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Choosing between the various personal computer magazines available is no easy task. As Susan Montgomery points out, as yet there are no titles aimed specifically at IT in marketing

There is a plethora of computer magazines to choose from in the UK: bookstand PC magazines, heavy-duty subscription-based titles and highly specialist niche products for the informed reader. Whether you’re a six-year-old boffin who wants to keep up with the latest in computer games releases, a self-employed business person needing to equip a home office or an IT manager trying to secure the best all-round deal for your billion-pound enterprise, the IT press has something for you.

But what about marketing managers? This technology report is ideal for marketing people considering investing – or building a case for investing – in technology for their department. It has the specific remit of looking at IT developments that directly affect sales and marketing, and as such could not be more focused, from your point of view. But where do you go for further reading?

You could probably narrow the field down slightly by homing in on the PC magazines, as this is where you will usually find details of the latest portable computer products, reviews of presentation systems, contact management software and data analysis tools, plus special offers targeting off-the-page buyers. Titles such as Computer Weekly (published by Reed-Elsevier) or Computing (from VNU) will not have much to interest the marketer, since these are newspapers aimed at IT managers focusing on the business side of the computer industry.

You may be more interested in software applications than the machines they run on, but Sarah du Heaume, former head of media at media planning agency SMI Group points out: “There are few, if any, magazines dedicated to software. Magazines whose titles suggest they might be – Reed’s Windows User springs to mind – inevitably cover hardware as well as software.”

Which is no bad thing. PC Pro, the latest computer title from Dennis Publishing, is a good example. Launched in October 1994, the magazine set out to look at how computers and software are being used in the real world. Its publishers say it targets the knowledgeable, aspiring and professional personal computer users who need to know what is important in the PC market.

Like some of its competitors, PC Pro has a laboratory facility used for hardware and software testing. Based on work done there, it carries some 40 pages of product reviews each month, including comparative tests of PC hardware, essential peripherals, such as modems and the latest applications software, including graphics packages, presentations software, executive information systems and desktop publishing tools.

Telling the various PC magazines apart, however, is a feat not to be under-estimated. There is a good deal of overlap between many of the best-known titles, and the brands do little to dispel the confusion. Perhaps the worst examples of this are EMAP’s What Personal Computer, which sounds remarkably like VNU’s What PC, while Ziff-Davis’s PC Magazine is barely distinguishable in name from VNU’s Personal Computer Magazine. Titles like PC Review and PC Answers, meanwhile, are largely games-oriented, which is not immediately obvious, and EMAP’s PC User title is rather unexpectedly aimed at buyers rather than users, unlike Future Publishing’s PC Plus magazine which, though published by a company specialising mainly in games titles, turns out to be aimed at the hands-on business user.

Ruth Allen, publisher of EMAP’s What Personal Computer, tries to shed some light on the market: “Broadly speaking, PC magazines fall into two groups: enterprise-focused or consumer-focused. The former are mainly distributed through controlled circulation, for example EMAP’s PC User or VNU’s Personal Computer Magazine, which appeal to a highly technical readership – the people in the IT department whose responsibility it is to purchase equipment on behalf of their organisations.

“The consumer-focused titles, on the other hand, are aimed at what we call executive brand specifiers – those who order or buy computer equipment for themselves or their department. They are likely to work in areas such as marketing, finance or personnel. This is a hotly-contested sector, with a number of strong titles selling around 100,000 copies on the newsstand. These include VNU’s Personal Computer World, Ziff-Davis’s PC Magazine and Dennis Publishing’s Computer Shopper and PC Pro. They are advanced in their editorial, with emphasis on product reviews of software and hardware, and quite complex ‘how to…’ information.

“What Personal Computer doesn’t address this readership as such. We target a less served sector of the computer-buying public. We provide business-focused editorial for the less technical or the debutant user, say the marketing manager who uses a PC and standard office software, who is curious about technology and the business benefits it can afford, but whose level of technical competence is low.”

Ziff-Davis’s PC Direct is another player that claims to have carved out its own niche. Marketing executive Julia Garnett explains: “PC Direct is the only magazine in the UK that focuses exclusively, through advertising and editorial, on the off-the-page market. It is aimed squarely at business and professional users and their off-the-page buying needs.

“If a sales and marketing manager wanted to buy laptops from a specialist notebook vendor, that supplier would be listed in PC Direct, along with hundreds of other vendors offering everything from mice to network tools. Buyers’ guides, directories and product reviews are featured each month, and there is also a section dedicated to on-line services.”

This last feature highlights another important theme that is creeping into a lot of computer titles. Almost all publishing houses are jumping on the Internet bandwagon in one way or another – featuring regular reviews of Internet tools, launching new titles exclusively dedicated to the Internet, or, in the case of publishing company APT Data Services, actually publishing their computer magazines on the Internet.

Future Publishing, EMAP and WV Publications are just three publishing houses to have introduced specialist bookstand Internet magazines, and all three claim to cater for the inquisitive marketing executive anxious to find out more about getting on-line. WV’s What Net magazine is published quarterly and is aimed mainly at consumers, as is Future Publishing’s highly-regarded monthly publication .Net. EMAP’s monthly Internet title, meanwhile, which comes from more of a business background, is aimed at marketers as both users and information publishers.

But, for now, publications focusing exclusively on IT in marketing remain one of the last untapped niches in computer magazine publishing. As yet there are no titles aimed specifically at the marketing animal, unless you count VNU’s Informatics Digest, which targets sales and marketing people within IT organisations. However, du Heaume says: “We are seeing an increased coverage of IT issues by other print media. And, in the future, it may be that marketers with access to on-line discussion platforms, like the Internet, turn to those as an interactive forum for discussing their software needs with like-minded individuals.”

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