Authors of their own destruction

It is a popular myth that the Guillotine was invented by Monsieur Guillotin, and that he later succumbed to it.

In fact Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, whose name remains attached to the device, was not executed at all, but died of natural causes in 1814. The said doctor did, however, publish proposals for more humane execution including “a machine that beheads painlessly” in 1789, and sat on the committee which introduced the guillotine. The latter was designed and developed by several others, including Antoine Louis, Tobias Schmidt, and Laquiante. A doctor bearing the name Guillotin was executed by the device, but he was unrelated. (Thank you, Wikipedia, for disabusing me as well.)

None of this diminishes the vital role that computer magazines have played in their own eventual closure. My favourites included Byte (1975-1998), Personal Computer World (1978-2009), and most recently-departed MacUser (1985-2015) whose obituary I published earlier here.

In days past, there were obvious absurdities that should have alerted us all to their ultimate destiny. For several years, the questions sent in to me for MacUser’s problem pages arrived by letter. Until early 2011, a significant section in my Help columns printed details of bugs and the websites from which updates could be obtained.

Although production of these titles was swift to embrace new technology, and depended on it for getting news out to their readers, few have made a success of electronic publication. Forays with cover disks and DVDs worked for a while, and brought some amusement when titles were caught inadvertently distributing malware. I was excited when MacUser became one of the first magazines with its own app for iPads, but puzzled when it revealed itself to be just a digital model of what appeared in print. But never once was I asked to write anything for a publisher’s website.

In leading so many to the Internet, the computer press was engineering its own downfall, and we now see that process in its final stages. Newsagents who once devoted almost half their display racks to the rash of computer and technology titles have reverted to the (remaining) glut of womens’, travel, and regurgitated one-offs.

Publishing needs those of vision, like the Greens (Byte), and the late Felix Dennis (MacUser and so much more), to overcome sterile accountants and build new.