Farewell to Personal Computer World: 30 years of personal computing

Today I learned that Personal Computer World is to cease publication. This is a long-established UK magazine to which I have been a contributor since May 1993. For PCW, that counts as its latter days. Today you might think that the PC in the title means “PC rather than Mac”, and perhaps in a way it does, but that was not the case when the first issue appeared in 1978, for obvious reasons (the first IBM PC did not appear until 1981). No, the computer on the cover of the first PCW was the self-assembly and long forgotten NASCOM 1.

Although the cover stated “Europe’s first magazine for personal computers for home and business use”, PCW was really an enthusiast’s publication; and in those days being a computer enthusiast meant being relatively technical and willing to do your own programming.

The story of personal computing is about how these devices evolved from a geeky hobby into a tool and plaything for everyone; and the magazine morphed accordingly, becoming steadily more mainstream as time went by.

The early years were particularly engaging, thanks to the variety of new devices that appeared and disappeared with bewildering speed. Some had more staying power than others, like the 1981 BBC micro, for example:

 

One of my favourite PCW covers was that for Windows 3.0 in 1990. Sub-titled Child’s Play, it was prophetic in identifying how Microsoft’s OS would bring personal computing to the masses.

It was Windows which inspired my first piece for PCW, a massive survey of 17 Windows database managers in May 1993. Not long after I reviewed Visual Basic 3.0, correctly predicting that its built-in data access would make it popular in businesses. I went on to do a series of Visual Basic tutorials, and then a programming column that evolved from Visual Basic to all things related to software development.

Last year PCW celebrated its 30th anniversary.

 

So why has it ended? According to this Press Gazette post:

Managing director of Incisive’s professional services division Graham Harman said … "Sadly, no amount of hard work or innovation was going to turn around the structural decline in advertising and newsstand sales. The depth of this recession and the ease of access to information online has only served to accelerate the long term downward trend within this particular sector.”

PCW’s last published circulation figure (Jan-Dec 2008) was 54,000, which is respectable, and more than double that of some rivals, like Future’s PC Plus which recorded just over 22,000 for the same period. The bigger problem, as you will see if you browse through a recent issue, is the decline in advertising. Before the days of the world wide web, magazines like PCW were critically important to computer manufacturers and retailers, but that is no longer the case.

Another problem, as one of the editors explained to me a few years back, is that PCW found itself caught between the demands of an aging readership which had grown up with the magazine, and that of a new generation.

It still has a considerable reputation and I’m surprised that the publishers have not found a way to make it work for a little longer, though the long-term trends have been against it for years.

Still, it has had a good run, and no doubt future researchers will have a lot of fun going though its archives as they explore the days when computing became personal for the first time.

46 thoughts on “Farewell to Personal Computer World: 30 years of personal computing”

  1. I can’t think how I’ve missed the bad news until now, having just received mail from Kelvyn. It’s a sad moment; I’ve been associated with PCW for more than 25 years on and off, and have just been going through the online index trying to remember which of the cover features I actually wrote throughout the 1980s, and largely failing…

    On the other hand, it’s good to see so many familiar names appearing here. Hope to see some of you next week.

  2. Damn it, there goes one of the month’s little pleasures 🙁 The latest issue of PCW falling on teh doormat provided a perfect excuse to sit back and read it for an hour to bone up on future trends and new kit rather than chugging on with the daily grind.

    I started reading PCW a little before I got my first computer (a ZX Spectrum), and have been a subscriber for at least the last 15 years. PCW always gave you a six month headstart on new technology. Even if you wrongly confidently predicted that something would be the next big thing, you could always guarentee that the next big thing HAD been covered already in the pages of PCW.

    As a photographer who runs a website as his business, I can see why the web was the doom of the magazine, but I also know that I might not have even had the website had I not been an avid PCW reader. My best friend, also a subscriber since his early teenage years, is my website developer… was very sad when he told me last night that the issue that came a few days ago will be the last.

    I’m going to miss it.

  3. I for one thought PCW would be one of the last magazines to close as it was the flagship UK PC magazine.

    I am proud to have been involved with it on and off during its 30 years – I hope it manages to continue in one form or another.

    (And thanks for publishing some of my recent work Kelvyn)

    – Robin.

    Ex PCW Cover Disc Editor and Freelance Writer

  4. Oh crap… I figured that would happen sooner or later but I felt it filled a special niche among computer magazines in looking holistically at personal computing across all platforms except of course the sodding Acorn (inside joke!) and from an enthusiast’s perspective with a critical eye. I enjoyed the opportunity it gave me in the early 1990s to introduce the readers to the Internet and online services and appreciate Ben Tisdall’s foresightedness in letting me run with my ideas (though of course a booming market in computer advertising at the time certainly helped!)

  5. Someone lent me the September 1980 copy, when I was debating to buy the newly announced Sinclair ZX80 (I didn’t). I’ve been a subscriber ever since.

    Mike

    (Just got their letter and off to get my sub back!)

  6. I just cancelled my subscription as I have no wish to receive Computeractive, which seems to be a bit of a comic to me. I’m very sad for the journalists, layout people and printers who will lose their jobs, as well as the loss of a historic magazine. I wonder if someone could buy out the title, or will Incisive sit on it like a dog in a manger?

  7. I’ve only just been informed by letter today from Kelvyn of the demise of PCW and as an avid reader (and often subscriber) for many a year now I’m totally flumoxed as to how the leading PC Mag, with such a history, could find itself iin the position of closure being the only option.

    As an Accountant I’m obviously aware that times are hard for all sectors of industry; falling advertising revenues hitting all forms of printed mags/news. However I’m surpised tnk that the mag could not have found any other way to ride the storm.

    I don’t agree with the earlier respondant that people don’t want to get their hands dirty inside a PC. With the help of an outsourced IT suuport company I’m responsible for keeping a network of 38 PC’s and a Server ticking over.

    PCW has, over the years been invaluable in keeping me upto date, ahead of the game and on the ball with the knowledge needed to try and put right day-to-day user problems.

    The articles were always informative, well written and indeed a pleasure to read. Not all of it was relevant to me but it never the less gave me a good understanding of the wider context of how it all fitted in.

    Much as finding info on the net is quick and available, nothing beats flicking through a proper mag and reading the articles at leasure, whether that was on the tran, in the garden or by the PC when working through tweaks.

    I’m not taken by “Computeractive” as it isn’t a patch on what you did so I will unfortunately be looking to try and get some of my subscription back.

    I wish all the writers and staff much luck in finding something suitable – quickly. Thanks for all your hard work; it’s been much appreciated and I will miss it.

  8. As a subscriber I got my letter today. Very, very sad. I’ve upgraded, restored, tuned and protected my computer based on the advice in PCW – and explored some interesting by-ways too. Thanks to all those who have edited and contributed over the years – together you produced a really special magazine from which I for one have benefited from greatly.

  9. I just got the subscriber’s letter about the closure of PCW and I am shocked at the news. Somehow I missed the earlier announcements about the closure.

    I bought my first copy of PCW to take on holiday to Tenerife in September 1982 and have been a regular reader ever since. I became a subscriber to PC Magazine soon after it came on the UK market, and stayed until the closure of the UK edition, when I switched my subscription to PCW. I am convinced that the first copy of PC magazine that I purchased (in a UK newsagent) was an American edition.

    Quite a number of the commentators seem to have been around forever, particularly Guy Kewney and Barry Fox. More recently (a couple of years back) an article in PCW by Nigel Whitfield inspired me to buy a Topfield PVR.

    My favourite sections of PCW were always the Hands On (Power User in PC Magazine), because they taught me how to extend the functionality of my PC using macros and tweaks. Now of course, this stuff is readily available on the Internet at no cost, but I can’t read this whilst I am sat on the crapper or watching Grandstand (also gone) on a Saturday afternoon.

    I shall miss PCW.

  10. Very Sad. I was just rereading the August issue and theres no hint of anything awry. “In Septembers issue … on sale July 23rd”, and I’ve only just got my letter too.

    I’d bought odd issues of PCW until I was working in Germany in 1990. For some reason its mix of reviews and enthusiasm for it subject at that moment fired my imagination and thus required a monthly trip to the Hauptbahnhof to get the next issue. Back in England I became a regular subscriber… just in time for the 15th anniversary issue.

    I disagree with Steve’s earlier comment that it was becomming “remote”. This was what PCW was all about – the enthusiasts mag for people who wanted to leap in and twiddle. If you want them to work, take the covers off and find out why they dont and fix em. Of course, this is the attitude of earlier engineers who went everywhere in their new fangled horseless carriages. In time these things are mass produced and we expect them to work… and we take em to garages/workshops to get them fixed. Nonetheless, people are still tinkering with and servicing their cars just as much as some of us are tinkering under the hood with our (and our friends) PC’s to get them to do the business the way they we know they should and not the way that hardware and software vendors are trying to tell us they should. Where do you go for the information on what to tweek where – well… PCW obviously.

    I would agree that ComputerActive is no substitute and I wont be taking it. In fact, I doubt there is a substitute. I shall have to do something for my withdrawal symptoms when I dont get my monthly fix.

    Finally, I salute all the writers, editors and contributors to PCW who have entertained, eductaed and informed me over the last near 20 years. Thank you for a great read. I’m already missing it.

  11. Re:My previous comments.
    All contributions to this debate are laudable, and as with you all, I am sad at the demise of such an informative magazine.
    But the fact remains, as much as the other contributors seem to disagree, along with falling advertising revenues, the magazine numbers were diminishing, and for the reasons that I have already outlined.

    Yes people still do like to get their hands dirty inside the innards of machines, be it computers, motorbikes, cars, or whatever, but the majority, and it has to be said, the bigger majority, don’t.

    I notice that no women seem to have contributed to this debate, and I don’t doubt some did subscribe to the magazine, but women buy computers as much as men, especially laptops, and none that I know of want anything to do with insides of the machine, I know by the telephone calls I get for help sometimes.

    As sad as I am like you all, at the magazines demise, maybe PCW was a specialists magazine, the trouble was it was too specialized for most people.

  12. I was quite upset when I received the letter informing me of the news…

    Having read pcw on and off over the years (still have issue one) I will miss it dearly, even if it was not what it once used to be, as it had moved with the times, and the ‘majorities’ needs, which went from technical, to less technical over the years.

    It is a shame the staff were not informed it was going to be the last issue, it would have been a ideal chance for them to make a final, tribute edition to a magazine that has shaped and formed many people over the years, a true part of history.

    Sadly, the last issue was just a normal one, without the staff being given that chance to say goodbye to the mag and the readers.

  13. Strange, just as I decide to change all my ‘puters to Ubuntu, my fave mag dies. I had a subscription and the alternative offered to me is NOT acceptable – if I’d wanted a different mag I’d’ve subscribed to that one! I shall be asking for my sub back.

    I would like to thank all the past contributors for some great work, everything I know about computers was learnt from these pages, including my change to Linux.

    Good luck to you all EXCEPT for the guy who decided to close you down, he may rot in hell!

    To Barry, Nigel, Guy, Tim and the others if you decide to write elsewhere please send me the link

  14. Thanks to Tim Anderson, who answered my tweet, I would have had no idea that Personal Computer World had ceased to exists. It is really sad.

    As a lad going to secondary school, I remember these magazines every month in 1984-1985 at Clapham Junction’s only newsagent. I got the issue with the Monkey, Sinclair QL and then Auntie Beeb, BBC Micro, and of course the Acorn Electron, and of course of the ZX Spectrum. Wow! What a loss!

    I would rather have the flaming News of the World / The Sun to die a miserable death in Wapping, instead we have to live now without PCW UK. Sad day in British Computer publishing.

    Best luck to all the journalists, especially our version of Dick Pountain, Guy Kewney for entertaining with comment during PCW. I you are not out of work for long …

  15. Just noticed that comment about the lack of female mourners for PCW.
    I loved this magazine – always my favourite among computer periodicals, and I have been reading it for at least twelve years. So far as I was concerned, every computer-related purchase I made was dependent on PCW advice.
    The clarity and elegance of writing was a constant pleasure, and technological articles were fascinating too. All right, one may not want to risk a screwdriver assault on one’s beloved laptop, but it’s still invaluable to have some idea what goes on there.
    PCW, I am missing you dreadfully. All best wishes to that gifted team who kept you in print for so long and who gave so much pleasure.
    Very sincerely
    Meg Little, Scotland.

  16. It is really sad to see the demise of Personal Computer World, I’m a reader on and off (pardon the pun) since its inception in 1978. PCW was an institution and a big thank you to all who contributed to it, a truly gifted bunch.

    To me (in Ireland) Personal Computer World was as British as the BBC and faithfully served its readership over a 30 year period that saw the computer change our society. I have no doubt that future historians will study each of its many editions to help understand the evolution of computing.

    Its many contributors can be rightly proud to be part of such a wonderful publication. May they all find success and happiness in their future careers 🙂

  17. Well what a shock! I must have been asleep.
    I’ve been looking on the newsstands for PCW for months, thought all the copies had been sold and I should get there earlier in the month.
    I have read the magazine since the early days. It seemed part of the establishment. How the hell do the lesser magazines survive.
    Can anyone remember if PCW morphed out of Wireless World or was that a sister journal? Still got a copy of that in the attic.

  18. Just cruised by and saw this. Hadn’t bought PCW since mid 90s because it suddenly shifted to be a trivial, pointless, review-oriented shop window instead of the brainy, enthusiastic, insightful and fun place that it had been. Guy Kewney, Mike Mudge, Tim Bajarin, Tim Nott, Mark Whitehorn, Tim Anderson (et al, apologies) where are you now? Oh, how I loved to read those articles as I rode the cold, damp ferry and walked the icy streets of Cowes in those nasty, early 80s winters. God help me, now I’m well off and comfortable – I really owe it all to you guys – the round’s on me!

  19. Sad to read that PCW is gone. I used to read it every month in the 80’ties, when all the micros appeared. And they were all different, very different. Then came the pc standard, and windows and so on, and the early days of prototypes and experiments were gone. But I always remembered PCW, and Martin Banks were always worth reading. Oh nostalgia…

  20. :’-(
    Haven’t bought a computer magazine for almost 3 years due to the hyperinflated prices of the better ones and the idiots guide content of the cheaper ones, so when I go to buy the only one worth the money each month for the last 4 months, I find no copies in whsmiths.

    Thinking I must just be getting there after the few copies they had in were sold out, I eventually asked a member of staff and find out they no longer stock it.
    Confused, I check online and find…shock, horror…that it ceased publication not long after I bought my last issue.

    Big part of my youth gone. Bought my first issue in April 1982 (my 11th birthday) and bought 6-8 issues a year until 2002 when more of my information started coming from online.

    The editorials were great reading, many articles captured my imagination and inspired my career choice (system builder) and the early back pages with programs to type in (!) got me programming for a hobby.

    Many weird and wonderful things were written about including (if I remember correctly) a z80 based multi-cpu computer that actually ran faster the hotter it got!
    Now, you won’t see any articles like that any more. All the big mags seem to be reviews and group tests of off the shelf hardware and software with next to nothing to distinguish one issue from the other.

    With no further issues forthcoming, all I can hope for is a complete archive of every issue placed online.

    Thank you, PCW, for 27 years of keeping me informed, interested and working with computer technology.

    ++R.I.P++

  21. Personal Computer World was a truly fabulous magazine. I was too young to buy the earliest issues, being a child of Thatcher, but I spent a day at the British Library 16 years ago reading lots of copies from the early 1980s (I was doing research for an article). PCW had an ethos, an enthusiasm, that I miss. By the way, Tim, I miss your columns – and, indeed, the lot of the Hands On section.

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