Technologizer

Remembering Computer Shopper

A computer magazine so thick with ads that lifting it counted as exercise.

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My nostalgia for the golden age of computer magazines, inspired by the news that my former employer PCWorld is discontinuing print publication, inspired The Atlantic‘s Alexis Madrigal to get nostalgic, too. Not for PCW, though — the computer magazine that mattered to him was Computer Shopper, the single most important buying tool for PC shoppers in the days before there was a World Wide Web:

Without even noticing, pulling that tome onto my lap over the years, I started to acquire the feel for Moore’s Law, which says that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit will double every year and a half or two. In that formulation, it’s hard to wrap your head around the implications, but as a kid, when you have very little disposable income, it meant that everything got cheap quickly. What was hopelessly out of reach when the school year began might be something you could buy by Christmas break or summer. Looking around, this was not happening with toy prices or (later) car prices. Computers were special this way.

Great piece. The current Computer Shopper website, with the tagline “No-Nonsense Buying Advice Since 1979,” has a little of the style of the magazine, but none of its significance to the industry. In fact, there’s no way any single website could ever be as important to the PC business as Shopper was from roughly the late 1980s until the mid-1990s.

As my family, old friends and long-ago colleagues know, I got my start in the computer-magazine biz at a publication called Computer Buying World. It set out to kill Computer Shopper, or at least be a formidable competitor — but while Shopper grew fatter and fatter with ads, CBW wasted away and eventually died. If you weren’t there, you can’t imagine how despiriting it was to try to beat that magazine at its own game — or how silly, in retrospect, to even try.

3 comments
JasonWalker
JasonWalker

It's exciting to me to see Alice Hill's reply to this article.   "The Hard Edge" is among my favorite contemporary writing, ever, and I wish its creativity - and the rapport between Alice & Bill - could have gone on forever.   I truly loved this magazine, and the complexion and quality Hard Edge added to it every month.   Computer Shopper chronicled an era, and the duo of "Alice & Bill" would be more than interesting to see writing in tandem today.  

alice1
alice1

I worked at "Shopper" back when it was massive in size and circ. I co-wrote the "The Hard Edge:" column with Bill O'Brien for 13 years and we had so much fun ranting every month for 4,000 words. (try that in any other print pub) Editing articles was insane - we had to publish so many of them each month and at that massive page size, that a section editor was easily doing a full magazine's worth of work solo. What we hated most - hearing "That magazine has articles?" Like an instant knife to the gut. But the readers who found and read our articles were so detailed and obsessed with accuracy, we took pride in not printing a single technical correction even at that volume. RIP

jspepper
jspepper

Computer Shopper was great for throwing at people in the office. Probably not what they meant it for with it weighing four pounds, but so much fun.