Internet Killed The Magazine Star

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I’ve been musing on whether or not to weigh in on the demise of PC World, a computer “magazine” that was once printed on “paper.” Founded after the acquisition of PC Magazine by Ziff-Davis publishing, PC World’s story is so similar to the stories of the major blogs these days that it is worth a brief look.

PC Magazine and PC World began competing when PC Mag employees refused to go along with the acquisition. A similar thing happened in the early days of Gizmodo when Pete Rojas was hired away from Gawker Media to start Engadget. I read these two blogs a decade ago while slaving away at Laptop Magazine/PC Upgrade which, as you can easily surmise, no longer have print editions either. This little power struggle created the two juggernauts of this decade and ushered in the demise of the computer magazine.

The resulting blossoming of online titles chewed away at the giants of the print era. While computer magazines – usually with DVDs attached – are still popular in areas with less developed Internet availability, the U.S. has become a magazine wasteland, the only titles left on the newsstand being either general, mass-market news and gossip or amazingly niche titles that work best in print. Advertising also flowed the way of Gizmodo and Engadget (albeit slowly) and finally it choked off the major players in the print game. The last few years has been a litany of print edition closings, much to the chagrin of a few of my tech writer friends.

Remember that computer magazines were once amazingly, important just as blogs are now. Many of us 1980s kids learned to program by typing in long strings of code from titles like Antic and Compute and even before I wanted to become a writer I idolized John Dvorak and Steven Levy, two tech writers who put a little bit of soul into their work. I remember reading about the Morris Worm in PC Mag and salivating over items in the classifieds section at the back of the magazine where things like voice synthesizers and high-speed modems went for hundreds of dollars.

Before Gateway the only way to buy a computer was to build it from components. Sure you could get a ready-built Tandy or IBM, but they were expensive and often underpowered. Computer Shopper, another defunct title, offered a warehouse full of gear that a tech-loving father and son team could build on the kitchen table. Check out this piece for a fascinating look at the BBS notices at the end of the magazines.

It doesn’t make me sad that PC World is gone. I hadn’t read it in years and the people I know working there will remain employed. The Internet killed the print edition as surely as the Kindle is killing the paperback. Pressing “Print” on a massive machine and igniting a series of distribution channels that require trucks, boxes, and newsstands cannot compare to pressing “Purchase” on a tablet. Anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you ink.

I once had a box full of PC Worlds and PC Magazines. I would peruse them, type in programs in assembly, marvel at EGA graphics, and wonder when I would have a hard drive of my own. Things have changed, to be sure, but the tech press is still alive and well and quite vibrant. PC World, the print magazine, played its part. Now it is time to cede the stage.