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Analysis: Are Your Old Video Game Magazines... Worth Money?

Analysis: Are Your Old Video Game Magazines... Worth Money?

August 11, 2010 | By Kevin Gifford

August 11, 2010 | By Kevin Gifford
More: Console/PC

[Kevin Gifford documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day, and examines what makes an old magazine valuable or a rag doomed for the recycle bin.]

Occasionally I get mail from readers asking me if their particular collection of old video game or computer mags is worth a lot of money. Usually, it isn't. It's rude of me, perhaps, but I always feel an odd sort of pressure in the pit of my stomach, responding to mails like these.

It makes me feel sort of like I'm working at GameStop and a kid's just brought in a cardboard box full of PS2 Madden and NBA Live discs and he's expecting me to start unrolling $100 bills from my money clip.

Unlike Maddens, of course, the problem with judging the value of mags isn't that there's a vast oversupply.

It's more a case of under-demand. There are tons of different ways to get into this hobby, and unlike (for example) NES cartridges, there's no very well defined endpoint to the collection that everybody's striving for.

Some people just want to replace the library of Nintendo Powers they had as a kid; some really love an old computer model and want to get everything that's been published about it; some loons simply get everything they can until they fill up the spare room and have visitors look at them funny whenever they see the place. (Not that I know what that's like or anything. 'Ell no.)

In terms of strict numbers, there are a great deal of extremely hard-to-find rarities to hunt down in this scene. Dozens, if not hundreds, of computer and game fanzines are out there, many of which had circulations in the teens. Even nationally distributed professional publications can have extremely small circs that make them very hard to find today.

In particular, PC gaming mags up until the mid-1990s are all surprisingly difficult to complete -- I'm still missing assorted issues of Computer Play, Computer Gaming World, Strategy Plus, and especially Game Players PC Entertainment, which seems particularly impossible to find for me. (Even after the big PC gaming boom, some of the second-tier mags like VooDoo and the resurrected PC Games are pretty uncommon.)

Rarity, however, doesn't correlate with value in the collecting business, and magazines aren't any exception to that. It doesn't matter if something's in short supply -- if no one's willing to pay the price sellers are asking for it, then it's not going to suddenly become valuable.

You'll often find sets of mags hit eBay for high reserves or Buy It Now prices and never garner so much as a single bid...not to mention eBay stores posting up mags for eye-popping prices (like $199 for issue one of GameFan) and allowing the posts to languish up there for several years on end.

Another drag on the dollar value of mags: scans. Whether officially sanctioned by the publisher or not, PDF versions of old mags are usually more than enough to satisfy the cravings of the nostalgia-driven collector crowd. For someone like me, it's a double-edged sword. Old mags in electronic form are great for research and preservation purposes, but they also drag down the price of the real McCoys...which gives sellers less incentive to sell their mags instead of recycling them...which gives me even less of a chance to find those Game Players PC Entertainment issues I need.

So are your old magazines valuable? Probably not, just like how your collection of '90s comic books and Beanie Babies aren't going to provide your retirement income anytime soon. But there are a few exceptions, especially if you're clever with your selling techniques. Off the top of my head, here are some mags that could be considered "valuable" in monetary terms:

- Most console mags published before 1984, especially Electronic Games. Nearly all of these go for double figures per issue still, buoyed by the fact that few of them have downloadable scanned versions available. I spent a pile of cash on a collection of Arcade Express issues in 2007, and I don't think any others have popped up for sale on the net since. (Some are available as PDFs now, though.)

- Magazines from the prehistory of personal computing, such as early Byte, Creative Computing, Computer Notes (which Bill Gates contributed to), and so forth. The magazine section of Erik Klein's is a good resource to browse through for the mags of this era.

- First issues of long-running computer mags are a perennial favorite on eBay. The inaugural edition of PC Magazine (featuring an interview with Gates) sold for $137.50 a little while ago.

- Old (I'm talking pre-1987) issues of Computer Gaming World. The most valuable single issue I've ever seen in this field is the first issue (November/December 1981) of CGW, which went for something like $350 on eBay back in 2006. (This was before scans came out, though.)

- Issues of recent mags with extremely niche audiences that are willing to spend a lot of money. World of Warcraft Official Magazine, for example, or EVE Online magazine EON. There was a time when the first issue of Retro Gamer was going for a couple hundred, for reasons I can't fathom.

If you don't have anything like that lurking around in your closet...well, I won't say that your mags are worthless, but I can't be too optimistic, either. You may want to try holding on to them for a few more years, though. You never know -- early issues of Nintendo Power are actually starting to go for more than fifty cents a pop on eBay these days, after all.

[Kevin Gifford used to breed ferrets, but now he's busy running Magweasel, a really cool weblog about games and Japan and "the industry" and things. In his spare time he does writing and translation for lots of publishers and game companies.]

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