The End of Computer Magazines in America
The April issues of Maximum PC and MacLife are currently on sale at a newsstand near you—assuming there is a newsstand near you. They’re the last print issues of these two venerable computer magazines, both of which date to 1996 (and were originally known, respectively, as Boot and MacAddict). Starting with their next editions, both publications will be available in digital form only.
But I’m not writing this article because the dead-tree versions of Maximum PC and MacLife are no more. I’m writing it because they were the last two extant U.S. computer magazines that had managed to cling to life until now. With their abandonment of print, the computer magazine era has officially ended.
It is possible to quibble with this assertion. 2600: The Hacker Quarterly has been around since 1984 and can accurately be described as a computer magazine, but the digest-sized publication has the production values of a fanzine and the content bears little resemblance to the slick, consumery computer mags of the past. Linux Magazine (originally the U.S. edition of a German publication) and its more technical sibling publication Admin also survive. Then again, if you want to quibble, Maximum PC and MacLife may barely have counted as U.S. magazines at the end; their editorial operations migrated from the Bay Area to the UK at some point in recent years when I wasn’t paying attention. (Both were owned by Future, a large British publishing firm.)
Still, I’m declaring the demise of these two dead-tree publications as the end of computer magazines in this country. Back when I was the editor-in-chief of IDG’s PC World, a position I left in 2008, we considered Maximum PC to be a significant competitor, especially on the newsstand. Our sister publication Macworld certainly kept an eye on MacLife. Even after I moved on to other types of tech journalism, I occasionally checked in on our erstwhile rivals, marveling that they somehow still existed after so many other computer magazines had gone away.
There is still fine work being done at the online incarnations of former print publications and newer outlets that were digital from the start. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that today’s tech media spans the written word, video, audio, and community—and that it’s possible for an individual journalist to partake in all of the above without being employed by a giant company. Bottom line: If there was a magic switch that would let us ditch present-day computer journalism for what we had in, say, 1995, I wouldn’t flip it.
I do remain grateful that computer magazines existed. I’m glad I got to help make them. It’s great that many vintage issues are available in scanned form at the Internet Archive, Google Books, and elsewhere. Their time has passed—but what a time it was.
As McCracken notes in his post, Computer magazines were vital before the web. I remember buying and reading Macworld, MacUser, PC Gamer and a few linux development magazines cover-to-cover thoroughly each month. They were how you learned to do things, learned about new applications and new hardware products, and how you learned what you might want to buy.