Yesterday in this space, we started an in-depth look at the rise and fall of the personal computer era, by following the rise and fall of one of the publications that chronicled the period. Today, we remember the ‘glory’ years…


Riding the wave

1994 was the year that the personal computer boom really started. For the next five years or so, families and businesses alike indulged a voracious appetite for information on how to ‘get computerized’. The number of neighbourhood computer retail stores in Ottawa more than doubled over that time.

And 1994 was the year that the Internet first started to come to the attention of potential users outside of the high tech sector.

The combination of the personal computer and Internet explosions produced a monster economic wave and MONiTOR was in the right place, at the right time to ride it.

MONiTOR set a record it would never again challenge in December, 1998, with a bumper Christmas issue running 128 pages and 36,000 copies.

Not without challenges

As meteoric as MONiTOR’s climb may seem, from the brief description I’ve just offered, it was not without its trials and challenges.

The main threat to MONiTOR’s prosperity over the first ten years of its run was competition, first from outside and, then, on it’s doorstep.

Ironically, one of the ‘computer papers’ from Toronto — which had given Lisle the idea for MONiTOR in the first place — took note of the magazine’s success and decided that the Ottawa market was worth investing in.

“Over the years, the Toronto organization went through several proprietors and they all tried to buy us out,” Lisle recalls. But he wasn’t selling. At least not on their terms. “Their offers were downright humiliating. They made it clear that they weren’t interested in buying MONiTIOR as a going concern and running it. They just wanted to tear it down and bulldoze it out of their way.”

Nevertheless, being first into the market with a locally-focused product stood Lisle in good stead. Try as they might, the competition never managed to wrest control of the Ottawa market from MONiTOR. Which is not to say that they didn’t try.

“Even after years of trying to undercut our prices, adding token local content and even launching a separate magazine-format publication head-to-head with MONiTOR, the other guys couldn’t knock us down,” Lisle says, with evident satisfaction.

Finally, in the early 2000s, the competition gave up and went home. But there were other reasons for the Toronto octopus to draw in its tentacles. The computer boom of the 90s was winding down.


Tomorrow, in Part III, we’ll chronicle MONiTOR‘s struggle to adapt to a changing marketplace.

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