After three decades in print, Macworld announced this week that the print magazine will shut down. Jason Snell was Macworld's lead editor for more than a decade, and – along with many of his former colleagues – is moving on. Jason has launched a new site, Six Colors, where he will continue covering Apple and the technology industry at large. We asked him to reflect on his experience as one of the industry's most prolific Apple watchers.
Before there were tech websites there were magazines. Once a month you'd get a new one and read it cover to cover, including all the ads, trying to glean as much information as you could. I remember scouring issues of MacUser before buying my first PowerBook, trying to decide which model was exactly right for me. I must've read that article 50 times.
Before there were tech web sites there were magazines
Imagine that. Back then, Apple would announce a raft of new products and almost nobody would know for weeks or even months. Now we all know in seconds.
As the era of print media slowly grinds to a halt, the death notices keep coming. This week it was Macworld, the magazine I worked at for 17 years, that stopped killing trees. (The magazine continues on in a digital-only format, like its sibling PCWorld, which exited print last year.)
The writing has been on the wall for 20 years. When I started at MacUser in 1994 I was already publishing stuff on the Internet myself — and tried in vain to convince higher-ups that we should put up a site on this new thing called the World Wide Web. (The future, one insisted to me, was on CompuServe.) Digital media was so obviously the future of publishing and journalism, and tech-savvy audiences would be among the very first to embrace the web and leave print behind.
Over the last decade we all made an enormous effort to transform Macworld editorial from a magazine mentality to a web site mentality. And honestly, it worked: By the end, the magazine was essentially a curated collection of the best stories from the website, cut down and copy edited and with nice photographs. The economics of the business just didn't make it possible to continue.
Apple would announce a raft of new products and almost nobody would know for weeks or even months
During my time at Macworld we made an effort to publish great tech writers we discovered on the internet. And invariably, after they were published, we would hear from these writers about how their families rushed out and bought copies of the magazine. How they'd hear from parents or grandparents about how proud they were of them. That's a sign of just how rapidly the audience for print media is aging, of course. But it also says something about how tangible magazines were, compared to the intangibility of writing on the web.
Still, imagine a time when there was no The Verge, no Ars Technica, no Engadget or Gizmodo, no tech sites of any kind. It was an information desert. Mentions of computers on the TV news or in the newspaper were simplified and often laughably wrong. Those monthly computer magazines were all we had to sustain us. They were a sign that other people cared about the same stuff we did, before the internet made us all realize that none of us is a unique and special snowflake. They were awesome, and if they're not all gone quite yet, they will be soon. So it goes.