I didn’t know David Bunnell but I did read all those pubs he and others edited through IDG, including PC World and MacWorld. Except for hilarious pieces poking holes in the ballooning tech industry by John C. Dvorak and the pseudonymous Robert Cringely, the articles seemed formulaic and banal. I read these magazines for the ads, where new product offerings and services were explained rather than hyped.
In fact my favorite computer magazine during the 80s and 90s was Computer Shopper, a hefty tome on flimsy paper full of thousands of concise product reviews.
The bevy of IDG and its rival Ziff-Davis computer magazines, like PC Magazine and PC Week, didn’t drive tech growth so much as siphon millions of dollars in advertising from the likes of Microsoft and Intuit and Adobe and Apple as well as smaller companies like the one I worked for, Software Ventures, which made the first commercially successful Macintosh telecom program, MicroPhone.
IDG also made billions in fees from attendees and exhibitors at its MacWorld and PC World conferences, filled with incredibly dull talks and workshops but enlivened by backroom parties and networking.
The only exception to the mediocrity of the IDG stable was the short-lived vanity magazine, NextWorld, which was largely subsized by Steve Jobs’s company Next, itself a vanity computer. I looked forward to every bimonthly issue of NextWorld because John Perry Barlow was a major contributor. If there ever were a Nobel for computer writing, Barlow should get it, especially after he started writing for Wired magazine, the only computer publication that decided to bring in brilliant writers with chops beyond the computer world, like Paulina Borsook and Steven Levy.
In one multi-thousand-word Wired article reminiscent of a John McPhee story on tectonic plates, Barlow raved about the potential of technology to transform African cultures and economies, just as it is doing now more than a decade later.
Wired succeeded when all the other computer magazines from IDG and Ziff Davis have become skeletons of their former selves. That’s because Wired just didn’t report on the computer revolution. Through its radical layout and print design as well as its creative in-depth reporting that often included a global perspective most of tech media ignored, it became part of that revolution itself.