RISC World

Subscription Time

RISC World Volume 1 is complete, and Aaron Timbrell rounds it up...YeHah...

As you may well have noticed this is the last issue of Volume 1. Volume 2 is just around the corner and we have some real goodies lined up. For instance I can tell you that Volume 2 Issue 1 will have a full version of MasterFile, the database system. Not an old version, but the latest one, as sold for almost £50 by Beebug LTD.

Volume 1 of RISC World has been 7 issues, which may come as a surprise to those who only expected to get six issues in the first year. However both Dave Holden and myself wanted 7 issues. We had a budget for the first year of RISC World and we could do 7 issues from the budget if we were careful. Indeed you may well have noticed that this issue is the biggest so far, with the most articles and the most software.

RISC World has now been published for an entire year, but how did it start? Dave Holden will now give us a history lesson....

How it began - Dave Holden

Funnily enough the idea for what was to become RISC World grew out of the demise of RISC User. It was announced at the end of 1988 that 1999 would be the final year for RISC User. Not all that many years previously there had been three Acorn magazines on newsagents shelves, Acorn User, Acorn Computing (previously Micro User) and Archimedes World. In addition there were three subscription magazines, RISC User, Eureka and Archive. With the demise of RISC User we were left with just two mainstream publications, Acorn User and Archive. (I'm not forgetting Acorn Publisher, but it deals with just one aspect of computing so it's not an all purpose magazine, and Eureka is only for ARM Club members).

Two years ago the market was looking quite different. Acorn Computers had departed. RISC OS 4 was going to happen, but a lot more work was going to be needed. No one really knew what the future would bring and I was not (and am still not) one of those highly optimistic pundits who forecast a huge resurgence in RISC OS with hundreds of schools throwing out their PCs and returning to the fold. One thing we were all aware of was that the user base was slowly shrinking.

It seemed to me that it was important for us to continue to have a diversity of magazines devoted to RISC OS. I wondered if it would be possible to keep RISC User alive. I did a few sums and decided yes, it would be possible, but only by not paying contributors, reducing printing costs by doing away with colour and reducing the format to A5. Sounds familiar? Yes, it would only be viable if it turned itself into 'Archive II'. This just wasn't an option.

However, during this exercise I saw that a large part of the cost of 'publishing' a magazine seemed to be printing and distribution. Although costs have come down in recent years, printing is still expensive. Paper is also heavy, so it costs a lot to post, especially overseas. Having been producing the Archive magazine CD since its inception (which is Archive on a CD, not a CD attached to the magazine) I decided to investigate the possibility of applying my field of expertise, producing and distributing CDs at low cost, to a magazine. The sums looked encouraging.

The obvious answer was to reprieve RISC User and publish it on a CD instead of on paper. As RISC User had always had slightly odd publication dates with only ten issues a year it seemed sensible to 'rationalize' this and change it to bi-monthly which would reduce distribution costs still further. No only would it be viable, but I would be able to reduce the cost to the readers.

For various reasons the plan to take over RISC User fell through, but by then I had become convinced that the basic idea was sound, and so RISC World was born.

Dave Holden

The first year

So standing at the threshold of volume 2 we need to look back at the highs and lows of RISC World volume 1. Issues 1 and 2 were edited by David Matthewman. However due to a sudden change of job he really didn't have the time to edit the magazine as well as he wanted.

Issue 3 was produced without a proper editor, and it showed. In fact to be blunt it was awful. At the time I was working with Dave Holden on another project and he asked if I would like to edit RISC World, the answer was a resounding maybe. I have never edited a magazine before, although I have written countless thousands of words for other magazines over the years. Still nothing ventured nothing gained. A re-design was needed to make the magazine look different. I also wanted to bring my own view of things, computers are serious, but they can be fun, and this is what I wanted RISC World to be like. It needed real serious content, but content that could be read without a technical degree. It also needed to be enjoyable to read.

When I took over RISC World I had nothing, no lists of authors, no mandate and no idea what to write about (You still don't - DB). All I had was a budget and issues 1 to 3 to guide me. So off I went. I had a good look at the other RISC OS magazines and to be honest wasn't very happy with the content of some of them. It was almost as though some magazines couldn't find anything to write about and so would publish articles by the famous columnist Phil Space.

RISC World would not fall into this trap. So with meagre budget in hand and the basic premise that if I wanted to read something others would as well I started. Rapidly authors from the first three issues got in contact and I discovered there was loads of things to write about. In fact, too many things, which is why RISC World keeps getting bigger and bigger. Feedback from readers was very encouraging. Our subscriptions have continued to climb steadily, the magazine has a distinct feel to it, and I am enjoying editing it!

The future

We've managed to do what very few magazines achieve - we've survived our first year. But there is till more to do. In order to take RISC World forward I need a bigger budget. Which means we need either more subscribers or more advertisers. The one thing we don't want to do is put up the price. My philosophy from the very beginning was that RISC World should be so cheap that it shouldn't hurt anyone's pocket. I don't want to increase the price even though other magazines have raised their subscription rates by 18% or more last year.

I would like to get more advertising. I have been disappointed by the very poor response when I've tried to persuade companies to advertise. In one of my Editors columns I pointed out that even offering free ads doesn't seem to do the trick. Just a small amount of paid advertising would make a significant contribution to our cashflow, so next time you contact a RISC OS company ask them why they don't advertise in RISC World. It might make all the difference.

This is a critical time for RISC World. It is a subscription magazine and many of those who have subscribed over the last year have backdated their subscriptions to Issue 1. Around 550 subscriptions expire with this issue. This is a significant proportion of the total readership. If most of these readers re-subscribe RISC World will continue, if they don't then RISC World is finished. So folks (takes out onion) please do renew your subscription, RISC World needs you.

If you enjoy reading RISC World then please do re-subscribe, if you don't enjoy it then tell us. Reader feedback has increased dramatically since I took over, after all we didn't get a letters page until issue 5, and contrary to some suggestions I don't even make them up!

The future of RISC World is now in your hands. We have all have worked hard to bring you a magazine that we hope you enjoy. If the RISC OS user base shrinks much further then we could well see at least one major publication close its doors. Because of our low production and distribution costs we will be able to carry on for as long as there is a significant number of people using RISC OS.

We need your continuing support. We have some really great things planned for the next year, and we want you to see them too. Remember, RISC World costs you just £2.10 plus postage and VAT per issue. That's about the price of a few sips of beer or less than half a cup of coffee a week. I don't think anyone could say that it's not an incredible bargain.

The next issue

As we are going to press I am in a position to confirm some of the details of what will be in the next issue.

  • Full version of MasterFile formally published by Beebug/RISC Developments.
  • Comprehensive review, and a copy of, MAME (the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator).
  • New Digital Imaging column.
  • A new competition, perhaps photo captions?
  • Using RISC OS in the US. What is it like using an English OS in the heart of Windows land?
  • Review of the new version of R-Comps Internet suite.
  • More special reader offers.

Any lots lots more, of course I do reserve the right to change my mind about the contents of every issue, the information above is correct at the time of going to press (as they say).

Aaron Timbrell