PC Magazine: 27 years and out

A few days ago, I canceled my auto-renewing subscription to PC Magazine.

It should have been a slightly wrenching experience. I’ve been reading PC Magazine as long as there’s been a PC Magazine–27 years, I think. It was “The bible” for personal computing from shortly after its inception, through the massive issues (600+ pages in some cases) before it went twice-a-month, into the almost-as-massive twice-a-month issues…and finally to the thinner-and-thinner monthly issues.

The print publication goes away after the January 2009 issue. But it looks as though they’re maintaining (and renewing?) subscriptions for a “digital version.” Sorry, but I’m not interested.

Thing is…

PC Magazine started going away years ago. It stopped being “the bible,” dropped exhaustive group reviews and long, serious articles, started using bigger pictures and less text–and, for a while, didn’t even include the basic facts about items under review. For those, you had to go online.

Effectively, the print magazine had become a promotional item for PCMag’s website.

I remember page after page of automobile reviews, usually with some pathetic excuse for them being in a technology magazine. I remember comparative reviews where you couldn’t really make sense of them because they wouldn’t consistently list basic facts.

And we have the spectacle of PC Magazine‘s “double columnist” (he gets two columns), the ever-irascible John Dvorak, becoming more and more of a self-parody over time.

I started in on the penultimate print edition yesterday. The December issue is typically the Technical Excellence Awards issue, with a sizable article naming and explaining the magazine’s annual Technical Excellence Awards. (I’m old enough to remember the year that the cover had it as “Tehcnical Excellence”)

This year: A cover line for the awards. Inside, one page with a big picture of the award seal and a description of what a wonderful thing the awards are, and mentioning a few–

and a half-page article (including illustrations) on the awards themselves.

That’s just pathetic, and pretty indicative of the shell of its former self PC Magazine has become.

I’m not willing to risk an automatic $36 renewal. Will “digital subscribers” have access to stuff that’s not on the free PCMag website? I’m not sure I care.

Someone on a library list noted that Christian Science Monitor is “going digital” (not quite true: they’re retaining a weekly print edition) and PC Magazine dropping print and suggested a “snowball effect.” Well, maybe, but I wouldn’t count on it. Consider the cases:

  • Given that very local newspapers are doing better than pseudo-national metro dailies, should it be surprising that there’s not support enough for a fourth national daily newspaper in the US? (Wall Street Journal, USA Today and, to some extent, the New York Times‘ image of itself as the other three.)
  • PC Magazine had become the poor relative of its website years ago–in the announcement of dropping the print edition, they noted that the editorial staff was already paid as part of the website. I think it got hit by a range of things, some of them its own doing–e.g., high circulation meaning high ad rates meaning the advertisers that made PC Magazine big could no longer afford it.

Will other print magazines and papers disappear? Well, they do every year (always have), so why should the future be any different? (Are magazines being born and are big-circulation magazines gr0wing in circulation? Yes on both counts.) Will print magazines “become digital” as a matter of course?

I’m not a futurist. I won’t say it can’t happen. But I don’t see any snowball…


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