A 1983 look at the computer magazine wars

First, an apology: I’m sorry I haven’t acknowledged the 40th anniversary of PC World. I feel slightly less guilty since—as far as I know—even PC World itself has not celebrated the 40th anniversary of PC World. Earlier this year, another magazine I used to work for, TIME, did remember to mark its 100th birthday; given that personal computers as we know them have been around for less than 50 years, PC World‘s long history and continued existence strikes me as worth celebrating,

Back when I worked there, we weren’t sure precisely when our first issue was published—oddly enough, it carried no month. We decided to celebrate our 20th anniversary in our March 2003 issue, which came out in February. That turned out to be a good call: Years later, when my friend Karen Wickre gave me a copy of the press release announcing the first issue, it was dated February 1983 and said the issue would be out that month.

The original PC World staff. Read to the bottom of this article and I promise to share a guide to who’s who, including David Bunnell and his cofounder Cheryl Woodard.

Lately, however, I have been partial to declaring that PC World was born on November 29, 1982, the day it was announced at COMDEX. For one thing,  it’s nice to narrow it down to a specific day. For another, it has the best origin story in computer magazine history: The publication’s staff consisted of nearly the entire staff of PC Magazine, who’d walked out after it was sold to Ziff-Davis. There’s no truly detailed account of how that all went down on the internet, or the years of lawsuits that followed—a sad situation I hope to rectify one of these days.

In the meantime, here’s an August 1983 article on the magazine and its rivalry with its slightly older eternal bête noire, PC Magazine. It comes from the collection of my late friend David Bunnell, who cofounded both magazines. This story was originally published in something called Bay Area Computer Classifieds, which is otherwise unknown to me. The layout looks just like an early issue of PC World, so I assume that David got permission to reprint and distribute the article, then reformatted it.

The bulk of the piece is an interview with David about the state of the computer-magazine market. It touches on the PC World origin story and says that “for the time being” there is room for both it and PC Mag. (Forty years later, on the web, there still is.)

David maintains that PC World has the larger circulation and higher revenue, and says that it plans to stay at a convenient 400 pages—since, hey, a 700 or 800-page computer magazine would be awfully inconvenient. It wasn’t just a theoretical problem: PC Mag‘s September 1983 issue, which came out around when this article was published, was so thick with ads that it did hit an unwieldy 663 pages. But Ziff apparently agreed with David, and soon switched to twice-monthly publication. For a time, that resulted in two PC Mag issues a month of approximately 400 pages each. (I haven’t heard lately of any print magazines having much difficulty accommodating all the ads they’re able to sell.)

I got to PC World well after David left, but his contention in this interview that the original staff was publishing the magazine to benefit society resonates with me. At least some of that idealism remained when I worked there. It still helps explain why I get out of bed and go to work today.

Page one of 1983 article on PC World

Page two of 1983 article on PC World

Page three of 1983 article on PC World

Page four of 1983 article on PC World

Here’s the guide to the staff photo near the top of this post. I’m happy to know (or at least have had some contact with) several of these people, and grateful to all of them for creating something that turned out to matter so much to to my life and career—even though my earliest memory of PC World is not caring in the least about its existence when my father told me about it in late 1982 or early 1983.

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