videogame Magazine

October 17, 2016

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story

“Our demographic, our gamers that grew up in the dawn of the videogame age, the late ‘70s and early to mid ‘80s, through the crash and into the ‘90s; these people all grew up with videogame magazines. And to this day, and our sales show that we’re selling quite a few more print than we are digital, these people still enjoy that tangible product. And to that end we try to make a magazine that’s a little collectible. We have different artwork on the covers and different artists. We use a real high-grade paper inside and on the cover, not many ads; and it’s just a real high-quality magazine.” Mike Kennedy

retro-5After being successfully crowd-funded through a double shot of Kickstarter, RETRO Videogame Magazine is into its 11th issue, with its gaming eye on the future. And while founder and president, Mike Kennedy will tell you in a heartbeat that it hasn’t been, nor is it now, a stroll through the proverbial Rose Garden, it is something that he has a passionate commitment to and a project that stirs his entrepreneurial spirit like nothing else could.

I spoke with Mike recently and we talked about the magazine, past, present and future; taking note of each step of the process along the way. It has been a bit of a harrowing journey for Mike and his wife, Tricia, who is co-publisher of the magazine, but it’s also been a learning experience and an exciting joy, such as when they saw Issue 7 in Barnes & Noble for the very first time. It was quite the proud moment for them both.

Mike is a man who is learning as he goes when it comes to the world of magazines, but he has no intention of quitting school. He wants to take RETRO as far as possible and turn it into a gaming brand that people can turn to for that vintage gaming experience that a tangible print product can provide. And it would appear that he’s doing that, with his team of some of the best writers, editors and artists that the industry offers. And with his RETRO store and his website, gamegavel.com, Mike is on his way to becoming a competitive brand indeed in the world of retro gaming.

So, I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with a man who has a gamer’s heart with an entrepreneur’s dream inside of it, Mike Kennedy, Founder and President, RETRO Videogame Magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

mike-kennedy

On the genesis of RETRO magazine: I never thought that I’d be a magazine publisher. In 2008, I started a video-gaming auction site called “GameGavel.com” and it was basically a gaming-dedicated auction site, very similar to what eBay does, but just dedicated to games and other things that geeks, nerds and gamers like. That was my first entrepreneurial venture that I was involved in. I started that for around $800, I think. And I’ve grown that site over the years.

On his most pleasant moment during this magazine experience: But the first milestone, as you indicated, was just getting that first issue in my hands after three or four months of work and a month of doing the Kickstarter; seeing that issue come in was a huge high. It was just amazing. Not only for me, but for my writers, who never probably in their careers, other than a couple of them who have been in the magazine business for a long time, a lot of the younger writers probably never thought they’d see their story in a magazine. So, it was cool for the entire team to be involved with that.

On the biggest stumbling block for him and how he plans to overcome it: Costs right now are our major stumbling block. It costs me somewhere around $14,000 to produce an issue. Not counting the printing. That $14,000 is what my content costs; my layout costs; artwork, editorial and my editors. And that’s not a ton of money. I don’t know in the magazine world if that’s high-end for creating a single issue or low-end.

On what he hopes to be saying about RETRO one year from now: I hope to be telling you that we’re hugely successful and we’ve been managing to get our issues out on time; we’re growing our readership and have expanded into more newsstands, which is something that I’m going to be doing, hopefully, very shortly with Curtis Circulation, maybe with Issue 13. I hope that’s what I’m telling you. (Laughs)

On anything else he’s like to add: Just that we appreciate all of the readers, obviously. We hope that we’re giving them a product that they’ll continue to read and to love, and want to continue to collect. My writing team, again, is the best in the business as far as I’m concerned. If we were better funded, we’d certainly be able to get these issues out on a regular basis; they’d all operate within the time frames and the deadlines and the schedules without fail. But everything is great; it’s just the constant kind of funding battle, which is something that every entrepreneur faces, certainly in the early stages like this.

retro-4On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: I probably work until somewhere between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. If I’m doing stuff during the day for the magazine, then I have to make up for my real job in the evening or on the weekends. When you work out of your house you kind of are always working. My wife kind of goes crazy with it, but again, generally, you’re kind of always working. When you work out of your home and your home is your office, there’s always as excuse to go and sit down at the desk, pull up your financials and see what you can do. You’re always thinking about business, at least I am. Unfortunately, since I started all my videogame adventures; one of the things I do the least anymore is play videogames.

On what keeps him up at night: The magazine; 100 percent. Sometimes it’s just hard to sleep because I’m always trying to figure out that next move. And when you’re trying to survive, which is kind of the mode that I’m in, you’re constantly thinking about what you’re going to do tomorrow to make sure that another issue will be coming out? Again, it’s just a lot of biz-development type thoughts.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Mike Kennedy, Founder & President, RETRO Videogame Magazine.

Samir Husni: Tell me the story of RETRO.

retro-3Mike Kennedy: I never thought that I’d be a magazine publisher. In 2008, I started a video-gaming auction site called “GameGavel.com” and it was basically a gaming-dedicated auction site, very similar to what eBay does, but just dedicated to games and other things that geeks, nerds and gamers like. That was my first entrepreneurial venture that I was involved in. I started that for around $800, I think. And I’ve grown that site over the years.

About three or four years into running the auction marketplace, I got the idea of adding content to it. This whole idea of content and commerce combined was really interesting to me. What I wanted to do was give gamers the ability to go online and read about all of these retro and older games. And also give them the opportunity after reading about them to go buy them or sell them. And then embedding those buy/sell links into the content. So, the content all started as an online website; it integrated with the auction site.

After a few years of doing that, I became part of a podcast. And I had a listener who reached out to me and happened to be in the marketing/magazine side of things and he had the ability to do the entire layout and design and the creative work involved with a magazine. And he reached out to me and asked had I ever thought about doing a magazine? And I told him, obviously no. And he told me he would love to work with me on it and help me create it. Me being in the gaming world through the auction site and my podcast, I had quite a few contacts with journalists and writers and things like that.

So, it wasn’t a big switch to go from online to print, as far as attaining the content. It was kind of the same process. We had all of the building blocks in place, but then the question became: why do a magazine in this day and age?

Our demographic, our gamers that grew up in the dawn of the videogame age, the late ‘70s and early to mid ‘80s, through the crash and into the ‘90s; these people all grew up with videogame magazines. And to this day, and our sales show that we’re selling quite a few more print than we are digital, these people still enjoy that tangible product. And to that end we try to make a magazine that’s a little collectible. We have different artwork on the covers and different artists. We use a real high-grade paper inside and on the cover, not many ads; and it’s just a real high-quality magazine.

Anyway, it was a really nice switch. And then we decided that we’d do a Kickstarter for it and this was in the fall of 2013. We did our first Kickstarter and raised around $70,000. We sold about 2,500 subscriptions in a month and that really got the whole ball rolling. From the time our Kickstarter ended, which was in November, 2013; we had our first issue out in January. We’re bimonthly; so we’re supposed to be getting an issue out every other month, six issues per year.

And that’s what happened with the magazine its first year. For the most part, we got our issues out on time; it got a little slow in the summer, but everybody received their issues and then in the fall of 2014, in October, we did our second-year Kickstarter. And we raised another $40,000 to $50,000; sold another 1,400 to 1,500 subscriptions during that second time around.

And that’s pretty much gotten us to where we are today. I ended up having a sort of falling out with my layout/design person and so it’s been a struggle, because when he started he got a little stock in my company and was supposed to get some advertising commissions, but just starting out our ad sales were very insignificant for the most part, so he didn’t get paid a lot for that.

But when he left; when I let him go after Issue 7, suddenly I had to pay a layout/design person to come onboard and that was never budgeted in to the second-year Kickstarter. And like a lot of people who do Kickstarter, many times you underfund it; you don’t know all of the ends and outs. I had never published a magazine before, so finding the right printer, knowing what we should be paying to print; I think we got taken advantage of just a bit for six or seven issues; we were paying a lot for printing. We’ve since lowered the cost on that significantly by finding another vendor for that.

retro-2But you learn all of these things as you go, and frequently you don’t load everything into that Kickstarter that you need. Certainly, things like salaries for me were never loaded in. I have another job on the side, a career that I’ve been involved with for almost 30 years. I work out of my house; I’m a regional person, so it’s given me the opportunity to start this passion project on the side. I’ve really never paid myself, it was never budgeted in, but now we’re going on three years and I’d really like to start getting paid. (Laughs)

It’s a great magazine and super high-quality. So, that’s how the magazine started and has evolved. We’re 11 issues in right now and getting ready to finish out our second year, which will be the final issue of the year-two Kickstarter. We got pretty slow; again, underfunded. I’ve borrowed more money from my 401K to get Issue 11 out and now I’m trying to figure out what to do for Issue 12. I’m looking for other opportunities for my writing team to leverage their abilities to write for third parties and things like that. I’m looking for other revenue-generating opportunities to continue to help fund the magazine. And that’s where we’re at today.

Samir Husni: What has been the most pleasant moment for you during this magazine experience? Was it holding that first issue in your hands when it came back from the printer?

Mike Kennedy: There have been a few milestones for me and first of all, I absolutely love this. I want this magazine to continue forever; for people to enjoy it. Certainly, videogame magazines in the U.S. have pretty much died out completely, other than one behemoth magazine that we all know, “Game Informer.”

But the first milestone, as you indicated, was just getting that first issue in my hands after three or four months of work and a month of doing the Kickstarter; seeing that issue come in was a huge high. It was just amazing. Not only for me, but for my writers, who never probably in their careers, other than a couple of them who have been in the magazine business for a long time, a lot of the younger writers probably never thought they’d see their story in a magazine. So, it was cool for the entire team to be involved with that.

And then the second big milestone was finally seeing Issue 7, which was our first issue in Barnes & Noble. That was really great. That was probably the second-best day of this whole thing.

But everything else is just great. The whole creative process is amazing; figuring out what you’re going to feature in every issue; looking for the artists. It’s always a high when you see what your cover art is going to look like. Those are probably the next best days for me and then just working with a talented group of writers, some of them are the best writers in the industry.

When I did the Kickstarter, I surrounded myself with some of the best writers in the industry. Andy Eddy has been a writer; he was editor in chief of VideoGames & Computer Entertainment back in the mid-‘80s. I read his magazine back then and to have him on my team is pretty neat. And again, just to work with some of the best in the industry has been another great thing; so it’s really been a great project. It’s been a great experience. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s certainly very rewarding.

retro-1Samir Husni: What is the biggest stumbling block for you and how do you plan to overcome it?

Mike Kennedy: Costs right now are our major stumbling block. It costs me somewhere around $14,000 to produce an issue. Not counting the printing. That $14,000 is what my content costs; my layout costs; artwork, editorial and my editors. And that’s not a ton of money. I don’t know in the magazine world if that’s high-end for creating a single issue or low-end.

We do pay our writers well. I want to be a company that pays writers well. There are so many companies and websites that don’t pay at all; it’s really bad. The problem is you have so many people that; number one, think they’re writers because they can just sit at home and do it. Many of them are not great writers. It comes back to; you get what you pay for, it really does. When I originally started out I wasn’t really paying for writers for content, although I still had very acceptable writers at that time. But when you get into the magazine side, you really can’t low-ball these people. They’re contracting the writing for a lot of outfits and not getting paid a lot from some of them, just trying to get their name out there. So, I want writers that want to write for us because we do pay well.

And we didn’t budget $14,000 an issue times six into the Kickstarter; that was our fault. So, I’ve been trying to manage it, self-funding this to the point where we are today. But we do sell some advertisement, although I don’t have anyone full-time doing that. That’s one of my problems. I don’t really have the time to do it, which I feel terrible about because I think if I could focus on it, I would sell more. But when you have a real job and you do this on the side, there’s that tipping point where you have to decide when do you leave the comfort and safety of your real job and jump into this thing full-time? My problem is I get paid pretty well on my real job and at this point sucking all of that money out of the business wouldn’t make any sense. First of all, there wouldn’t be enough to suck out to support me, but even if there was, I’m sort of able to do it all at this point. It’s just a balancing act.

But the costs are certainly up there and I’m not personally wealthy to just continue to keep on funding this forever. I’m always looking for avenues to generate more revenue. We’re doing some side projects for third parties; we’ve done a couple of those. I’m talking to retailers about doing holiday buyer’s guides. The bottom line is we have a great pool of writers, editors and artists. Some of the best in the industry and they’re all here. It doesn’t seem like too much of a longshot to think that I can use those same people to create other products for other people; publish other products for other people, whether it be digital or print or both.

So, finding writers, keeping good writers, finding artists, none of that has been a problem. There are a lot of people that are good writers and who want to write and love being a part of a tangible magazine. Telling your friends and family to go to the store and pick up your magazine is pretty cool. And it’s just more meaningful than a website or a digital magazine to some extent.

Samir Husni: If you and I were having this same conversation one year from now, what would you hope to be telling me about RETRO?

Mike Kennedy: I hope to be telling you that we’re hugely successful and we’ve been managing to get our issues out on time; we’re growing our readership and have expanded into more newsstands, which is something that I’m going to be doing, hopefully, very shortly with Curtis Circulation, maybe with Issue 13. I hope that’s what I’m telling you. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Mike Kennedy: Just that we appreciate all of the readers, obviously. We hope that we’re giving them a product that they’ll continue to read and to love, and want to continue to collect. My writing team, again, is the best in the business as far as I’m concerned. If we were better funded, we’d certainly be able to get these issues out on a regular basis; they’d all operate within the time frames and the deadlines and the schedules without fail.

But everything is great; it’s just the constant kind of funding battle, which is something that every entrepreneur faces, certainly in the early stages like this. But we’re 11 issues in and I think we have a pretty good track record for quality.

Samir Husni: If I showed up one evening unexpectedly to your home, what would I find you doing; reading a magazine; reading your iPad; playing a retro videogame; having a glass of wine; or something different?

Mike Kennedy: I probably work until somewhere between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. If I’m doing stuff during the day for the magazine, then I have to make up for my real job in the evening or on the weekends. When you work out of your house you kind of are always working. My wife kind of goes crazy with it, but again, generally, you’re kind of always working. When you work out of your home and your home is your office, there’s always as excuse to go and sit down at the desk, pull up your financials and see what you can do. You’re always thinking about business, at least I am.

Unfortunately, since I started all my videogame adventures; one of the things I do the least anymore is play videogames. So, you’re probably never going to walk in on me playing a videogame. You may walk in on me watching TV and relaxing with my wife, or in the garage, which is the office, either planning the next issue or trying to figure out how I’m going to pay for the prior issue; just trying to figure out what my next move is, anything to progress this and keep this great thing moving forward is pretty much always on my mind.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Mike Kennedy: The magazine; 100 percent. Sometimes it’s just hard to sleep because I’m always trying to figure out that next move. And when you’re trying to survive, which is kind of the mode that I’m in, you’re constantly thinking about what you’re going to do tomorrow to make sure that another issue will be coming out? Again, it’s just a lot of biz-development type thoughts. LinkedIn has been a tremendous asset. Whether it’s connecting with the writer, or the printers; LinkedIn has just been tremendous. Anybody that’s an entrepreneur and trying to make connections, you can’t go wrong with LinkedIn. It’s really great. And the people are great.

But the magazine keeps me up at night and what I’m going to do to get that next issue out. That’s the first thought, and then getting it out on time is the next thing. But again, it just really all comes down to capital and funding.

Right now, we’re just scratching the surface for this magazine. When we did the Kickstarter, we had subscribers in over 34 countries. So, it has international appeal and it’s selling really well. We were going through Ingram, and we were only in Barnes & Noble and Hastings Entertainment. Well, Hastings just went out of business. So we’ve been selling 30 percent, pretty much on target. We’ve nailed 30 percent sell-through at Barnes & Noble. But Ingram; that’s the only place they had us.

We’re talking to Curtis now and they love the magazine and they’re telling me that we’re going to sell 25 percent of what we stock. And they’re going to research the best stores for us to be in and get us in to a ton of other retailers. I’ve been told that growing your subscriber base really goes back to the newsstand primarily. You’re not going to grow your subscriber base just by being in Barnes & Noble. You have to be everywhere.

And printing costs are pretty cheap these days; I don’t really have any problems with that. Selling 25 percent of what we stock; we can certainly cover our printing costs, and hopefully some of the content cost and then factor in the advertising. It’s all the chicken or the egg; you have to have the circulation to get the advertisers. And you need the advertisers to help fund that circulation, so that’s the battle, I think, that so many people starting out are going to face. It’s really been a big learning experience.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: