Tag Archives | Magazines

LIFE is Good!


I’m not sure how I managed to miss this, but as far as I’m concerned it’s the month’s best tech-related news. On Wednesday, Google announced that Google Books has published the entire run of the most famous incarnation of LIFE magazine–almost 1900 issues, spanning 1936 to 1972. It’s the perfect complement to Google Images’ astonishing LIFE photo archive, and as useful a reference work on several eventful decades of American history as we’re going to get in one place.

The only downer is a basic undeniable fact that Google can’t do anything about: LIFE was an oversized tabloid-format publication–taller than it was wide–and computer displays are defiantly horizontal, and limited in resolution. Reading LIFE in your browser feels a little like scanning through issues using a virtual microfilm machine, despite conveniences such as thumbnails of pages and a zoom feature. (Tip: For the best reading experience, choose the full-screen mode and the facing-pages view, then zoom the magazine to fill the screen. You’ll still have to squint a little, but it’ll be worth it.)

Okay, Google Books does offer one feature that makes its LIFE archive infinitely more useful than microfilm could ever be: full-text searching of the magazine’s entire history. That’s how I’m finding gems like this 1963 feature on Polaroid’s first 60-second film and this 1964 ad for a Sony TV with a four-inch screen. There are still things about Google Books’ interface I don’t understand, such as why there doesn’t seem to be any browsable list of magazine titles that would make it easier to locate a particular publication. (LIFE is plastered all over over the Google Book home page at the moment, but when they bump it for something else it’ll be surprisingly difficult to find.) I also can’t figure out a way to search a particular publication, then sort the results by date. (I wanted to see when LIFE first mentioned computers, a topic it would cover heavily over the years.)*

But I feel guilty for being critical here–LIFE on Google Books may not be perfect, but that doesn’t prevent it from being sheer joy.

*I just figured out how to do this–it involves using advanced search and then entering the name of the magazine in a field confusingly labeled “Return books with the title.” Which brings up a question: Should all the magazines currently living in Google Books be spun off into something called Google Magazines?


World of Warcraft, The Magazine: What an Idea!

world-of-warcraft-aYou know a video game is popular when it spawns its own magazine.

Such is the case with World of Warcraft: The Magazine, debuting this weekend at the BlizzCon gaming convention in Anaheim, Calif. The quarterly publication has the blessing of publisher Blizzard, and it’ll be run by former Official Xbox Magazine Senior Editor Dan Amrich. Instead of being ad-supported, the magazine will subsist on straight sales, with $39.95 getting you a yearly subscription.

Ars Technica’s Ben Kuchera has a pretty good rundown of the reasons and roadblocks for the magazine, including the token “print is dead” disclaimer. But I actually think World of Warcraft: The Magazine has a decent chance of surviving.

It’s at least got a better shot than than another upcoming pring gaming mag, Electronic Gaming Monthly. If you missed that news, EGM will relaunch under new ownership after shuttering last January. While both magazines will ride on the strength of their respective brands, World of Warcraft: The Magazine has a distinct, dedicated audience, while the general gaming crowd sought by EGM is pretty fickle. We’re likely to go anywhere for our information, provided that it’s accurate and timely. Print magazines try to argue that they provide deeper commentary and perspective, but there’s plenty of that online as well.

WoW: The Magazine’s strategy is a classic one: Fill the niche market. It’s doing the same thing as platform-specific gaming mags, like Official Xbox Magazine, but it’s even more targeted. If the magazine can nail down the interviews, profiles and insight that’s being promised, it’s got a solid product no one else has.

Indeed, Wow: The Magazine will face the same struggles as other print publications, but WoW fans could use a reason to take their eyes off the screen anyhow, and this way they don’t even have to disengage with the game.


How a Macworld Cover is Born

I love doing my thing on the Web, but I’d be a liar if I told you there weren’t things I missed about being a magazine journalist. And one of the top three things I pine for is the fun (and challenge) of creating a cover every month. So I love, love, love this video which shows how my pals at Macworld put together the cover of their new issue. And as much hard work as it shows, it doesn’t capture everything involved in doing a cover, since it focuses on the photography and layout aspect of a process that also involves story ideas and wordsmithing, and sometimes multiple, significantly different mockups of different ideas.

Here’s Macworld’s story about the video.

(Side note: I may have implied that I don’t do magazine stuff anymore, but I lied–in fact, this very Macworld has a piece I wrote, on the war between Macs and Windows and why it doesn’t make anybody happier or healthier. It’s the first article I’ve written for the magazine after more than twenty years of reading it…and eventually sitting next to the people who make it.)

(Additional side note: If we’d been clever enough to do time-lapse photography of the complete PC World cover process when I was there, we’d have been required to include footage of me sweating for several weeks as I waited for newsstand sales reports to come in and tell us whether we had a hit or a flop on our hands.)

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Computer Shopper: A Magazine No More

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 PaidContent.org. 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.

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The Newsstand That Spawned Microsoft Will Live On

Out of Town NewsGood news for Bostonians, traditionalists, and computer-history junkies: Out of Town News, the 54-year-old newsstand in the heart of Cambridge’s Harvard Square, won’t be closing after all. The kiosk that sold Paul Allen the copy of Popular Electronics that inspired him and Bill Gates to found a company called Micro-Soft has a new tenant that has signed a five-year lease to operate it as a newsstand.

In 2009 and beyond, Out of Town is an anachronism–the Web is the biggest “out of town newsstand” imaginable–but it’s a happy one, and one of the last remaining old-school merchants in Harvard Square. (I’m still grappling with the ugly fact that the wonderful independent bookseller Wordsworth died four years ago and that the store that claims to be the Harvard Coop is in fact an uninspiring Barnes and Noble.) May Out of Town live forever–or at least for as long as there are magazines and newspapers and people who want to buy them.

(Photo by Flickr user afagen)

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JPG Magazine Goes Bye-Bye

jpgJPG Magazine, the publication consisting entirely of photos submitted by its readers, is folding. The closure includes the print publication, its PDF version, and the Web site, and comes at a time when just about everybody involved in the creation of advertising-supported media properties is having a tough time of it. As Daring Fireball’s John Gruber points out, JPG’s founders were forced out in 2007, and the publication lost much of its energy thereafter.

At the peak of its buzz, JPG was sometimes held up as evidence that a magazine could get by without needless luxuries like paid contributors. I don’t think its death proves that the idea of user-generated publications is a crummy one, any more than the current trials and tribulations of media companies prove that the time of professional journalists is over. If JPG had a problem, it may have been that it was ultimately kind of redundant–thanks to Flickr, Facebook, and a zillion other places where you can share photos, the whole darn Web feels a little like an online magazine of user-created imagery.

Rest in peace, JPG–you were an interesting idea, and like many interesting ideas that die, your influence will likely be felt in more successful enterprises to come.


The Best of Frenemies


Frenemy: Someone who is both friend and enemy, a relationship that is both mutually beneficial or dependent while being competitive, fraught with risk and mistrust.

Urban Dictionary

That’s not a bad first stab at a definition, but let’s expand on it: A frenemy can be a friend who evolves into an enemy. Or an enemy who morphs into a friend. Or a friend who seems to be an enemy, or an enemy who seems to be a friend. Or someone who teeters precariously between friendship and enemyhood, sometimes over the course of decades. One thing, however, is undeniable about frenemies: The technology world has always been rife with them. Consider these twelve outstanding examples–past, present, and future.


Google’s Infinite, Infinitely Imperfect Newsstand

newyorkmagWho says magazines are dead? Sure, ones printed on wood pulp are writhing in agony at the moment. But there are a couple of centuries’ worth of back issues that still make for fascinating–and sometimes important–reading. And among Google’s umpteen major initiatives is getting as many of them as possible online in searchable form. Today, the company announced that it’s working with a bunch of publishers to put more magazines online as part of Google Book Search, including biggies such as Ebony, New York, Popular Mechanics, and Popular Science. (The new additions join magazines that are already in Book Search, such as Computerworld.) [UPDATE: In the comments, my friend Andrew Leal points out that the Computerworld archive isn’t part of Google Book Search–it’s part of Google News Archive, a separate service. That explains some but not all of my confusion below…]

It’s a fabulous idea, and as someone who isn’t ashamed to admit he’s a magazine junkie, I’m very excited by it. But I’m also very frustrated by the interface in its current state.

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