The End of Computer Magazines in America

The April issues of Maximum PC and MacLife are currently on sale at a newsstand near you—assuming there is a newsstand near you. They’re the last print issues of these two venerable computer magazines, both of which date to 1996 (and were originally known, respectively, as Boot and MacAddict). Starting with their next editions, both publications will be available in digital form only.

But I’m not writing this article because the dead-tree versions of Maximum PC and MacLife are no more. I’m writing it because they were the last two extant U.S. computer magazines that had managed to cling to life until now. With their abandonment of print, the computer magazine era has officially ended.

The first issue of Byte, the first magazine about personal computers—and many people’s candidate for the best such publication, period..

It is possible to quibble with this assertion. 2600: The Hacker Quarterly has been around since 1984 and can accurately be described as a computer magazine, but the digest-sized publication has the production values of a fanzine and the content bears little resemblance to the slick, consumery computer mags of the past. Linux Magazine (originally the U.S. edition of a German publication) and its more technical sibling publication Admin also survive. Then again, if you want to quibble, Maximum PC and MacLife may barely have counted as U.S. magazines at the end; their editorial operations migrated from the Bay Area to the UK at some point in recent years when I wasn’t paying attention. (Both were owned by Future, a large British publishing firm.)

Still, I’m declaring the demise of these two dead-tree publications as the end of computer magazines in this country. Back when I was the editor-in-chief of IDG’s PC World, a position I left in 2008, we considered Maximum PC to be a significant competitor, especially on the newsstand. Our sister publication Macworld certainly kept an eye on MacLife. Even after I moved on to other types of tech journalism, I occasionally checked in on our erstwhile rivals, marveling that they somehow still existed after so many other computer magazines had gone away.

I take the loss personally, and not just because computer magazines kept me gainfully employed from 1991-2008. As a junior high student and Radio Shack TRS-80 fanatic, I bought my first computer magazine in late 1978, three years after Byte invented the category. It was an important enough moment in my life that I can tell you what it was (the November-December 1978 issue of Creative Computing) and where I got it (Harvard Square’s Out of Town News, the same newsstand that had played a critical role in the founding of Microsoft just four years earlier). Even before I purchased that Creative Computing, our mailman had misdelivered a neighbor’s copy of Byte to our house, an error I welcomed and did not attempt to correct. From the moment I discovered computer magazines, I loved them almost as much as I loved computers, which

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The popular electronics chain that scammed America

On September 13, 1984, as stocks wavered through a bear market, a regional electronics chain held a hyped initial public offering.

If it seems odd that a purveyor of VCRs and stereos could make investors swoon, remember that this was the 1980s, and people were getting pumped about cellular phones that were roughly the size of microwaves. And know that this electronics company was Crazy Eddie, a brand that, in so many ways, was breaking the usual rules.  

The previous fiscal year, Crazy Eddie’s annual revenues were ~$134m, or ~$372m today. More impressively, the 13-store New York City-area chain led the electronics industry in sales per square foot and profit margins.    

Crazy Eddie was also a cultural sensation, rising to fame with absurd commercials that Dan Akroyd parodied on Saturday Night Live. In the 1984 movie Splash, Darryl Hannah’s character watched a Crazy Eddie ad when she first discovered TV. 

That first day, investors purchased nearly 2m shares of Crazy Eddie for $8 apiece, under the ticker CRZY. By the end of the year, the stock would climb 25%, far outpacing a flat market and boosting Crazy Eddie’s plans for greater expansion.

There was just one major problem.

Crazy Eddie had been lying about its numbers since its inception — and the higher the stock soared the further founder Eddie Antar went to maintain the illusion. 

“It was Goodfellas,” one attorney later told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “except they operated with briefcases instead of guns.” 

The insaaaaane rise of Crazy Eddie

Eddie Antar was a 22-year-old high school dropout when he opened his first store in 1969, near the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn. 

He was the classic outer-borough tough guy: almost bald with a scraggly goatee, allergic to wearing anything but sweats, crude yet charming at the same time. 

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Eddie Antar (AP, via New York Times; 1993)

Antar believed people would flock to stores that sold items like speakers, VCRs, and televisions under the same roof — and he was right.

Industry-wide, sales of electronics jumped from $8.5B in the late 1960s to $35B by the mid-1980s. 

By 1979, Antar had 8 stores and shared the success with his family, which was part of a tightknit Syrian Jewish community in Brooklyn. His father, Sam M. Antar, uncle Eddy Antar, and brothers Mitchell and Allen Antar all held key positions. 

Meanwhile, Eddie Antar made sure everyone in New York City knew his business by flooding TV and radio with catchy ads shaped by advertising director Larry Weiss.

Weiss was well-connected in the radio and music industries and hired radio DJ Jerry Carroll to be Crazy Eddie’s spokesperson. (Other candidates for the job included the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.) 

Taking inspiration from the humor of Mad magazine, Weiss developed commercials that played off music trends and the cultural zeitgeist. Most commercials featured Carroll

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