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Why so few computer mags in America?

In another topic someone asked what happened to Byte?

But in general, why are the computer mags in America so few in number, and so thin and so lacking in content?

In the UK, there is a thriving industry in computer mags, covering many general and specialist areas, all with cover DVDs, and mostly full of interesting stuff. Computer Shopper and PCW for example are packed full of reviews and editorial (and also packed full of advertising, by the by). Such magazines are frequently so thick and heavy they barely fit on the shelf in the store, and about half the pages are real content.

Compare that to the USA where you are lucky to find one or two computer mags on the shelf at all, and like PC Magazine for example, they are barely a 16th inch thick and very expensive.

Why the difference?

Ian
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

We have the internet.

JWA
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

PC Mag used to be 1/2 to 1 inch thick.  They went way downhill.  Ziff-Davis really killed PC Mag after the company went public.  Many technical articles were cut,  and word counts were severly reduced.

I saw what happened at PC Mag firsthand.  From what I've heard, the same thing happened to a lot of other publications owned by ZD.  I think a large part of it was ZD's management was unprepared for the pressues of Wall Street expectations after the IPO.

Myron A. Semack
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The reason is mail order. The second tier of suppliers, like Evesham or Tiny,  don't seem to exist in the States. So you don't get the advertisements, so it's not economical.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

One factor is probably simple geography: the UK is physically a lot smaller and has a much higher population density: you can afford to truck copies around the place and don't need muliple offices.

This probably also means there are many more smaller businesses that would consider paying to advertise nationally.  Having hardware delivered from Liverpool to London is a lot cheaper than New York to LA. 

The newspaper market in the UK is dominated by big national dailies whereas in North America local papers are much bigger

Rob Walker
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

I grab the occasional Wired magazine when I'm travelling or whatnot.  The problem is, most of the time, I've already read most of the content in the magazine somewhere on the Internet (linked from Slashdot or otherwise).

Almost Anonymous
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

> But in general, why are the computer mags in America so few in number, and so thin and so lacking in content?

Back when I was in high school they were THICK. I remember always buying that 1 inch thick one because of all the ads and articles. At some point everyone traded in the BBSes for the real thing and it just went down hill after that. A lot of things are losing page counts now: news paper, classifieds, and mags. You need eyeballs to keep the page count up, and the eyeballs are going online.

Li-fan Chen
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Because we don't know how to read anymore.

Michael Eisenberg
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

I think its because they are way too expensive. $8-$15 for a single magazine? Damn, I'll just get a used technical book off ebay, thanks.

Also, the content really is boring nowadays. C# - really? What's that?

Dennis Atkins
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

I'm not sure I'd say the magazines in the UK were of that high a quality, Visual Software Journal isn't bad, especially as its free and they once gave me a mug for a letter.

The ....Talk magazines in the US aren't bad but a bit we're good 'ol boys in tone.

My favourite, favourite ever, ever computer magazine was Microcornucopia, which was more of a fanzine and ended before the Internet boom really happened.  A number of current mainstream journalists cut their teeth on it, Al Stevens for one.

My favourite, favourite ever ever fanzine was Perfidious Albion which was a roneo'ed wargaming fanzine.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

I quit paying for magazines once the same information became available via the Internet.  Seriously.

Russell Thackston
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

I concur with Russell...

I buy books for in-depth information or when I know I'll need to refer to them later. I still buy almost as many books as I used to.

I buy (or bought, in most cases) magazines for the latest info and simple 'How To' technical info. This is now found faster (usually in better quality and at the right time) on the internet.

RocketJeff
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Well, I agree with people that a lot of the straightforward technical information, how to's, hints and tips are to be found on the Internet these days.

But I'm not after dry technical information, I'm after journalism, light and interesting reading, fun stuff, in depth reviews of hardware and software, opinions of many and varied commentators.

I want to curl up in a comfy chair with a beer and enjoy some light reading, not sit at a desk or table wearing my eyes out on a computer screen--I do that all day at work.

Everyone's so straight and serious over here in America. Lighten up guys! (Obligatory :-) placed here, in case anybody takes me too seriously.)

Ian
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Couldn't the fact that American's don't use public transport have something to do with it?

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The economics of computer magazines are fundamentally driven by advertising. The number of pages allotted to editorial is more or less directly determined by the number of pages bought by advertisers. (The ratio varies a bit by publication, but it tends to be something like 35-40% editorial for most of the computer magazines in the US. There's a baseline level imposed by the USPS, I think, below which magazines are instead classified as catalogs and subject to different postal rates.)

Subscriptions are inexpensive (often around $20/year), and the subscription price is basically enough for the publication to break even on the cost of producting the physical product, i.e. printing and distribution. The magazines basically make all their money through aggregating large numbers of these subscribers (who usually have very desirable demographics, btw) and giving advertisers a convenient vehicle to reach them. Of course there are some additional revenue streams like licensing as well.

[Sidebar: Despite frequent claims that advertisers influence editorial, every computer publication I know of has a strict "Chinese wall" policy that prohibits advertiser interference with editorial content, and editors take their independence quite seriously.]

A couple of things happened as the dot-com era took off that damaged what was once an incredibly lucrative business model. (Bill Ziff, who used to own Ziff-Davis, crossed the billionaire threshold back in the early 80s IIRC.) First of all, the industry consolidated. There used to be dozens, if not hundreds, of minor vendors who would advertise in a publication like PC Magazine; as margins shrunk and companies like Dell exploited their economies of scale, many of those companies were acquired or driven out of business, meaning there were many fewer advertisers to buy pages. Secondly, you may recall that hardware advertisements in computer magazines used to have long and detailed listings of products, configurations, and prices. I wouldn't be surprised if you picked up a PC Magazine from, say, 1997 and saw 32 pages of ads just from Dell. But with the advent of the Web, detailed product listings became less useful, because it was just as easy to promote your brand and direct people to a Web site for the latest product configurations and pricing. The software industry also consolidated, and with more software available via trial download, arguably had less need for advertising. Third, after PCs became a mass-market product in the mid to late '90s, advertisers increasingly exploited other channels like television to reach consumers.

So for a variety of reasons, advertising volume is way down. That means editorial volume is way down too. What's more, print editorial faces challenges from online, which can be more timely and doesn't have the same cost structures. Editorial talent was diluted with the dot-com boom because there were many more outlets for it to pursue. And even within the print world, there's more competition -- the Circuits section in the NYT, Walt Mossberg's column in the WSJ.

Regarding the argument that ZD declined as a result of pressures from being a public company: There may be some element truth to that, but frankly I think the trends were well established well before the IPO stage. Bill Ziff handed over control of the company in the early 90s (initially to his three sons, if memory serves, though they sold it again relatively quickly), and there's no questioning that things changed under the new ownership. Combined with the downward trends in advertising, that was a tough period.

It's interesting to hear that the UK market is still apparently thriving, given that it's only something like 10% the size of the US market. Then again, I've heard for example that the uptake of Web commerce is much lower in the UK than in the US.

I'm also impressed that publications like DDJ continue to thrive -- or more precisely, since I don't know their financial situation, at least to hang on. They can't have a very large circ, but apparently the math works out, and I'm glad for that. There's still something about having serious technical content packaged in a portable, easy-to-read format that I treasure. But the days when PC Magazine could publish 600-page issues twice a month are long gone and unlikely ever to return.

John C.
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Oh my gosh a monster poster! John C your JOS fo is strong. Will you be our master?

Li-fan Chen
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

>> Everyone's so straight and serious over here in America. Lighten up guys! (Obligatory :-) placed here, in case anybody takes me too seriously.)

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Anon-y-mous Cow-ard
Thursday, May 20, 2004

They still print magazines?  Next you'll be telling me nerwspapers are still around.

pull the other one
Thursday, May 20, 2004

Thanks to all who replied, John C. especially.

The most interesting thing I learned is that it used to be different, and that things changed in recent years.

Ian
Thursday, May 20, 2004

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