A fond farewell to Computer Shopper in print
This is not, so thankfully, the story of the passing of a great publication. Computer Shopper is not going away; in fact, its latest owners at SX2 Media Labs have some plans to expand the brand, while keeping its classic look and feel. I'd actually go so far as to say that SX2 is finally doing with Computer Shopper what its previous two owners failed to comprehend how to do, and its first owner could only dream of.
But a chapter has closed in the history of this great publication, and it's a personal one for me, and I'll say more about that in a bit. This week, in a memo to his employees obtained by PaidContent.org, SX2 CEO David Sills announced that the April 2009 issue would be the last bound edition of the US version of Computer Shopper.
"We did not make this decision lightly," Sills wrote. "Computer Shopper has a 30-year history as the most comprehensive guide to technology. Over the years, we evolved into a respected, world-class destination for trusted buying advice and reviews. Our readers demand expert, labs-based reviews of the latest technology products, delivered in a timely fashion, free of bias. This remains our editorial mission, and with our pure-digital focus, we'll be able to deliver on it better than ever. And with ComputerShopper.com's position of also being a prominent comparison-shopping engine for technology products, we will continue to deliver to our readers a unique mix of buying advice and shopping access."
To say that Computer Shopper evolved over 30 years' time is to say human civilization is susceptible to change, or that oceans are prone to undulation. It never sounded like it could be the driving force in information technology publishing, with a name that never changed from the days it was printed on cheap, yellow recycled newsprint and handed out for next-to-nothing in Florida's convenience stores.
But the Shopper met an unstoppable force of nature, a man who could walk alongside Gen. Patton at any time of World War II and feel right at home: a tough-talking, headstrong, skeet shooting former computer store owner named Stan Veit. It was Stan who had the brilliant idea (one of many) that as long as this publication was already chock full of ads, why not add some articles to it? (One of Stan's other great ideas was to decline Jobs' and Wozniak's offer to invest in 10% of Apple Computer for $10,000, a decision Stan to this day never regrets.)
You have to understand how extraordinarily rare and brilliant this opportunity was. Perhaps every other editorially produced magazine on the planet is burdened with the problem of pulling in advertisers, and creating features with the dual purpose of attracting readers and appealing to advertisers who want...that certain reader. But for the better part of five years, we were given an extraordinary gift: a publication that was guaranteed to outsell Penthouse, Playboy, and TV Guide on the newsstands because people bought it for the ads. Never again may this opportunity be realized in the Web era.
And those of us who wrote for the original Shopper were given the mandate to write what we truly believed was interesting, the longer the better. It's that last part that, I suppose, made me special in the organization: Though I was originally contracted in 1986 to write copy for the Atari section, I often digressed, writing essays the size of book chapters that masqueraded thinly as product reviews. "The Next Operating System: Some New Ideas" was a classic.
Stan Veit didn't always read through my "classics," though he did experience them by way of "reader response." In fact -- a young tech writer's rite of passage -- I received my first death threat through Shopper. I still lovingly keep it to this day, along with the yellow Post-It tacked to the front of it that reads, in his endearing style, "Scotty: Stay out of Texas. -Stan."
In the era before the Web, at one time, the Shopper as a magazine was a key instrument in digital communication. Every month, it printed a long and updated list of BBS numbers (bulletin board systems, for all you young'uns), which may have single-handedly doubled the revenue of local phone companies.
Alfred Poor, who wrote the Computer Cures column and other features for the Shopper for a total of 13 years, recalled for me today: "One of my favorite early features was the listing of BBS sites. They would come and go from month to month. It's hard to think of dialing into each separate site, but that's essentially what we did back then. I also loved the huge ads from the DIY computer parts stores; I used to pore over them trying to figure out how to build the computer I wanted at the price I could afford. (Lots of dreaming, not much ordering.)"
One of the last caretakers of the BBS section of the old Shopper was our very own Angela Gunn. In fact, most everyone who's contributed in a great way to the literary quality of computing (my friends Esther Schindler and Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols come to mind) were Shopper veterans. Believe it or not, I helped run the Macintosh section at one time. (There are Betanews readers who would shudder at that thought today.)
But my very fondest memory of working with Patch Publishing, the original owners, was of being the first co-moderator (with Ted Drude) of the Shopper's very first online magazine venture: the Computer Shopper Information Exchange (C*SIX), the single worst-named online venture ever. It's the spirit of that part of the publication which still lives on at ComputerShopper.com.
And the reason I can almost ensure that the new owners' venture will thrive is because Stan Veit -- to this day, considered Editor-in-Chief Emeritus -- is a regular contributor to its forums, as the publication's chief historian. The soul of the Shopper is alive and well. Okay, so it can't be used any more as a booster seat for small children. But as long as Stan's there, Computer Shopper -- that evolutionary marvel -- is very much alive.
[ME's Note: At Stan Veit's urging, I wanted to make clear that Glenn Patch was the founder and original owner of Computer Shopper, while Stan was it's original Editor-in-Chief.]