PCC had been troubled from the start, about 10 years ago. It began as a technology magazine that was more about computing than computers — a difficult distinction that company execs and advertisers didn’t get. That iteration lasted not very long at all.
Lesson learned, PCC re-invented itself pretty much every year to 18 months, becoming the magazine for the latest buzzword. This required the circulation — which eventually reached 1 million — to constantly churn, since readers who cared about laptops may well not care about multimedia. As a place to catch excess ad dollars floating around the market, however, it worked brilliantly. Big circ, constantly changing market looking for visibility, perfect. Replacing the circulation was expensive, though, and the title never made much of a profit.
Editorially, it was quite good. Bright layouts, strong voice, the least geeky by far of all the major titles. But one was never entirely quite sure what the magazine was about.
Things reached a nadir about two years ago. Ziff Davis, which was then owned by Softbank, agreed to sell to the investment bank Willis Stein. Between the agreement and the actual sale, and apparently without consultation with the new owners, some genius decided to change the name and focus of the magazine. PC Computing became Smart Business, which was a problem because there already was a Smart Business magazine.
Instead, PCC became “Smart Business for a New Economy,” and then “Ziff Davis’s Smart Business.” As the title might suggest, if you read that far, it was a New Economy magazine. Except it wasn’t. Not really. It was sort of a cross between PC Magazine and Business 2.0, and may have turned out to be to techie for business types and too soft for techies.
But the real problem with the mag wasn’t editorial. It was the lack of a core identity. There was, finally, no There there. Screw with a product enough and people will eventually turn away.