Byte bites back, as a zine

Buried tech magazine shows its teeth -- gets a second life online.

Goodbye, dead trees.

Following in the footsteps of computer store chain Egghead, venerable technology publication Byte Magazine this week completes its transition to the virtual world with Byte.com.

Like Egghead.com Inc. (Nasdaq:EGGS), which closed all its real-world stores in favor of pure e-commerce, Byte found it didn't have the funds to maintain a monthly magazine format, and closed its doors shortly after acquisition by CMP Media Inc. (Nasdaq:CMPX) last year.

The new site, with weekly content updates, will try to lure in the magazine's old readership by bringing back regular columnists and maintaining a platform-neutral viewpoint.

"We discovered a couple of things: One, that [Byte] was still an enormously popular, powerful brand," said Paul Schindler, the publication's new executive editor. Schindler said Byte.com, while it existed only as an archive of old content, received an average of 600,000 page views a month, and "that encouraged us to invest in activating the site.

"With the inherent lower cost structure of a Web magazine, if advertisers and readers remain as interested as they've been, it becomes a vital product," Schindler said.

24-year history
Byte.com quietly began posting content last week, and has its official relaunch Thursday.

Byte began publication in 1975, an era whose hot PC products were the Altair 8800 (with one kilobyte of memory and no software) and, a couple of years later, the Apple II.

The magazine tried to appeal to users of all operating systems, and strove for articles that were deep enough to interest IT professionals but also clear enough for the interested amateur.

Over more than 20 years the magazine built up an unusually devoted readership. But by the late 90s advertisers wanted just the opposite of Byte's approach: Narrow, defined demographics, which make easier advertising targets.

"We never became just another Windows mag," said editor Schindler. He said he believes the lower economic pressures of the online medium will allow him greater freedom to maintain the magazine's editorial voice.

Chaos Manor returning
Readers will be getting back some of the features they have asked for in e-mails and letters, beginning with columnist and science-fiction writer Jerry Pournelle. Pournelle will reprise his monthly column "Chaos Manor," which ran for 20 years in Byte's print edition.

"Byte is back and I like what I have seen so far," Pournelle said in a statement. "I think that we will be able to recreate the old magazine again and fill a void that has been sorely missing."

Columnist Martin Heller will also return and Jon Udell, former Byte executive editor for new media, is also expected to join soon.

But for now, Schindler and a producer will remain the only full-time staff, with the columnists retained on contract and weekly features supplied by a pool of freelancers. Schindler said he hopes to draw half of the new articles from former Byte writers.

Schindler himself is a 20-year CMP veteran whose previous post was as a producer of TechWeb, CMP's online news service.