10 Ways Tech Magazines Are Failing Readers

Illustration for article titled 10 Ways Tech Magazines Are Failing Readers

Mike Elgan, former editor-in-chief for Windows Magazine, writes a great column on how gadgets blogs fail readers. It's solid feedback and tough love. Here's my list on why Tech Magazines are failing readers:

1) Too Slow: Most Computer magazines will write reviews of product you've already bought or read about on blogs 2 months before. With the exception of Laptop Mag and a few others. How are they catching up in speed? Surprise: blogs.

2) They sometimes ignore the things companies want you to ignore: Magazines need to cover the unofficial topics that are important, even if it involves illegal activity like IP theft. Like BitTorrent. Even if the sponsoring companies don't agree with how the technology is used, its important to educate the public and industry to its benefits and problems. And rumors are clearly useful to warn people not to buy the stuff that's just about to become outdated. Without news that corporations don't sanction, magazines might as well reprint press releases.

3) They charge: So much info on the web is free and ad subsidized, including the blogs. They've got ads. So why are they still charging when its costing them readership? The magazine model of getting people to pay for copies is dying a slow death. See: The difference in subscription and cover prices and Chris Anderson's Free.


4) The websites sometimes suck: In the worst cases, you can't tell where the new content is. It's all over the place, nested in a field of links that mean nothing to anyone but advertisers and industry wonks. In the best cases, they make you click through 10 times for every feature: Come on. Pageviews are a dead competitive metric, and you're just annoying everyone.

5) Their columns are written by people I can't relate to: The most prestigious print columnists today are at least a decade away from 35. The age is not the issue — but there are economic, social and generational gaps that can't be bridged.

6) They cover a whole lot of stuff no one cares about: Just because a company puts something out or writes a press release, and it's on a publication's beat, doesn't mean anyone actually cares about it. Market share is not indicative of success. Porsche sells fewer cars than Toyota. More tech journalists should learn to follow their gut instincts, because as tech lovers, you get a great sense of what people are also excited about.

7) They review products without the bigger picture: Most trade mags do a fantastic job of explaining the specs and the benchmark results, without the overall real world effect (usually a small delta of improvement) and social context (see: iPod shuffle's tiny buttons). Most tech pubs fail at this, blog or mag. Exception: The big columnists at the papers do a great job of this, especially the four horsemen, Pogue, Moss, Levy, and Baig.


8) They presume to be error-free: Last year, right before I canceled my subscription, I read a computer trade with more errors than I'd seen in any magazine. It included typos, but also factual F-ups like mention of "Pioneer LCDs TVs". (Pioneer doesn't make them here.) Magazines have copy editors, fact checkers and 2 months to deliver this content. And you can't retract paper.

9) The writing is often boring: OK, not every article has to be funny or Shakespeare, but it shouldn't make you want to tear your eyes out or go to sleep, either. Tech is inherently a left brain topic; making it an easy and enjoyable thing to learn about and digest is critical and something many trade pubs fail to do! This is increasingly critical as tech and gadgets go more and more mainstream and the average joe comes looking for information.


10) They fail to realize news is collaborative: Mike criticized the gadget blogs for rehashing reviews. First off, aggregation is a service. If someone can check one site, instead of 400, that's useful. This attitude also seems to ignore the fact that news is collaborative. Sites send each other tips and in return, send links and readers back to the source. That's how we give credit to our peers online and grow together, as a network. You can't do that in print.

Bonus 11) Paper: They kill trees and give you papercuts. They cost money to mail. They are heavy and take up space. And they can catch on fire and burn your entire house down! And after all these years, the subscription cards are still annoying. And you can't search through old print as easily as you can search through old online content.

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Type-Os? Do you mean typos? Hmmm... guess you'd better get an editor. One that does something other than press a spell-check button.

Nothing personal here, but don't overestimate your importance in the world. I may enjoy reading snark written by kids (yes, some of us are a decade past 35), but that doesn't mean I have to solely ascribe to that type of writing. Or that it's any better than anyone else's. The mags try to balance objectivity and some excitement, while you are fully subjective and subject the rest of us to snark and self-important solipsism that rivals any politician. Both are entertaining in their way, but in the end it's all just about writing technogossip. Revel in the fact that you get paid to talk about what someone else is doing, instead of actually having to produce something tangible yourself (because let me tell you it's a whole lot easier), and stop downing the other guy because you think you're so much more hip than he is.