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Do Computer Magazines Have a Future?

Let me put all my cards on the table. I have written for several of these magazines, including the major Mac newsstand publications. My friends include a number of the writers and editors of those publications. Many are regulars on my radio show, The Tech Night Owl LIVE, so you can be assured I really want these publications to live long and prosper. At the same time, I have to wonder what roles they play in a world where you get most of your information from the Internet and 24-hour cable news.

As far as daily newspapers are concerned, the answer for the most part is obvious. Circulations are down for many of the largest papers, and the trend doesn’t appear poised for a change. However, this particular problem is a lot more complicated than the one involving computer magazines, for you can actually trace loss of newspaper readership, compared to population growth, back to the 1930s.

In any case, let’s just go back a decade. There was Macworld and MacUser, both fat with ads and editorial content, and I’m referring to the U.S. edition of both by the way. Not too many years later, Macworld assimilated MacUser and the size of the combined publication began to shrink big time.

Of course in those days, whenever Apple had a new product to offer, it would bring in magazine editors and writers, under strict nondisclosure, to evaluate the latest and greatest several months before the actual release date. That date was usually carefully synchronized with the week the magazines with features on the products would go on sale, so you could learn all the intimate details, and usually see a preliminary review complete with benchmarks.

These days , except for the occasional carefully selected journalist from the mainstream media, such as Time magazine, we learn about the new product when you do. Casting aside the rumor sites for the moment, because their accuracy quotient is decidedly mixed, Apple stages special press events or just issues press releases when it comes time to unleash a new iPod or Mac. You don’t have to wait for the next issue of your favorite publication either, because all the details will be splashed across Apple’s site and hundreds of technology-oriented online news sources.

And it’s all free, except for a handful of sites that offer premium content. Macworld, for example, maintains a busy online presence, so you don’t have to wait for the print version to get the latest news and views from the magazine’s talented writers. Of course, there are ads at the site to help pay the bills, plus enticing offers to subscribe to the print version, including a collection of instructional CDs.

So how does a publisher keep a print magazine viable? Well, one way is to offer in-depth content, the sort of material that you can sit back in an easy chair, relax and read. Long form articles of this sort aren’t as well suited to online reading. Some of the articles might even read like mini book chapters, replete with advice and counsel on how to perform complicated operations in Photoshop or a similar high-powered application. Other articles provide a collection of “secrets,” useful tips not generally known, to enhance your productivity or just make your Mac computing experience more enjoyable.

But it isn’t just the Mac publications that have to adapt to a world of instant news. PC magazines are much slimmer too, and they also maintain strong online presences. In fact, they even cover Apple’s products to a larger degree, and usually provide uncommonly favorable reviews. How the world has changed!

So where does that leave Macworld and its compatriots, MacAddict and MacHome? Well, no doubt their publishers are struggling with the issues of how to stay relevant in the 21st century and how to continue to attract readers and advertisers. The competition for your attention is bewildering, from online, broadcast, to print. It’s no wonder the state of affairs seems so difficult.

Call old fashioned, or just old. But I still like to take a breather from the daily hustle and bustle with a newspaper, a magazine or even a book. That’s an important habit that I hope we don’t lose in the mad rush to survive in this crazy world.