Publisher Ziff Davis Media announced last week that it has pulled the plug on one of its large roster of tech magazines, Family PC, the latest victim of the economic downturn. The magazine, which had suffered a 36 percent decline in advertising this year, is halting publication in September.
"We made the decision to discontinue [Family PC] because it was not economically viable, and wasn't going to be for some time," said Elizabeth Estroff, director of communications at Ziff Davis.
Technology publications have been shutting down all year because of the tough economic times and competition from free sources of information on the Web.
"People are getting better and better at finding information on the Internet," said Mike Elgan, a former editor of the defunct Windows Magazine. "It's getting difficult to justify a $25 subscription to a technology magazine when that's a subject you're going to find plenty of information about on the Internet."
But tech Web sites are just as likely to find themselves out of business. Two popular video-game news sites, CNet's GameCenter and DailyRadar.com, both went toes up this year.
Publisher Imagine Inc. decided earlier this year to cancel the launches of five new magazines, on subjects including digital photography and the Linux operating system. Matt Firme, vice president and editorial director at the publisher, said his company wanted to first shore up its existing properties -- five computer and gaming magazines and an upcoming "official" Xbox monthly.
"Magazines operate on marketing budgets," Firme said, "and the first thing people do when [the economy] gets shaky is they cut their marketing costs. We've definitely been affected."
Some say failing magazines fell into some of the same traps as tech businesses that made overly optimistic projections about the future.
"It's not that the readers aren't there," said Ron Kobler, editor in chief of Smart Computing magazine, which has been published by Sandhills Publishing in Lincoln, Neb., for more than a decade. "It's that there were a lot of magazines that had business models that couldn't support themselves -- they made a lot of money in a short amount of time and now they're gone."
Gone, but not missed, in some cases. Alexander Moskalyuk, a grad student in computer science in Spokane, Wash., is an avid reader of tech magazines but was not a fan of Family PC or many of the other publications that he started seeing last year.
"I wasn't really impressed by what the magazine had to offer," Moskalyuk said. "For the past few years, [Ziff Davis] has tried to appeal to as broad a market as possible. Sometimes they send you their new stuff for free, but I just got tired of getting 10 magazines all about the same stuff."
The magazine business has always been risky. Half of the 800 new titles that come out every year don't make it to their first anniversary.
About 50 of those new titles in recent years have been new computer magazines. At News World, a newsstand on K Street NW by Farragut Square, there are dozens of computer and gadget-related magazines on the shelves, ranging from the scrappy, venerable hacker zine 2600 to MacDirectory, a sort of Vanity Fair for the Macintosh set, complete with a fashion shoot of gaunt models posing with flat-screen monitors tucked under their arms and an interview of the rock group Barenaked Ladies discussing their Powerbooks.
While the list of defunct computer magazines is growing longer, magazine industry analyst Samir Husni said the number of technology magazines hitting newsstands is still "second only to sex magazines."
"There's still a lot to choose from," said Husni. "But instead of having 10 magazines to choose from, you'll only have five."
Some folks think even that is wishful thinking. Fred Langa, a former columnist at several tech magazines, left print journalism and now makes a living by publishing Langa's List, a biweekly e-mail newsletter that reaches about 170,000 subscribers. About 15,000 of them pay $10 a year and get full access to the archives at Langa's Web site -- the rest get to look at ads sprinkled through the newsletter.
"Print has largely run its course for technical subjects," he said. "Its days have been numbered since the explosion of the Web."