Update: I received a number of responses to this piece. I have answered some of them below.
I have been a writer for PCQuest for almost a decade, starting with my first article/column in the January 1993 issue. While I ended my column (“COMversations”) in December 1996, I have continued my association with PCQuest over the years, contributing articles, and becoming a Consulting Editor for the publication along the way.
Recently, I was asked why I didn’t restart my column (a question I have been asked for years, by the way). Here are some reasons why I wouldn’t consider that currently:
PCQuest is a print magazine with virtually no online presence. What presence they do have is so completely out of sync with what people would expect from a magazine like PCQuest that it is not funny. Here, see for yourselves
While it can be argued that there is no money in publishing the online world, it does not mean that you don’t make an effort to publish at all! And PCQuest’s current web site definitely falls under the heading “not interested, we don’t care”.
The online version is really PCQuest’s showcase to the world outside India. And what a visitor sees is a badly done site.
What’s wrong with it is is simple – whoever designed that site is more interested in selling advertising than getting content online. Articles appear randomly, the archives are pathetic and past articles just disappear down the bit bucket. The design of the site is highly IE specific, HTML errors and bad site maintenance ensure that even ads don’t appear at times, the search is worse than useless, and so on. I could go on forever.
The other problem I have is that the PCQuest of today is so different from the magazine that we were involved with almost a decade ago. In those days, the magazine was a labour of love by many people, including Kishore Bhargava, Ashish Gulhati, Rishab Iyer Ghosh, Nikhil Datta, Anil Chopra, Vinod Unny, editor Prasanto Kumar Roy and so many others. And of course me. Our individual characters and personalities came across strongly, giving the magazine the flavour that made it famous.
Then Cyber Media (the publishers of PCQuest) decided to “make changes” – and (according to me) screwed it up completely. Within a few months, everyone was gone. What was left were a few staff writers and occasional guest writers.
In the past, I have time and again tried to get PCQuest to acknowledge its authors and give them more freedom – the way I was acknowledged and free to write when I used to write for them. Tell me, how many PCQuest authors can you identify by name or face today? The answer is almost certainly – none. This is a total shame. Those guys write their hearts out – and you can’t even associated a face with their name.
Cyber Media appears to have difficulty in understanding that their writers need to develop their visibility and personalities as well – to the benefit of the magazine they write for. Their biggest worry appears to be that the writers will become “bigger than their platform”, increasing their market value to such an extent that they eventually leave for greener pastures.
According to me, and many of the people I mentioned above, this is sheer nonsense.
Affecting other publications
The sad part is – this attitude has been a role model for PCQuest’s competitors as well. CHIP followed it, as did it’s successor DIGIT. Let’s not talk about Computers Today, IT, PC World and others.
No wonder that today’s technology writing in India is as bland as glass of water, and as exciting as a product catalog.
Technology writing isn’t just about technology – it is about humans and individuals and how they interact with technology. By “force-fitting” writers into a standard mold, with no faces to names, not personalities of their own and no “personality cults” (as someone who was trying to be extremely nasty about me once mentioned in a now obscure mailing list), these publications (led by PCQuest) killed the art of technology writing in India.
And I am very hesitant to go back into that bland pool of homogenous, pre-processed, form-fitted, “one mold to bind them all” world of writing.
Heck – do you think I would be allowed to write in any of these publications what I just wrote above (even if it isn’t quite technology)?
Responses to my PCQuest CritiqueWhile most people seem to agree with my assessment, here are a couple of negative reactions:
“You are completely out of synch with the publishing industry”
Quite true. I am not a publisher. I have always looked at things from a reader’s perspective, and from that perspective, there isn’t a single publication in the Indian market today that offers any reason for reader loyalty or interest.
“How can you write this?”
Actually, very easily. See? You press a key, and the alphabet appears on the screen….
“Why do you hate PCQuest so much?”
Why do I what??? My friend – read it again. I have always thought of PCQuest as my “home publication”, and I always will. I care about PCQuest, and I only wish it well. The people working there are some of my closest friends, and if PCQuest does not live up to my standards as a publication, it saddens me.
“Why don’t you do something about it?”
If you mean “why don’t you write for PCQuest?” I believe I answered that query in the essay itself. If you mean “why do you complain and not do something about it”, then I can only say that I have honestly done everything I can. Even the essay’s critique was meant to help.
“Who are you to criticise PCQuest?”
A reader, a well-wisher, an observer, a writer and a friend. And oh, before I forget – the Consulting Editor of PCQuest (at least up to the March issue).
“Why bite the hand that feeds you?”
I am not. The position I hold with PCQuest (Consulting Editor) is an unpaid, non-employment position – it is honorary in nature. PCQuest does not employ or pay me. It also gives me no position of authority or ability to change. As my title says – I can offer advice, but I cannot implement it.
“Why do you ask for more recognition?”
(Sigh) I am not. I have never had any complaints in that department – PCQuest has always been good to me when it comes to recognition. They allowed an unknown young guy to come into their magazine in January 1993, and let him write about things no one else was writing about. They gave him name and fame, and I am grateful for that.
However, they have not done the same to many of the other writers who support PCQuest. As I said – can you put a face to names you see in the bylines? Some of these people have been writing for PCQuest for almost as long as I had, yet you will never see a photograph of them, or any kind of recognition.
Note that while I am specifically pointing at PCQuest here, other publications are no better.
(To be continued…)