Technology Magazines are Full of Fail

I do not buy or read computer/technology related magazines. At some point I decided that they all suck. It’s usually not their fault though. It is just that since they are usually monthly publications they can’t possibly compete with the Internets. By the time they actually publish an issue, all their newsworthy contents are already stale old news that have been discussed to death multiple times (for example each time it gets re-re-re-duped on slashdot). I don’t even follow the technology news that closely these days. I’m subscribed to so many feeds that things like Digg and Slashdot get neglected on most days. But despite that, your average high-tech magazine offers nothing interesting to me.

Which begs an interesting question: who actually reads these things? Most people who are into technology like me are likely tethered to the internet most of the day so they can’t help but hear the news trickling in from various sources. In that case, they should find printed magazines full of fail just like me. And yet, these things are still in business which means someone out there needs to be reading. It’s a perplexing conundrum that I can’t wrap my head around!

Could it be that their reader base is composed of people who buy these things every once in a while hoping to find something interesting despite knowing better? Or people who buy these publications as light reading material for their plane/train/bus ride where they won’t have internet access. Who knows?

That said, I do sometimes like to read paper based media. Sometimes you don’t have internet access, or using a laptop would be impractical. If you are in a train, on a bus, in the bathroom, at/in the pool, on the beach and etc – it’s nice to have something to read. I usually take a book, but periodicals are nice too especially since they tend to be more disposable and can often be purchased in random places which is not always true for books. Or rather, none of the books that I’d want to read would be sold in a supermarket but an interesting magazine could find it’s way there.

Unfortunately, there are hardly any magazines out there that do not suck. Video game press at some point turned into marketing rags which tend to publish press releases game publishers send them ad verbatim and don’t actually review anything. They pretend they do, but they don’t.

General computer magazines just tend to concentrate on stale industry news and are light on content. Most of their articles are too short, and too general to be considered worth while. As a comparison, most online sources with similar profile supplement their content with links to in-depth materials that you can peruse at your leisure providing infinitely more depth. Not only that, but they often also try to be accessible to general reader, abstain from using industry jargon and dance around more difficult technical issues. So not only are you getting stale news, but also in a proverbial “executive summary” format which means “written so that even an executive could understand it”.

So here is my question to you: do you read any paper based magazines on a regular basis? Do you subscribe to any periodicals? And I don’t mean just technology related stuff. I just mean stuff other than regular pop-culture garbage, sports mags or various “gentleman magazines” and the like. I’m open to recommendations.

Right now, the only paper based magazine I do read is a polish periodical called Nowa Fantastyka and it actually has little to do with technology. It actually specializes in printing short SF and Fantasy stories. Some of the stuff they publish is original, but most are works of more or less known domestic or foreign authors. Each issue usually features 5-6 short stories, some editorials as well as very well written book and movie reviews. It almost never fails to deliver some good quality reading material.

Linux Journal probably deserves a honorable mention here. The quality of the former was actually semi-decent. It did have few good articles every once in a while. But it suffered from another problem – some of it’s articles were actually difficult to read away from the computer as they liked to print pages upon pages of code or step-by-step howto’s that you sort-of have to follow, and not just read through. Both of these things are better done online, since you can copy-and-paste rather than type everything in from scratch. Average issue or two interesting articles, few articles directed at complete n00bs, few stale news articles and the rest was occupied with needlessly detailed howtos or code samples written as dryly as man pages. After a while I let my subscription lapse.

I also know someone will bring up the venerable 2600. But that periodical is more -zine than maga- if you know what I mean. A quite successful and a very long lived zine one, but a zine nevertheless. Not really a professional grade publication. Besides, it suffered from similar problems as Linux Journal. Half the articles were 80% code or shell script, and the ones that were not tended to be light on content. Not to mention that that magazine had a great tendency to wax poetic about “hacker culture”, hacking the planet, sticking it to the man and etc.. You probably know my opinion about the proper usage of the word hacker and the detrimental nature of the pop-culture hacker stereotype.

So how about you?

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10 Responses to Technology Magazines are Full of Fail

  1. Nathan UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    You may have heard as well that Dr. Dobbs Journal published its last issue recently. I hear it was good back in the day. It focused less on news (which as you point out the Internet is far better suited for) and more on how to get your stuff done better and how to tackle hard programming problems. Unfortunately the culture of a few experts teaching people how to do things has been replaced to a large extent by wild mass guessing on the Internet, so DDJ in the modern era was more or less as full of fail as most other monthly rags.

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  2. Sam Weston UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    I used to subscribe to Kerrang (a british rock/metal music magazine) but a few years ago it started to move away from the music I am interested in (mostly Metal) to Emo and more popular sub-genres. I have considered subscribing to a Linux magazine (I saw one in a supermarket a few weeks ago although I forget which) or general computer magazine but at £5 – £10 an issue they are pricey and I get all the latest news online through my rss reader anyway.

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  3. Dax UNITED STATES Opera Windows says:

    I actually still read the local newspaper. I get most of my worldly news from the internet, but some of the local stuff just falls through the cracks (even though the local news outlets have web sites). I also get to do the puzzle section daily. I can’t stand doing crosswords online.

    “That said, I do sometimes like to read paper based media.”

    I am totally on board with this. I am one of the only people i know that prefers to read a reference book on a topic instead of searching for a tutorial or documentation on the web.

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  4. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    The only print media I read these days are fictional novels and the local newspaper. Everything else comes to me via Google Reader. I have an annoying habit now. If I come across a site without a news feed, I don’t think I’ll be returning. (Yes rpgcodex, I’m hinting at you!)

    iPhone + HSPA + Google Reader is a winning combination for me. It’s my no. 1 toilet and travel activity.

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  5. Wikke BELGIUM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    My weekly magazine is called humo.be.
    It’s about the actuality, tv, radio and music. With a dose of humour, satirically or not. (sometimes even too satirically, it even got removed from the stores once :-))

    I used to have a computer magazine as well, in my teenager years, but I also let the subscription expire because it didn’t interest me anymore.

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  6. Chris UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    I don’t read any paper-based content anymore except full books (of which I read a lot!) but I DO think there’s room for a computer/code/tech magazine, the content though would have to be less time-sensitive and more taxing – I imagine a quarterly filled with 8-12 in-depth high-quality articles covering areas people might not have looked at before. Examples of content might be things like: –

    the ShoutCast server in LISP chapter from ‘Practical Common LISP’,

    an intro to doing something funky with R (the stats language),

    another covering refactoring a small but reasonably complex project from one paradigm to another (i.e. OOP -> functional, or the more traditional procedural -> OOP)

    That sort of thing, articles that are going to take some commitment and time to get through but will reward that time with interesting new (and hopefully somewhat practical) knowledge. Personally speaking I would happily subscribe to the “Hacker’s Quarterly” if I knew that’s the kind of quality content I’d find.

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  7. Wikke BELGIUM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Whoops! Seems like I’m getting too used to auto-closing tags :-D

    Let’s try again…

    My weekly magazine is called Humo.
    It’s about the actuality, tv, radio and music. With a dose of humour, satirically or not. (sometimes even too satirically, it even got removed from the stores once -) )

    I used to have a computer magazine as well, in my teenager years, but I also let the subscription expire because it didn’t interest me anymore.

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  8. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I have a subscription to New Scientist… but now you’ve made me think about it, I might see if there’s an RSS feed for their online articles (same stuff as is in the paper copy, but with that fresh web smell…)

    And I’ll pick up and read any newspaper I find lying around on the train to pass the time, but I recognise the fact that they’re full of fail even as I read them.

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  9. freelancer SWEDEN Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I’m subscribed to a monthly computer magazine, but only because I get it for free through my union. I rarely ever read it, so they just tend to pile up. I suppose I still add to the statistics though…

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  10. Adam Kahtava CANADA Google Chrome Windows says:

    I’m subscribed to the IEEE Spectrum and Communications Of The ACM. Spectrum usually has a couple interesting articles, but Communications is usually rife with stale academic based articles – once every couple issues they have a gem.

    I read these while commuting / traveling, and I keep my subscription because they send me free gifts every year. :)

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