Yesterday in this space, we recalled the height of the personal computer boom of the late 1990s, focusing on the fortunes of one of the iconic publications that chronicled that heady time. Today, we remember the decline and fall…


Boom to bust

Around the turn of the millennium, the computer retail industry started to ‘turn over’.

The vast majority of existing potential PC users now owned at least one computer. The previously constant demand for new machines from first-time buyers waned. Manufacturers and retailers were starting to talk, in hushed tones, about replacement and upgrade ‘cycles’. And machine power was pulling ahead of the demands of the software the masses wanted to use. Users were no longer pressed to upgrade their hardware every few years to meet the demands of the latest versions of their favourite software.

Big box computer and electronics stores had also come on the scene by then, undercutting the smaller ‘neighbourhood’ retailers. But the big stores couldn’t service the masses of products they sold. When service was required, computers and accessories had to be sent to factory service centres, often in other cities, and repairs could take weeks. Not surprisingly, users became more and more frustrated.

So, the little guys survived by adapting, placing an increasing emphasis on their ability to provide on-the-spot service, close to users’ homes and businesses.

MONiTOR also adapted, Lisle recalls. “We took a strong editorial stand in favour of ‘buying locally’ and backing the local retailers’ service initiative. It paid off. Fortunately, the shift to service also paid off for the retailers.”

Well, it did for some retailers. Smaller operations started closing and a few of the larger local retailers started moving into their micro markets with branch stores, establishing new regional retail dynasties. Smaller neighbourhood stores, backed up by downtown ‘main stores’, offered the best of both worlds: Local service with product prices reflecting the buying power of the whole ‘chain’.

A new direction

By 2005, MONiTOR’s traditional ‘computer and Internet’ market was changing dramatically, with the emphasis moving decidedly to the ‘Internet’ side. Also, cell phones, portable computers, game consoles and other devices that were once on the periphery of MONiTOR’s mandate were quickly becoming ‘mainstream’.

Seeing that the overall shift in the market made it essential to appeal to the cell phone service providers and consumer electronics retailers, Lisle and his partners came to a hard decision. The only way to capitalize the changes they felt they had to make to keep MONiTOR competitive was to bring in a new partner.

Ultimately, they sold the magazine to the printing company that had been producing it for them all along, Performance Printing Ltd., in 2007.

“It was heartbreaking, in one sense,” Lisle admits. “Definitely, the end of an era. But, at the same time, we saw it as a new beginning. And most of the old team was still on the project.”

At the time the new owners took over, there was talk of major changes in format and distribution to attract new, major advertisers MONiTOR had not appealed to previously, as a small-format monthly. There were also plans to update the MONiTOR Web site, making it more interactive and providing more opportunities for advertisers.

Lisle carried on, on contract, for another ten months in his role as Editor at MONiTOR.

“I kept waiting for them to implement the changes we had talked about when we sold to them but they never did. They did nothing at all to renovate the magazine,” Lisle says. “And they never asked me for my opinions or advice on those matters again.”

Finally, in late 2008, the owners appointed a new project manager for MONiTOR. But it was already too late to save the publication. Rather than pumping any further investment into the magazine and making dramatic changes, management earlier this week quietly informed its editor and contributors that they were out of work.

We have it on good authority that MONiTOR‘s final, April, 2009, issue will run a mere 48 pages — the same size it was, on its way up, 14 years ago this month.

Rest in  peace.

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