Computer Shopper: A Magazine No More

By  |  Friday, February 27, 2009 at 10:08 am

computershopperAt its peak, Computer Shopper may have consumed more wood pulp each month than any other magazine of any sort, ever: It consistently ran over 1,000 pages oversized a month in the early 1990s. (I remember in part because I worked for a not-very-successful magazine that had been formed to take Shopper on head-to-head.)

The onetime behemoth will never kill another innocent tree again: SX2 Media Labs, its publisher, is discontinuing print publication to go online-only after the April issue, reports The news comes a few months after Ziff Davis folded the print version of PC Magazine, once Computer Shopper’s even more profitable stablemate. (Shopper was a Ziff publication during the fat years, though it began as an independent operation and was also owned by Cnet for a spell until SX2 bought it in 2005.)

Also recently defunct, at least as a standalone publication: the extremely venerable programming journal Dr. Dobb’s, which I remember reading in the late 1970s.

Shopper’s paper-based demise really leaves the U.S. with only one general-interest computer magazine, and it’s my old employer, IDG’s PC World. Other than PCW, anything that’s left focuses on a niche, such Maximum PC (hardware enthusiasts), 2600 (hackers), and the self-explanatory Laptop and Macworld. Oh, and I see that Smart Computing is still with us.

There are also a few non-newsstand publications aimed at IT types, such as Computerworld, eWeek (formerly PC Week), and Information Week; none of them are mass-circulation, PC-centric magazines. And a (very few) viable gaming-related magazines.

The bottom line is that nearly notable U.S. computer magazine that ever was is no more: A+, Access, Amazing Computing, AmigaWorld, Ahoy, Analog, Antic, Atari Explorer, Boot (which morphed into Maximum PC), Byte, CD-ROM Today, Computer Artist, Computer Buying World, Creative Computing, Compute, Computer’s Gazette, Computer Currents, Computer Life, Computer Shopper, Computer User (still around online), Corporate Computing, Commodore, Desktop Computing, Desktop Video World, DOS World (yes, there was one!), Family Computing, Home Office Computing, Home PC, Hot CoCo,  I*Way, InCider, Interface Age, Kilobaud, 80 Micro, 80-US, Handheld Computing, Info, InfoWorld (still online), Jr., Internet World, Lotus, Mac Home Journal, MacAddict (relaunched as the still-extant MacLife), MacUser, MacWeek, Maximize, Maximum Linux, MicroTimes, MIPS (later Personal Workstation), Mobile Computing, Multimedia World (originally MPC World), The Net, NetGuide, NewMedia, NeXTWorld, On, On Computing, OS/2 Professional, PC/Computing, PC Jr., PC Laptop, PC Magazine (still online), PC Resource, PC Sources, PC Tech Journal, Pen Computing, Personal Computing, Personal Publishing, Pico, Popular Computing (which was the successor to OnComputing, if I recall correctly), Portable Computing, Publish, Recreational Computing, ROM, Run, Softside, Softalk, Softalk PC, Start, SunWorld, Sync (two unrelated magazines, both unsuccessful), Time Digital (On’s earlier incarnation), The Web, Windows (originally OS/2, then Windows and OS/2), Windows Sources, and Yahoo Internet Life.

[UPDATE: I’m updating the above list with magazines my Twitter friends are pinging me about–they’re scaring me by remembering mags I forgot.]

That’s more than eighty dead computer magazines (thanks to Scot Finnie for remembering a few that I forgot about). I read most of the above, had friends at many, competed with several, and wrote for a few. And yes, I know that I forgot to mention some of your favorites. (I’m not even attempting to cover “new economy” ones.)

The reasons for the fall of the computer magazine are so obvious they’re barely worth mentioning: The rise of the Internet left the world with more useful information about computers and related topics than ever, but it’s all online and almost none of it costs a nickel.

(Okay, there are some non-obvious reasons, too: Microsoft’s monopolistic dominance in so many software categories left fewer companies to buy ads, as did the endless parade of corporate mergers over the years. And even if the Internet had never been existed, the magazine business is awfully tough.)

Will computer magazines ever go away, period? Yes, someday, although everything I know about the state of PC World tells me that it can continue on for years in print form doing good stuff and making a profit if it so chooses. And there’s still a market for very specialized tech magazines. But even now, I believe that the relatively large computer-magazine sections at Borders and Barnes & Noble are dominated by magazines from the UK, where print isn’t (yet) quite as dead as it is here.

I love doing tech journalism for the Web, and probably read far more about tech each month than I ever did; it’s by far the best time ever to be interested in personal technology. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t be nostalgic for the days when I haunted the newsstand in search of the latest issue of Creative Computing. Or even, in an odd way, nostalgic for the angst I felt when mammoth issues of Computer Shopper plopped on my desk at work each month, back when I was part of a publication that was failing to compete with it…


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21 Comments For This Post

  1. Wolfey Says:

    You listed Computer Shopper twice in the dead magazine list. Man, it’s sad when you look through that, so many memories. I think I’ve still got a few issues of On somewhere around here…

  2. Derek Slater Says:

    A real blast from the past. Tx Harry. Would like to see the list of ex-gaming mags…

  3. Jason Says:

    ahhhhh…. memories. I remember waiting for my 80 Micro to arrive so I could sit up all night punching the code from one of their articles into my TRS-80 Model III (upgraded to 32k RAM, 5 1/4 floppy, cassette player backup). Good times…

  4. Eric Griffith Says:

    You can add FamilyPC, the joint ZD/Disney venture of the ’90s… another dead mag I worked at (but you got the others. 🙂 )

  5. Lee Says:

    Macazine (an early Mac Mag.)

  6. Alan Ralph Says:

    One that I used to read back in the 90s was Boardwatch ( which started life covering the BBS scene and later the early ISPs and online services. It was a good read, and did a lot of work highlighting some of the battles that were taking place in the regulation of telecoms and ISPs, including early salvos in the online privacy and net-neutrality debates. Most memorable for me were the editorials by Jack Rickard and later David Hakala, the column that John C Dvorak wrote for it where he dissected things like Microsoft’s struggle to take on the Internet and AOL/CompuServes attempts to stay relevant, and Bill Holbrook’s “Kevin & Kell” cartoon. I bailed on it after it got acquired by Penton Media and became and ISP/telecom talking shop. It folded in 2002.

  7. Dave Barnes Says:

    I love print, but the idea of a print pub for making PURCHASE decisions in 2007+ is just silly.
    Seriously. You go to NewEgg and a few others and buy. How difficult is that?

  8. Michael Sanders Says:

    Seems like there was a Compaq Magazine, unless the fact that it was written by Compaq, disqulifies it. There’s another on the tip of my tongue, a big PC WEEK-sized, non-glossy rag, which printed PC WEEK-like content, on cheap recycled paper. Pretty good competition to PC WEEK… It was called… It came out after PC WEEK was years into play. Darn it!

    Through the eighties, I read 4 to 5 periodicals from cover to cover, every week to stay abreast of new developments which could affect/benefit my customer. I was a Communciations Project Specialist, at EDS, on the GM Account for 9 years. My head finally exploded in 1993 and I didn’t attemp to be up on every new development across several plarforms, inculding DEC mini’s… DECUS was their journal; IBM 4300 mainfraimes and HP workstations (OS/2.1), unix, and Sun Workstations. BTW, I was the librarian who sorted and retrievd the hot new issues so a 45 person account could share a single-subcription to eah magazine. Computer World went straight to the Account Manager, I got the Data Communications magazine and eventually all of the subscriptions, to manage. A library used to be a cool hub of knowlege and enjoyment, but the Ineternet has replaced THAT, too! One day, they take my underware and tell me that there’s a widget, that I can download, to save on real-mode clothing.

    Still cannot remember that big rag’s name.

  9. Ken Bates Says:

    I still have some very early issues of Personal Computer World but, whilst I don’t know if they were sold in the USA, I clearly remember PC Direct and Computer Buyer. I even still have some of the cover CDs!

    Just to show what an old saddo I am, I have kept the cover floppies from ‘way back when they were 5 1/4″- PC Plus, What Personal Computer, What Micro and PC Shareware Magazines feature there, going back to the 1980s.

    If you need any more I could delve to the back of the cupboard and find others.

  10. Yael Says:

    Truly depressing. Still, it’s a terrific eulogy and a great resource for those of us who lived through the golden age of computer magazines and have had bylines in quite a few of them. Kudos for PCW for surviving. I still can’t get used to the fact that PC Magazine (or “Mag,” as we used to call it at Ziff) isn’t the most prominent magazine on the bookstore shelves.

    Your next list should be of the Who’s Who of the computer press, Michael Miller, Paul Somerson, Jerry Pournelle… Anybody who ever published the code for DOS batch files… Where are they now? Who’s still in the business? Judging by LinkedIn, most of us have changed careers.

  11. Harry McCracken Says:

    Hi, Yael,

    Someone should do a list of the greatest computer-magazine editors and writers, but I’m too close to the subject–and I’m happy to say I’m friends with a bunch of ones I admire and have learned from. I do think that Jerry Pournelle kind of invented writing about computers for intelligent human beings in an interesting, non-technical way; all of us who’ve done it since he began doing so are in his debt. I also think of two folks who are no longer with us: Andrew Fluegelman (the first editor of PC World) and John Anderson (Creative Computer and MacUser–a wonderfully smart writer).

    And yes, I think the majority of people who have ever been tech journalists–including those who are doing it now–will end up doing something else before they call it a day.


  12. Joey Latimer Says:

    I have very fond memories of writing for several of the magazines on your list and it was a great time. Now I see it all as a stepping stone to what was to come. Who would have thought?

  13. Joseph Sabatino Says:

    Waiting May, June, July for my issues of Computer Shopper so I decided to Google the circulation desk at Computer Shopper and stumbled across this article. My—what a bummer. I have the April CS in front of me and I can’t find where they mention this is the final issue.

    I think CS was a better read than PCW because they devote too much to cell phones. They should call it PC & Cell Phone World. They didn’t even mention the CES show and they let go of my favorite contributing editor, Stephen Manes (“Full Disclosure” – last page of every PCW) That was the 1st article I read every time.

    I think I had every issue of Analog and Antic until my wife sold them in a garage sale.

  14. Daniel Says:

    Hi, I couldn´t get the JUNE 2009 issue of Computer magazine, and I need the BAR CODE number of it. Anyone can mail it to me? portela_daniel(a) Thanks!!!

  15. John Corliss Says:

    I was five issues into a subscription to Computer Shopper and have been trying since April to get a refund from them for issues due. It’s now September and I’ve filed a complaint with the FTC as well as the New York Better Business Bureau, both to no effect. I keep getting emails from Computer Shopper thanking me for my “patience” and putting me off. It’s obvious to me that they intend to rip off all of the people who had subscriptions with them when they ceased publication. What a bunch of crooks this makes them look like. Advertisers beware!

  16. Haroldt Says:

    WINMAG… I loved WINMAG… I always thought it was great…dead lomg ago… PS… try filing an online complaint with the better business Burea John Corliss. They are usually very efficient…even if the resolution is voluntary..

  17. David Croucher Says:

    Just found your thread, looking for Computer Shopper in the UK to resubscribe.

    Here’s an interesting comparison: here in Britain, it’s still going! Ours is owned by Dennis Publications and still brands itself as “Britain’s biggest technology magazine”. I’ve been reading it for over two decades, so I hunted up an old ‘mammoth’ copy from the ’90s – I keep a few, say one every five years – to amuse myself looking at how things were, esp. the ads. You know: full height 5 1/4 inch hard drives, 80MB for $1000!

    Issue 91 of September 1995 was £2.25 with a cover CD (not the cheap floppy edition, then) of goodies. That price was about $3.50, then. It had 708 pages and weighed 3 1/2 pounds, not counting the loose ads. About a third of its bulk was catalogues from small PC builders and component suppliers, and that paid for a lot of editorial – it was one of the leading reviewers, which is why I bought it. That wasn’t the biggest: they got up to over 1000 pages a couple of years later.

    Issue 264 of February 2010 is £4.99 with a cover DVD (they recently dropped the CD option at £1 less). That would be $7.99 in the US. It has 164 pages and pretty-well the same format and recipe – even still has a Dell ad on the first few pages. Lots of updates in looks, of course, but recognizably the same product.

    The question is, how can this be when in the US, the whole market’s folded? I reckon there are three factors here:

    1) the cover price is higher (and buyers here have always been willing to pay it);

    2) the goodies are valuable, bringing a regularly-updated collection of useful tools onto one disk (saves time trawling the net) as well as regular last-year’s-version of expensive software;

    3) and those reviews, especially the head-to-head ones, are in depth and authoritative – I trust these guys. Yes, it’s all on the web, too, for free, but having it collected to read when you can’t get online, and having a section of new products with updating Best Buys to compare with at the front of the mag is CONVENIENT. And I’ll pay some for that.

    Overall, this mag does it’s job still – it keeps me up to date painlessly, and I can always get back to stuff on the web later if I need it. That’s worth the (reduced) subscription price I pay.

    Any comments?

  18. Cynthia Morgan Says:

    I worshipped tech mags almost from childhood, read them obsessively, cover-to-cover, eventually went to work for them (and was employed by several on your list and a few you don’t mention) and made dozens of great friends there… But long print cycles, the rise of reader reviews and the outrageous expense of running them (at least any level of quality) did them in.

    Companies learned that they could buy content for their own websites without losing a lot of credibility (or worrying that an editor wouldn’t get it “right”). And, ironically, despite helping to usher in the modern online world, we never really came up with a viable business model for living in it. (Any CMP veterans out there who remember senior management’s attempt to “own” the Internet?)

    Now, much as I love them, do I read the few that remain? Nope. If I want to learn about a product, I hit up someplace online…like everyone else. Sigh.

    I guess it’s just one of those end-of-an-era kinda things. I’ll miss ’em.

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  1. Computershopper mag | Shaadiu Says:

    […] Computer Shopper: A Magazine No MoreComputer Shopper Magazine is the tech buyer’s bible featuring 1000’s of direct manufacturer deals for hardware, software, printers and peripherals. ComputerShopper Magazine has quick-reference product indexes, comparison charts, buying tips, programming techniques, and more. … Alphabetical Listing of Magazines > […]