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.