Goodbye, PC Mag print edition

Ziff Davis Media will cease publishing the print edition of PC Magazine beginning in February, becoming the latest magazine publisher to transition online in response to declines in advertising and the rising cost of printing and distributing a physical publication.

The final print edition of the magazine will publish in January 2009, after which the online version, PCMag.com, will be the chief property of a network of technology Web sites and blogs.

Launched in 1982, PC Magazine rode the rapid growth of the personal computer to become a go-to source of news, reviews and advice for information technology professionals. But as the Web became the dominant source of tech news, the magazine’s readership eroded. Over the past decade paid circulation has nearly been halved, to 646,000 from 1.2 million in June 1998, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations. The magazine cut its frequency to monthly from biweekly earlier this year.

Executives from Ziff Media, which recently emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, said the company’s digital transition began in earnest in 2000 when the company began focusing more resources on what is now called the PCMag Digital Network. The network of sites, which also includes ExtremeTech, Gearlog and Appscout, now attracts over seven million unique visitors monthly, according to Ziff. The company also said online revenue has grown by an average of 42% annually since 2001.

A growing number of magazine and newspaper publishers are shifting online as their revenues are squeezed. Earlier this month U.S. News & World Report cut its frequency to monthly and said it was redoubling its digital efforts. That followed the Christian Science Monitor’s decision to become chiefly an online publication.

Wall Street Journal

 

I’m not sure how many people realise the significance of this. The geeks definitely do.

The print edition of PC Mag was the flagbearer of the entire IT publishing industry since I was a kid. I remember spending my youth leafing through incredibly thick editions (sometimes thicker than female magazines) poring over long and indepth articles about things I couldn’t afford and gadgets I could only dream about. It was always something to look forward to, and PC Mag had near-absolute authority on most IT matters. John C Dvorak’s cranky IT column was and continues to be one of my all-time favorite reads.

At one point a few years back, I was even subscribing to the US edition and got it mailed to my home. However, I stopped the subscription after one year because the contents were getting pretty thin – and the worst thing was most of it was already available on the online edition. The editorial team knew the future of online was inevitable, but was not able to provide much value-added content on the print edition (the irony of it all, given that online was once seen as the value-adding component).

Thankfully, the online edition continues to go from strength to strength.

Magazines have always been more vulnerable to the tide of online publishing due to their delayed nature (they’re only printed once a week or a month). But this is still a sad note in the history of publishing and my magazine diet (which is already very sparse).

It’s also another warning sign to other print media, especially newspapers, that they need to “wake up their idea”. Ziff-Davis spent a good part of this decade building up its digital network to a point where advertisers would be attracted to go onto it – our local media are still catching up and not quickly enough.

It’s very clear that over the next two years, digital publishing is going to accelerate further as digital readers like the Kindle and Sony’s Digital Book go into their next versions, and more people realise the power of e-books or RSS feeds (it’s a great money saver when surfing on your phone).

Personally, I don’t subscribe to any print edition of any newspaper now – I just read the online versions or buy weekend editions just to browse the ads if I happen to visit 7-11. I still have to read alot of media on all platforms as it’s part of my job, but I wonder what would happen if I weren’t in the PR line.

Some people think “Print is dead”, others decry it as nonsense. But what’s for sure is that for disseminating news and opinion, online is truly king, and if print media’s management or editorial haven’t woken up to that by now, they’re in for the rudest shock ever in a very short time. To make matters worse, print costs are going up all the time, and that makes print even more expensive to produce or purchase in coming years.

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