Farewell American Computer Magazines

I grew up in a small town with a small library. The next town over had what I thought at the time was a big library, but it was actually more like my town had a tiny library, and the next one over had an actual small library. When I left to go to University, I found out what a real library looked like, and I was mesmerized. Books! Lots of books, many of them written in the current decade. My grades probably suffered from the amount of time I spent in the library reading things that didn’t directly relate to my classes. But there was one thing I found that would turn out to be life-changing: A real computer magazine. Last month, Harry McCracken pointed out that the last two widely-distributed American consumer computer magazines ceased paper publication. It is the end of an era, although honestly, it is more like a comatose patient expiring than a shocking and sudden demise.

Dr. Dobb’s first issue was far from the slick commercial magazine it would become.

Actually, before I had gone to college, I did have a subscription to Kilobaud, and I still have some copies of those. No offense to Wayne Green, but Kilobaud wasn’t that inspiring. It was more an extension of his magazine “73”, and while I enjoyed it, it didn’t get me dreaming. Dr. Dobb’s Journal — the magazine I found in the stacks of my University’s library — was tangibly different. There was an undertone of changing the world. We weren’t sure why yet, but we knew that soon, everyone would have a computer. Maybe they’d balance their checkbook or store recipes. A few people already saw the potential of digital music reproduction, although, I must admit, it was so poor at the time, I couldn’t imagine who would ever care.

I say it was life-changing to discover the few issues of Dr. Dobb’s that were published back then because I would go on to contribute to Dr. Dobb’s throughout its storied history. I wrote the infamous DOS extender series, produced special issues, and, when it went mostly digital, was the embedded system blogger for them for more years than I care to admit. In fact, I have the dubious distinction of having the final blog posted; although the website has suffered enough bit rot, I’m not sure any of it has survived other than, maybe, on the Wayback machine. While I wasn’t with the magazine for its entire 38-year run, I read it for at least 35 and had some function there for about 24 of those.

$2 bought a lot of computer magazine in 1977!

Like a lot of nostalgia, you miss it, but it isn’t coming back. You can argue for or against it, but it doesn’t really matter.

What I think Harry got right his thought piece, though, is that while digital distribution and access are awesome — look at Hackaday, for example — the magazine industry failed to figure out how to stay solvent. McCracken points out that substantial ad revenue fueled huge test labs and hardline investigative journalism in addition to the physical printing. Don’t forget that old-school magazines never made money from your subscriptions either, it was all in the ads. Now, it is hard to generate that kind of revenue and, therefore, to provide those kinds of services. So even if you prefer digital — I do — the big money is mostly gone and gone forever, it seems.

Hard to imagine if the lads needed a day job

Imagine a world where music is easily distributed for free. You’d hear a lot more music, and, in fact, you do today because independent artists can easily reach listeners directly. But how would the Beatles catalog be different if George, Paul, John, and Ringo needed day jobs? You’d imagine they might produce less and maybe even very different music.

Then again, day jobs may be in short supply soon, too, at least the ones a bunch of young musicians might take. Order taker at a fast food restaurant? That’ll be AI soon enough. Fry cook? That’s already probably a robot arm.

You have to wonder if the destruction of traditional media — TV, movie theaters, magazines, newspapers, books, and record labels — will lead to a different way to compensate creators fairly or if the jobs related to creation will just eventually dwindle to nothing but volunteers. Either way, the days of the big computer magazine is gone, just like the days you could make a living harvesting ice.

80 thoughts on “Farewell American Computer Magazines

  1. This sounds familiar.. I bought a KIM-1 sometime around 1976/77 here in Holland. And I found a PC store (well PC store? eh-m) that sold US magazines. I spent a fortune on magazines and books in those days learning how it all worked. Byte (I still have yearbook 1) cost about 4x the dollar prices in Dutcht guilders (No euros then :) and DrDobbs. I liked the Byte in the beginning but through time it became a advertisement magazine. I stopped buying.
    Nowadays we can find everything on the internet. Only probleem is that my students don’t know what to look for…..
    Maybe those written magazines weren’t so bad after all….

    1. What I miss is the curation. When there are a limited outlets you will have a floor for quality. When anyone can put out anything that disappears. It is also dilutes the market for advertising so producing content becomes less profitable. The massive avenues for advertising and the low cost means more crap advertisers. I miss Byte the most but more and more magazines are shrinking and getting trash advertisers.
      Maybe this product of technology isn’t that great. It worked when only techies were on the Internet but when it that ability spread the noise to signal ratio has gone through the roof.
      Honestly Hack a Day has some of the better content these days IMHO.

    2. Ah beautiful, those were the days. 80 Micro, Byte, Dr Dobbs, that was high quality content at a time where we were easy to impress and eager to soak up any available knowledge. RIP.

    3. I got my first machine in 1982, a Sinclair ZX81, and soon started buying BYTE for vastly inflated Irish pound prices, also about 4X the dollar cover price. How I loved that magazine…

  2. I think my Mark 8 8008 based computer one-ups you, Nico. I started building it in 1975 and finished in 1976 using mostly recycled Poly Paks, Jameco, (etc.) parts. It was used on my EE senior design project in college in 1976. Back then, my first “PC” magazine of choice was Byte, followed as a close second by Dr Dobbs, and a few others with Radio Electronics (the source of the Mark 8) and Popular Electronics. But most paper-printed forms of information are literally “dying” as that’s a natural progression of technology. Compare the worst smartphone specs to my 8008 “PC” that had 2KB or RAM, no ROM, 14 bit address bus, 8 bits of data, and “blazing fast” 125KHz clock rate with 2-15 (or more) clock cycles per instruction (e.g. fractional MIPS). I seldom lament for the “good old days” for ANYTHING.

    1. Old tech was much easier to understand. A new computer goes through more lines of code in a few seconds than a human can read in a lifetime. And the CPU is locked in several layers of inaccessible security. But I don’t miss the old days of slow computers and hard to access information

    2. Yes, Byte was a good magazine, at least until Wayne Greene and his wife split and he started KiloByte, later forced to assume the name KiloBaud. Carl helmers handed me the first issue of Byte at a computer meeting near Dulles Airport in 1974, as best I can recall. It was fun to be part of the home-computer movement back then. In almost 50 years, the computer world has changed so much it’s hard to remember the earliest of us were flipping switches, reading hex and octal on lights, and using teletypewriters back in the day…

  3. I miss Radio Electronics most out of the entire bunch. In part becase i was intetested in all aspects of electronics, including but not limited to home computers.

    It was also an ad in RE at lead me to purchasing a Sinclair ZX81 kit.

    1. Don’t forget Modern Electronics, in a similar vein to RE. Of course, I also had subs to Dr. Dobb’s, C Programmer’s Journal, and a slew of others… I collected so much paper I had to start replacing it with their CD versions just to prevent my bookshelves from collapsing.

    2. I have quite a collection of those, along with Hobby Electronics, Popular Electronics, Electronics Now and Nuts N Volts, along with a few others I can’t think of right now. Nuts is the last one still in production, but sadly it’s on it’s last legs… maybe even on life support :(

      1. Shortly after I had renewed my subscription to Poptronics they folded.
        They sent me a mail stating that Nuts and Volts would honor the remainder of my subscription (almost 3 years).
        I received 1 issue of Nuts and Volts.
        I have not purchased any of theirs since.

        1. As I recall, we picked up their subscription list as a courtesy to the community not because they threw us a bunch of money to do so (they were broke). And their list was a shambles. Did you call to get it squared away? If not, you certainly did the community a good turn.

          And also its nice to hear it has stuck in your craw for 20 years. Thanks for posting.

          1. No, thank you for posting!
            I understand that Poptronics was broke and that N & V was doing it as a measure of Goodwill.
            I did not know Poptronics had a corrupted subscription list.
            So, when I received only 1 issue, the skeptic in me thought N & V was fully aware of the nearly 3 year commitment and bailed instead of going through with it.
            Maybe I should’ve contacted you, but then, that would be “looking a gift horse in the mouth.”

          2. Sadly, I’ve had some subs die out over the years.
            1) An early US Linux mag. Paid, never received any. Now I buy as I see them.
            2) A Offroad mag. Conned to buy, they vanished.
            3) Even a 5 year sub to a beeper. (Yes, beeper) Two months after I paid, they BKed.
            The more things change the more I’m amazed.

  4. Yeah, Dr. Dobbs was a game changer when I discovered it in the university´s library. A magazine that wasn´t the same old articles about very common and simple things.

    Sad so see it go, and more so if it doesn´t have digital archives.

    1. >>> A magazine that wasn´t the same old articles about very common and simple things.

      This is truly the case. More descriptive of amateur radio magazines, I clearly remember thinking,”If I see one more article describing how to build a 40 meter, low power, crystal controlled CW transmitter I’m going to scream.”

      1. People don’t understand magazines. If you start reading in April, everything before doesn’t exist. So they repeat.

        Ham magazines, many articles were reader supplied. So many built what they’d seen, with small variations.

        But ham magazines had lots of room. Besides the beginner’s pablum, there was room for articles about parametric amplifiers and under the noise reception and spectrum analyzers and digital synthesizers. Those were way more important than another one transistor transmitter.

  5. I think I still have all of my 80Micro magazines. I also subscribed to Computer Shopper. It was my go to for computer parts, back in the early days.
    I did pick up a few issues of Byte now and then. I loved the Circuit Cellar articles by Steve Ciarcia.

    1. I learned a lot typing in code from 80 micro for sure. As for Steve, my envy of his Byte column at least partially explains my writing career. I always thought how cool would that be to just be able to play with some part and then tell everybody about it every month?

    2. I kept my “80Micro” collection as well, but almost everything else I’ve long since gotten rid of. I still have a few old issues of “Byte” and “Boot”, but those giant white piles of “PC” and pulp “Computer Shopper”, it was a relief to have those gone.

      1. CS is a good trip down memory lane not just for what no longer exists (products and companies, e.g. beagle bros, etc) but how prices have changed dramatically. An archive before those were cool.

        1. I came looking for. Beagle Brothers reference before making my own !

          I loved their 1800s pictorial advertising! Reminded me of the 80s Wendys hamburger restaurant tables!

          I loved the quirky hacks Beagle Brothers had for the apple][e. Mod the beep. “Zip” a file&Store more on a floppy.

          I wish someone would do a retro review…can’t find any!

    3. Ditto. I still have my complete 80 micro magazine collection, and I used to love reading Steve Ciarcia’s articles in Byte. But I only subscribed to Byte for a year or two. I became more enamored with PC Magazine and would read it cover to cover as soon as it arrived. I almost always downloaded and used whatever utility program they had in each issue.

  6. Weird article that barely even talks about the American computer magazines… instead it dives deep into nostalgia, which is fine Al, we love you! but please write more about the magazines that ended, and why we should care.

  7. Ah, Byte magazine! Eagerly awaited each month! I learned so much. There was an article about building an S-100 memory board that taught me so much about how computers worked at the hardware level. I’m forever indebted.

        1. I’ve been making photographic re-creations of the Tinney covers. The idea is, what if the scenes were real, and while Tinney was painting them, a photographer was standing next to him, snapping a picture? See my work at bytecovers.com.

  8. They didnt disappear, they changed format to one thats kinda more fitting for the subject matter anyway. Having computer magazines was a crutch needed while computers couldn’t be their own medium.

    Over the last 5 years ish I learned how to 3d print for example. How? Did I pay a University to take classes? Did I go to the local library to refer to books? No I went to Youtube and literally watched 100 hours of tutorials and instructions foar free. I went to forums to learn from others that had my same hardware.

    Look at LinusTechTips and their various channels. They do essentially what various computing magazines did. They get ad revenue and people can (and very much do) fund them directly through merch purchases.

    I do liked Omni, and Byte, and PC, and Commodore, and Wired, and others. But the dead plants aren’t really the important part of that. …and since Youtube and other sites like it fund a lot of these creators much of the content is still payed by low end advertising.

      1. This. I find it more and more difficult to find “Information” on the”information superhighway” Yes there are millions of videos which i can’t generally watch due to inavailability of high speed internet inbetween the ads from the marketing superhighway but well written articles of any kind are getting more scarce. Probably why I find the comments here often more informative than the single paragraph hilighting the video that follows (that I don’t/can’t watch…

    1. “McCracken points out that substantial ad revenue fueled huge test labs and hardline investigative journalism in addition to the physical printing. ”

      And Linus heard you. People still hate ads, but hard to skip the sponsor of the week.

  9. >Harry McCracken pointed out that the last two widely-distributed American consumer computer magazines ceased paper publication.

    2600 is still widely distributed in America

    1. True, but hardly a consumer magazine. I suppose maybe DDJ wasn’t either, but closer than 2600. I think Circuit Cellar and Nuts & Volts are still around a few places, but again, not a consumer rag.

    2. I’m not sure that “widely distributed” is really that accurate for 2600 anymore. Last time they published the circulation stats, they were only printing around 20,000 copies per issue.

      It’s really only a matter of time before they go fully digital. It will be a sad day, but hardly a surprising one. It might have happened already if it wasn’t for the fact that Amazon pulled the rug out from their Kindle sales, forcing them to develop their own in-house digital subscription system.

      1. But, IFF 2600 is mailed to States on the East and Left Coasts, FL, AK, and HI, that could be considered “wide” distribution.

  10. The German C’T magazine was my favorite. Lots of stuff you could build yourself, many times you could buy the PCBs through C’T. My biggest build was their Tek 4/8 transputer system hooked up to my Atari ST. I still have it in storage somewhere.

  11. In regards to the fact that with magazines going away means the loss of test labs and things, that has now been taken over by the big tech YouTube channels like Linus Tech Tips and Gamers Nexus. LTT in particular is building a test lab that’s up there with what the manufacturers are using themselves and probably better than what the mags had back in the day.

  12. there’s a kind of implied mourning of the changes happening in advertiser-supported publishing and i can’t seem to care. much like newspapers, the good parts of the thing we’re losing were the exception, not the rule.

    but i have a little respect for dr dobbs…though never enough to read it :)

    i happened to see one issue of dr dobbs in the flesh, out of my whole life…it was in 2003 i think. i just glanced through its table of contents and saw an article about parsing regular expressions. the only approach i’d considered before was a state machine (like lex), which i figured wouldn’t make a very good article, and anyways wasn’t a very satisfying solution beyond “wow that’s neat”. and off the top of my head, i didn’t have any better idea.

    so i flipped to the article and it was a very elegant and brief presentation of a recursive decomposition based regex matcher. i was impressed, and it’s stuck with me. it is, in hindsight, the obvious simple answer, and a good rebuttal to the bogus argument i saw in comments in the recent compiler article here that people ought to read whole meh books instead of diving in. no insult to Aho and Muchnick but you don’t need to understand how lex works, you don’t even need to use lex…you don’t need to know the classics. you can roll your own based around a broad variety of principles you already know. as a matter of fact, independently inventing the idea of a recursive descent parser for a very simple algebraic expression grammar in 1995 is what turned me onto compiler writing in the first place.

  13. Kind of a pity. I learned a lot from dead tree magazines like ANTIC and STart in the early days. I wouldn’t mind online versions as much if I had a big ePaper reader/tablet of some sort.

  14. Modern Electronics, Radio Electronics, Dr. Dobb’s, C Programmer’s Journal, some electronics mags from the UK I can’t recall the name of (Elektronika?), and a slew of others I have forgotten about until someone mentions the name… I have slowly removed them from my bookshelves over the years. Some removals were due to tech rot… I’m just not interested in articles about tubes and discrete logic these days. Some were due to reduced ignorance… after receiving multiple degrees in the electrical engineering field, there’s little need for basic articles on how to make a line-following robot. And in the end, the rest were due to the need for getting the space back… I purchased the latest (at the time) Dr. Dobb’s and CPJ archives on CD.

    I still have all of my Embedded Systems Programming mags, because despite my continual pleas for them to provide a CD archive, they never did. Eventually, the new (and now exclusively digital) articles were little more than ad fodder, so I stopped spending time on their website. Bit rot made it useless to try and find any particular article online, so that was a real waste. Still holding out hope someone will digitize the archive and provide a CD.

    1. Could be a retirement project for you. Just do raw scans of the magazines then contact ESP and offer up the images for a fair price. Let them handle how they want to do things like OCR etc.

  15. Despite early rumors, I am not a hoarder. Although I may have a few stacks of memorabilia describing many disparate interests. One title I miss is a small self published tome titled Midnight Engineering. Having moved a few times in the last 70 years, some of my “Stash” was discarded. Women will do terrible things to a man.
    I still have a 5 year collection of Linux magazines in the W.C. (Library) It’s fun to review older articles to see what I forgot to read years ago. I stopped buying “Hot Rod” due to the lack of intelligent articles and increase in ad space. (Yes, I know publishing must be ad driven) I have written for a few magazines in the past, but I only kept a few copies for the grand kids. While teaching computer networking and programming in the college, I encouraged students to subscribe to magazines as a supplemental source to textbooks.
    After the students “Built” a PC, then installed many different OS choices, (Unix, Microsoft, Linux) and even took a spin with building a small client/server networks. Fun times.
    On a side note, I stopped writing for 2600 due to the troll factor. Oh well, perhaps I’ll write again.

    1. I enjoyed Midnight Engineering too and it was an impressive work by single man production. From writing to distribution. The quality of articles also unique on its own.

    2. The car magazine I miss is Chrome and Flames. It was a full color European ‘zine with no advertising. It had versions published in many countries and languages. Some of the time their logo in other languages would show up in a photo. “Chroom und Flammen” was one version.

      I don’t recall ever seeing any vehicles from outside Europe featured. I did wonder how large their multi-country sales had to be to support the magazine without ads and printing it in multiple languages.

      1. Back in Time A Bit I Hosted a web site for a car mag. (They had two) So they were early adopters it seems. My son was a staff photographer/writer. Anyway, this too shall pass. Magazine sold, web site down. Another group purchased the “Rights” and then started a very casual print schedule. Originally the corp printed two mags. The new owners combined both into one, and I’ve only seen two at most in a year. I see failures when “Bean Counters” take control of expenses. “No, we refuse to pay for a trip to interview those car builders”. Anyway, I’m still here, and my son moved on and is doing better.

  16. >You have to wonder if the destruction of traditional media — TV, movie theaters, magazines, newspapers,
    >books, and record labels — will lead to a different way to compensate creators fairly

    Famous musicians were over compensated in the past and many didn’t like playing fair when it came to income tax. Paul McCartney, for example, has lived off a few short years of his life his entire life. How many people get to make money from the work they did several decades ago?

    1. Many “Artists” and “Performers” have been cheated out of payment for the skills they bring to table.
      The writers strike going on now revolves around this issue. I’ve seen this forever.. Heck, even the google knows about this.

  17. For a small number of shuffles to adjacent cards are separated on average by 2^n – 1 other cards. So after 5 shuffles the expected distance maxes out at 26, half the number of cards. Imperfect shuffling is required to make it truly unpredictable though. If a perfect robot did it, exactly 2×26, perfect interleaving, and left side leading,say, the house could be gamed.

    1. Actually they published the Altair and the imsai was a clone of that. The Altair was really the first to catch on although as others have pointed out radio electronics had the mark. 8. And there were some other smaller machines even earlier that failed to gain much traction.

  18. The first time I visited this article, I was too concerned with the content to spend much time looking at the header illustration. But upon returning, I’m just struck by it.

    Top-notch, the Hackaday Evening Post, indeed!

  19. One aspect of the article and the comments so far that hasnt been brought up is the desirability of plugging the holes in the magazine collections in archive.org . The last time I checked they had almost all Kilobaud and almost all Robotics Age (as only two examples) – with the odd handful of missing issues.

    Those with a attic full would do posterity a favor by contributing scans of the missing.

    1. Do they have Computer Shopper? An archive of the old super thick ones would use a huge amount of space. To archive just the pages with the articles would be considerably smaller.

  20. It is always 2 steps forward and a half step backwards with technology. We lost something with magazines, vinyl, film, phones with five day batteries, computers you had to program, microprocessors you could understand, BASIC, mainframes you could hardwire new instructions into and vacuum tubes, that will not come back.

  21. At least we can relive some of those old magazines… I enjoy once in awhile looking at some of these that I used to have hard copies of. To much space. Tossed.




    I do miss those golden computer years where it was ‘new’ and cool software released and everyone was being super creative hardware and software wise…. Now it is ‘ho hum’.

  22. In the UK, the go to magazine was Personal Computer World. I’d been primed to take an interest in technical / hobbyist magazines because my parents regularly bought magazines in the 60s and 70s under names like: “Practical Householder”. But my dad also bought electronics magazines such as “Everyday Electronics”. I was always enthralled by the projects, but we didn’t really have the expertise or time to build any of them.

    But in the April 1980 edition I saw an advert for the Sinclair ZX80, the first BASIC computer for under £100 (£79.95 as a kit, £99.95 ready-built). I took the magazine into school and amazed my classmates with it (I was in the first year of secondary school by this point).


    My parents were kind enough to buy me one for Christmas (second-hand, at £85) and the person we bought it from recommended I subscribed to the premier UK computer magazine: “Personal Computer World”, which I duly did for about 10 years, until it just ended up being part of the PC-compatible, dull-as-ditchwater (IMHO) promotion industry, fully of reviews of identical beige boxes.

    This is the first edition I bought (though it had been around since 1978):


    PCW really was great for its educational articles on all aspects of computing, from learning new languages to CPU architectures (e.g. a 1985 edition describing the ARM CPU), to software design to varieties of emerging applications as well as the obvious multitude of programs to type in (most of which wouldn’t work on the integer-only 1kB ZX80 and barely on my later 16kB ZX81).

    I mean, for example, the mind-blowing April 1982 edition on the language Logo, which introduced me to the concept of recursion with the program (though they have the wrong syntax):

    IF :LEVEL>0 [
    LEFT 45
    RIGHT 90
    LEFT 45

    Recursion – wow!


    You can re-run it on here:


    But the apple ][ emulator version is more authentic:


  23. My 2 cents are likely to be lost here among the countless well written replies by people who are passionate and knowledgeable in so many fields.

    But this is why we’re all here, isn’t it? It might have started in different places; staring intently at a magazine cover on a rack in a corner store, or the periodicals section of a library, or the tech building of a university. But we all ended up here.

    Byte, Kilobaud, PC World, Computer Shopper… These didn’t truly go away. They came here, with us, one article at a time. One post at a time. One comment at a time.

  24. Magazines I used to buy at the local mall book store have gone away, some fade to digital only some just gone Byte was the one for me from its advertizers wares i put together the PC that i used all through college, It had a big 512k memory, no modem, no hard drive, a CGA green screen monitor no printer. It quit working but I saw it in storage a week ago, should I restore it?, No but I refuse to scrap it either! I miss the printed magazine’s , the articles , the character of the people who wrote them. Once out in the real world I discovered the free trade publications and was really into Electronic Design magazine and enjoyed reading Bob Pease right up until his death, a loss to the industry for sure, but at least he did not see the down turn of that publication which appears as a few pages now . Sorry to see all the trades doing the same thing former 100 plus page publications now if still printed reach maybe 45 or so pages . Sad day for me and not a thing can be done to save it. Rest in peace published works.

  25. Autospeed.com was another car magazine that was an early adopter of the online magazine format. It was always a small outfit and when one of the main guys got a better job it seemed to fizzle out. I’m very disappointed they didn’t release their archive on CD before they folded entirely.

  26. While I’m resurrecting this old thread, I should give a shout out to Silicon Chip magazine. I’ve been subscribing since 1990, and you can still get it in a print or an electronic format. When my present print subscription expire I think I’ll finally make the switch to electronic only.

    Minimal advertising (and the advertising that exists is relevant) useful DIY articles, hardware reviews, a vintage radio column, the serviceman’s column, it’s all good stuff. They’ve managed to keep it relevant over the years, and with the retirement of the old editor have walked back their “coal is the only way to generate electricity” narrative.

    Their DIY projects are of a much higher standard than you’ll read on Instructables, and I have learned way more from Silicon Chip than I ever have from Youtube.


Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.