PC Business 2008

by Bob Seidel

I still subscribe to a few PC magazines, and I am seeing a fairly obvious trend. They are shrinking, and perhaps the PC industry along with it.

Probably the biggest loser (maybe we should have a Biggest Loser segment on TV for this) is Computer Shopper. It began starting publication in 1979 (according to Wikipedia) as basically a hobbyist newsletter. Although it had some good articles in it, it was predominantly an ad vehicle. Once the US PC manufacturers got wind of it, they jumped on the bandwagon en masse. Although the larger companies such as IBM did not participate, the ad fee structure was so cheap that literally every mom and pop corner PC store could, and did, advertise.

Computer Shopper grew to take the record for being the heaviest magazine, at over 800 pages in 10" x 15" format. It was just literally huge and provided hours and hours of reading and browsing for a techie like me. It was a reflection of a vital and growing industry. Back before the Internet, you would scour Computer Shopper (and trade tips on where to find stuff with friends) rather than use a search engine such as pricegrabber.com. If you were into building your own PC, there were parts ads by the hundreds. If you wanted that new 1200 baud modem, there were many ads for that specific brand and model.

But that was then, and this is now as they say. Computer Shopper is a pale image of what is once was. My latest copy had just 100 pages in today's smaller format. There was only one ad from a parts vendor, but it was a pointer to their website rather than a list of parts and prices as in the old days. Those parts vendors still exist to some degree (Newegg, Buy.com, etc.) but they apparently have strictly an Internet presence now. The advertiser list in the back of the magazine had only 26 total vendors listed, of which 3 were not PC related. The only major PC vendor to advertise was HP. At that rate, I don't expect Computer Shopper to be around for long - a magazine's revenues are based on ad sales, not subscriptions.

But it seems that Computer Shopper is still a reflection of the PC business. The issue is that the PC business has never been a big money maker for the manufacturers. IBM was rumored to have never really made any significant revenue from PCs; sensing this they sold out to Chinese firm Lenovo years ago. Dell is struggling, and even the current top-of-the heap HP is fighting for good profitability. Many of the smaller companies have turned to niche markets, such as gaming PCs, to keep in business, and the small mom and pop PC store is almost completely out of existence.

As with many other businesses in the US today, we have turned from a manufacturing economy to a service economy. I have to plead guilty to this myself. I don't sell PCs and only carry enough parts to service my customer's problems. I have never sold PCs, having made that decision when I opened for business back in 2000. Others PC related vendors in the area have made the same decision and concentrate only on service, although we do have one new store in the area selling PCs.

But also dooming Computer Shopper was the switch from the PC being a hobby to the PC (and the Internet) being central to our business and personal lives. Frankly, any PC you buy today will be far more powerful than most people or businesses need. There is no need to think about which part to video card to buy or how big your hard drive should be. They are all far past the average person's requirements.

So the guidance today is to use your current PC until it fails. Although I recommend replacing business PCs after three years and home PCs after four to five; if it is working for you keep it going. If a major component fails, just get a new one. They have become commodity items. Just give some thought to good backups and an external USB hard drive so that you can easily migrate your stuff to the new PC.

(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at www.bobseidel.com or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at bsc@bobseidel.com. For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)