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My Mags, O My Mags

This is a flame on the tendency of some of my favorite magazines to die on me, either by ceasing to publish altogether or by fleeing into the World Wide Web, where I do not bother to look for them.

This started years ago, back when my all-round favorite magazine was Computers & Electronics, which what became of the original Popular Electronics of Altair 8800 fame. It was a very informative and well-illustrated magazine. It also died in 1986, when its editor Forrest Mims III retired and the publisher decided not to bother hiring a successor. I got my money back on the remainder of the subscription, but I was really angry for the loss.

That was in the days before the commercial Internet.

It is very expensive to publish a magazine, I am aware. You have expenses for the editors, writers, printers, clerks, distribution, marketing, postage, et cetera. Obviously you need to pay for all this and hope the revenues from sales and subscriptions can cover them and make a profit.

How a magazine is charged determines how the content will look and how the readers will accept it. Charge too cheap, and your magazine will be mostly advertisements, which readers (like me) find an annoyance. The late Windows Magazine was like that. Charge too dear, on the other hand, and your magazine avoids the clutter of ads, but loses potential readers who cannot afford it. This is especially true of academic journals, for which only the sponsorship of universities and professional organizations keep them from going under. No commercial magazine can survive thus.

Sometimes there are simply not enough readers to let a magazine live, no matter how good it is. Thus was the fate of Mangazine, the rag that taught Japanese language and culture through the study of manga.

Finally there is the damage caused by management decisions that turn out stupid. While not surprising—no doubt, a manager with a personal hobby or experience in computers is a rarity—such decisions alienate readers and decimate subscriptions. BYTE, for example, slowly died the death over the last five years of its existence by ditching its electronics articles; shedding most of its interesting features except Chaos Manor; and becoming a lean general computer magazine. Then there was the promising computer gaming magazine Incite. One of its articles looked so racist it probably drove subscribers away.

Now magazines are dying right and left, expiring in print as they flee into the Web and certain oblivion. Two computer magazines, BYTE and Windows Magazine (in that order), I lost this way. And a couple of months ago I got word that my favorite non-computer magazine, the culture rag Gadfly, has for reasons of expense fled into the Web never to be noticed again. Evidently its editor, John Whitehead, hasn't heard of the fate of such Web magazines as Suck, which died recently. The fact that there is no print distribution does not make a magazine any less expensive to run.

It almost makes me leery of subscribing to another magazine lest it scurry into the Web and get chomped by the spider of Expense.

Your author subscribes to the following magazines: PC World, PC Magazine, Web Techniques, Inside Visual Basic, and Computer Gaming. Any bets on how long these last?

update (11 february 2008)

Since the time I wrote this article, I have let my subscriptions to PC World and PC Magazine lapse. I also let lapse my subscription to Inside Visual Basic because I stopped programming in that language. My current employer does not use it, preferring C# instead.

I had wanted to keep my subscription to Computer Gaming. But like all the magazines I listed above, it vanished without a trace as a result of a lawsuit. Now I am getting something called Games for Windows for the reminder of my Computer Gaming subscription.

I also subscribe to Macworld; but that subscription is sent to my work address.

update (21 january 2009)

Computer Gaming gave me one good warning article about Sim City Societies (which turned out to be a glorified commercial for BP) before it, too, died the dead. So I was given a subscription to Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM). I liked that magazine enough to send in a yearly subscription to it. Can you guess what happened? Here is a hint from my work logs:

Ah, crap! Not again! I just subscribed for another year of Electronic Gaming Monthly, and the devils at Ziff-Davis killed it! Dammit!! Oh, I hope Ziff-Davis — I've hated them since they stiffed me out of a year of a runner's magazine back in the 1980's — gets taken apart piece by piece!

What makes this really bad is that EGM is not being allowed to flee into the Internet. It had already existed on the Internet under the name 1UP (from the gamer term for an avatar enhancement like invulnerability). Both Web site and magazine are dying the death becauase Ziff-Davis can no longer pay its own way.

This leaves two magazine subscriptions: Macworld at work, Consumer Reports at home.

update (22 June 2009)

I was hoping for a refund on my subscription to EGM. Instead I found a copy of the lad magazine Maxim in the mail last week, with a pasted note informing me that it will be replacing EGM for the remainder of my subscription (until May 2011).

A lad magazine is what Playboy was in the mid-1950's through late 1960's, except there are no nipples, no bare butts, no short stories or literate articles, and not even the pretense of being classy. Maxim, the best known of the lad mags, got its first shot of fame when in 2000 it sported Jessica Biel and her barely noticable hooters while she was doing the television series 7th Heaven.

Maxim is meant for the guy crowd aged 18-35. Yeah, it looks … interesting enough. But I was hoping for more EGM; so was this guy.

Thankfully, the original editor of Electronic Gaming Magazine bought out the rights and trademark to the magazine from Ziff-Davis, and will start republication later this year. I will be waiting for it. In the meantime I mailed off a request for a prorated refund.

update (29 august 2010)


It was a long wait, but I have resubscribed to Electronic Gaming Magazine as soon as I found it was available. I get with my subscription not only printed issues but (more plentiful) electronic issues.

I also subscribed to the do-it-yourself computer and kit magazine MAKE. I have liked it enough to buy some of its side books and to consider electronics (beyond computers, that is) as a hobby.

pc world

I also (once again) subscribe to PC World, MacWorld's sister publication, not knowing that, before I had done so, it was undergoing a purge that had forced the resignation of, among others, Steven Bass, the writer of the Tips & Tweaks column. I had subscribed to his TechBite mailing list, as a supplement to PC World, for awhile. Then the mailing service Mr. Bass used got cracked, and his mailing list fell into spammer hands. I have had to delete my andy@andywest.org mailbox and create another one to dodge the spammers. I had been waiting to see if Mr. Bass had switched to a more reputable mailing service like Constant Contact, but have heard nothing, probably I was not willing to give him my new e-mail address until I was sure he had switched to something more reputable. This is a double bind, indeed.


I never mentioned what happened to WebTechniques. What had happened is that in 2002 the publisher of the magazine had a brain fart. The articles became more business-oriented, less technicial, with no code. Needless to say, most of its contributing writers, including Randal Schwartz and his Perl columns, were let go. Even the name was changed, to New Architect.

I could make no sense of the articles. This made the magazine useless to me, so I let the subscription lapse. Evidently, a lot of subscribers thought the same. Within a year, the magazine folded. Its articles were merged into the Web site of Dr. Dobb's Journal.

doctor dobb's journal

I once subscribed to Dr. Dobb's Journal, about the same time as Computers & Electronics. While it did not die the death that C&E did, it became more and more opaque. It was, in fact, becoming a professional magazine in the same way that WebTechniques did. It was evident that there was protest within the magazine about this change of policy, as an editorial protested the growing libel of the word hacker in the popular media. I let my subscription lapse, partly due to its growing opacity and partly because I could no longer afford it.

Dr. Dobb's Journal died in February 2009.

Originally written 9 July 2001. Updated 29 August 2010.