By Michael Webb, Editor-in-Chief, MikeWebb@CompuServe.COM
The timing couldn't have been much worse, or less appropriate, I should say. After nearly a year of constant waiting and hope that the Commodore situation would soon be resolved, somebody (TechMedia? IDG? This is still widely unknown) pulled the plug on AmigaWorld magazine. If memory serves, it was one month after Editor-in-Chief Daniel Sullivan promised and proclaimed AmigaWorld's dedication to continue to support the Amiga community (although he apparently was granted no such authority when the decision came down), and roughly one month before ESCOM came out of nowhere and bought the technological remains of the great C=.
Aside from the sick irony of the way in which this drama played out, it was extremely disappointing, to say the least. There were many, myself among them, who looked forward with great enthusiasm to the monthly arrival of AW in the mail. The editorial staff members were like old, trusted friends. But at a crucial point in the Amiga's history, many of us suddenly lost our link.
The conclusion to this particular story, of course, is that my subscription was transferred to Amiga Computing, which finally arrived several months later. It was a great magazine, I thought, but no matter what, it was a different magazine, and could not possibly fill exactly the same role as AW. This question did not remain relevant for long, however, as they promptly lost track of my subscription, and all efforts to correct the situation were utterly fruitless. A few more scattered issues appeared from time to time, but I considered it a lost cause, and eventually AC stopped arriving altogether. And then AC, too, died, and as if irony is the law of the land in Amiga territory, did so exactly one year to the day after we started publishing The Amiga Monitor.
This mention of an online magazine provides a very appropriate segue, because it illustrates a significant trend in the Amiga community. Our print magazines are dropping like flies, while online magazines (and the popular variant, web sites structured like magazines) and information sources have been popping up all over the place, and spreading like wildfire.
Aside from the fact that assuming one already owns and uses a computer, an online magazine can require far fewer material and monetary resources than a print magazine to create and run, there must be some other force at work here.
Many, and I would chance to say the majority of, Amiga users probably still do not have online access. The huge amount of "stuff" on the Internet can mislead one into assuming "everybody's doing it." This is a dangerous assumption, because it ignores the people who, for instance, own only one computer, an older Amiga, which still serves their needs perfectly. They may have a perfectly valid interest in following Amiga events, but simply without having made the extra investment and effort needed to get an Amiga, or any computer, for that matter, online. For those people especially, I applaud the efforts of, for example, Don Hicks and company at Amazing Computing/Amiga, and of Fletcher Haug and associates at The Amiga Informer, for keeping the Amiga print magazine alive. Clearly, those two magazines come from different origins and schools of thought, but they dwell in a common realm: this community. And not to imply that these publications are for offline Amiga users only; they are as worthwhile for the droves of Amiga users online as for anybody.
Of course, with more people joining the Internet community all the time, the number of people willing to undertake such an effort as an online magazine/web page magazine will increase. Still, the concept really seems to be taking hold. It's almost as if, faced with a difficult situation, the Amiga community rallied together more than ever, and through a (to quote a buzzword) "grassroots" effort, started "getting the word out." And it can be more beneficial than ever, too, as PC or Mac people who may remember the Amiga, had been Amiga users years before, or even have old Amigas sitting in the closets, catch scattered references to the platform in the mass computer media as a result of Gateway 2000's activities, and decide out of curiosity to look up the Amiga through Internet search engines. I have received a number of e-mail messages from people who have run across either The Webb Site or The Amiga Monitor, and they are generally quite surprised not only to know the Amiga is alive and well (not to overestimate our condition, but many think the Amiga went the way of the Apple II or Commodore 64 long ago), but also to find such a massive amount of online activity associated with this user-supported platform.
So those of us who publish about the Amiga online, whether via an online magazine, web page magazine, or just a web site, can potentially be doing some real publicity work for the Amiga. We could well pull people back into the fold by showing them that we're still here, and that the Amiga is still a viable platform. But what's next?
A great deal, I believe, depends on how successful the Amiga is in this resurgence. Probably one of the big limiting factors at print magazines these days is money; publishing and distribution, of course, cost money, for which the publications generally compensate through readers' subscriptions and advertising. With people leaving the platform, the number of subscriptions is sure to diminish, and with fewer people buying products, manufacturers, developers, and dealers may feel the pinch, and reduce marketing, or leave the Amiga altogether. This further reduces revenue for magazines, and with fewer advertisers or magazines in general, users may be more likely to abandon the platform. It's all fairly commonplace economics, and one nasty vicious cycle.
So if the Amiga is successful, the Amiga print magazine might be able to make a big comeback. If it's done right, we can have new users and developers entering the scene all the time, eager to spend money on products or advertising. So then we would have a very productive cycle.
In any event, the Internet is here to stay, and online information resources are probably well-entrenched by now. So this relatively cheap, easily-navigable medium will probably be the home of many Amiga publications and news sites for as long as there are people around to read them. And, dare I say it, should the Amiga begin the ultimate and final downward spiral, they will probably outlast the print media by far.
So let's see what happens in the years to come. If nothing else, we can take all of this as a positive sign of life. And if nothing more, we at least have a wide and varied selection of viewpoints and sources from which to choose, and to assimilate. I'd like to have AmigaWorld back, but that won't happen; there certainly are many very good alternatives, however.
No doubt, in many ways and for many reasons, these are interesting times.