By Harry McCracken | Thursday, November 20, 2008 at 6:17 am
And so it came to pass that on November 19th, 2008 publisher Ziff Davis announced that PC Magazine–in the print version that gave it its name–was going to the great newsstand in the sky. When it gets there, it’ll have plenty of company: Most of the most important tech magazines ever published are no more, victims of the periodic industry shakeouts that are almost as old as the industry itself.
Herewith, a look at a dozen tech publications that don’t exist anymore (in print form, at least–some are still with us online). All of them were significant in one way or another, all had loyal readerships who mourned their loss, and most were terrific magazines, period. It’s in chronological order by the year of founding. And no, I didn’t include PC Mag: It’s got one more issue to go and therefore isn’t a defunct tech magazine just yet.
(Full disclosure: I toiled for thirteen and a half happy years at IDG, the publisher of some of these magazines..and I have friends who worked at just about all of them. I don’t claim to be a dispassionate bystander, but I count myself lucky to have worked in dead-tree tech publishing back when it was booming.)
What made it special: Mostly one legendary cover story–the January 1975 one about the MITS Altair microcomputer kit. When Paul Allen saw it on a newsstand in Harvard Square, he showed it to his buddy Bill Gates; the two got so excited that they formed a company to write software for it. Would Microsoft have been founded if Popular Electronics had never existed? Probably, but the mag still deserves the credit for inspiring the biggest software company the world has ever known.
Random factoid: Popular Electronics may have predated Ziff-Davis publications such as PC Magazing and PC/Computing by decades, but it wasn’t Ziff’s first magazine for gadget nuts. That would be Radio News, which it acquired in 1938.
The final days: In 1982, the magazine tried to reinvent itself into a computer magazine under the name Computers and Electronics; it didn’t work. Renaming and refocusing magazines never works. (See: PC/Computing.) Computers and Electronics folded in 1985, but the name was revived in 1989 for a magazine that was later renamed Poptronics before closing again in 2002.
Current whereabouts: Popular Electronics is dead–at least at the moment–but Modern Mechanix has some entertaining reprints from the publication’s golden age. And here are more scanned issues.
Publishers: Ahl Computing, Ziff-Davis
What made it special: Creative Computing really was creative. And funny. And passionate about its topic. And admirable in the way it covered every major computing platform of the era, from the Commodore PET to the Atari 800 to the IBM PC (the machine whose success would eventually help kill Creative).
Random self-indulgent trivia: The first thing I ever wrote about computers (or any other topic) appeared in Creative‘s October, 1982 issue. It was a review of arcade games for the TRS-80.
The final days: Founder David Ahl sold Creative to Ziff-Davis in the early 1980s. Some of the best issues were published after the acquisition, but Creative was by its very definition a multi-platform publication, and successful computer magazines were increasingly dedicated to a single platform (most often the IBM PC) with fanatical dedication. Ziff shuttered the publication in October, 1985.
Current whereabouts: The Classic Computer Magazine Archive has the full text of some issues. David Ahl, meanwhile, runs a site called Swap Meet Dave. It features jokes, cute pictures of dogs and cats, financial advice, and books for sale–including some Creative Computing ones.
Publisher: Green Publishing, McGraw-Hill
What made it special: Byte was the first must-read computer magazine–the publication that the industry rotated around in the 1970s and early 1980s. It featured highly technical reviews and previews, how-tos, and the columns of Jerry Pournelle, who kind of invented writing about computers from the perspective of a smart user who just wanted to get stuff done. For many people, it was the perfect computer magazine: I’ve spent my whole career hearing from folks who compare current computer publications unfavorably to Byte in its golden age. And If I’m alive in fifty years and the subject of computer magazines comes up, I fully expect people to tell me that they still miss it.
Random factoid: For its first eleven years, Byte‘s covers were original paintings by artist Robert Tinney–one of the most clever and distinctive cover styles of any magazine on any topic. I still remember my disappointment when the magazine switched to humdrum photographs of new computers.
The final days: In 1998, CMP purchased Byte from longtime publisher McGraw-Hill. And then it shut it down–a shocking move at the time, even though it was obvious that the publication was already a shadow of its fat, ad-filled former self. The Web site continued on, though, and for a while it had plenty of original content.
What made it special: For many years, InfoWorld was the tech industry’s dominant newsweekly–back when weekly was about as timely as tech-industry news could get. Yet it was also a reviews powerhouse, the proprietor of one of the largest testing labs ever opened by a computing publication. Other highlights included former Editor-in-Chief Stewart Alsop’s editorials (which read like blog posts before blogs had been invented) and the columns of enterprising gossip reporter/fictional person Robert X. Cringely (now a blogger himself and, weridly, two different fictional people.)
Random self-indulgent factoid: This is the only publication on this list that made the questionable decision of hiring me–I worked at an offshoot called InfoWorld Direct from 1992 to 1994.
The final days: A newsprinty tabloid for most of its life, InfoWorld converted to a smaller, glossier magazine-style format in 2003. (It had been a magazine at least once before, and maybe more–it was notorious in its early years for changing formats more or less constantly.)
Current whereabouts: Alive and well as a pure online publication at InfoWorld.com.
Publishers: Compute Publications, ABC, General Media
What made it special: Compute! was the last of the great hobbyist computer magazines. It was originally devoted to machines that ran the 6502 processor, such as the Apple II, Atari 400/800, and Commodore 64. And while it was less geeky than Byte, it was full of nerdy features like listings of BASIC programs you could type in yourself.
Random factoid: Compute! was originally devoted entirely to the Commdore PET computer, and was–perhaps inevitably–called The PET Gazette.
The final days: In 1990, Compute! was sold to Bob Guccione’s General Media, thereby becoming a sister publication of Penthouse. If there have been two more utterly different magazines in publishing history, I’m fogetting about them right now.
Current whereabouts: None. As far as I know, Compute! never had a Web site, so it didn’t leave many traces on the Internet. But the Classic Computer Magazine Archive has the full text of dozens of issues.
Publishers: Wayne Green, IDG
What made it special: Devoted entirely to Radio Shack’s TRS-80 microcomputers-please don’t call them Trash-80s-80/Micro wasn’t the first computer magazine devoted to a single platform, but it was the first insanely successful one. It thereby set the template for most computer magazines that followed-I used to say that PC World was essentially an 80/Micro clone that happened to be about Windows, not TRS-80s.
Random factoid: 80 Micro, like other Wayne Green publications, was produced out of a former motel in Peterborough, New Hampshire–within walking distance of Byte’s offices.
The final days: If a computer magazine lives by a platform, it’ll die by the that platform–and so when Radio Shack segued from making its own unique machines into becoming a manufacturer of IBM PC clones, 80 Micro‘s fate was sealed.
Current whereabouts: Alive in the hearts of TRS-80 devotees everywhere.