A decade ago, technology magazines were filled with coverage of the latest consumer software, most which functioned without access to the Internet.
But with Web-connectivity now ubiquitous, consumer-software companies have shifted their focus online. They also have to deal with a consumer software press increasingly looking to the Web - as well as interconnectivity among digital cameras and other gadgets - for story ideas.
One of the first questions tech titles ask about new software is why a home or work user must install the program on his or her computer, says Harry McCracken, editor-in-chief of PC World.
"Our readers are still excited by good software," he says. "But one question we now ask is why is something a piece of software rather than a Web-based service."
Now that most Americans either own or use computers at work or elsewhere, the "gee whiz" aspect of the latest software is gone. As such, editors devote more stories to whether it runs smoothly on a home computer or laptop.
Yet the omnipresence of computers in homes, offices, and schools doesn't necessarily mean users understand the technologies involved. Some tech titles devote many pages to explaining how software works and what to do when a problem arises, says Ron Kobler, editor-in-chief of Sandhills Publishing, whose offerings include Smart Computing and Computer Power User (CPU).
"With everything connected to everything else, there are a lot more problems," he says. "A lot of our focus is on providing tips and tutorials on how to get past problems [users] run into with both hardware and software."
Kobler adds that his staff prefers to generate its own trend-and-tips story ideas in-house. He stresses, however, that even within his stable of publications, there are different standards for coverage and software reviews that must be considered. For instance, some titles are not the proper platform for widely unavailable technologies.
"For Smart Computing, we don't really talk about betas (test versions of software often sent out for reviews or trial before finished products are released)," he says. "But [at CPU], we have a whole section covering betas."'
Software companies and computer manufacturers have adapted to the changing face of tech publications by broadening their outreach. They now seek out titles that wouldn't have covered innovative software during the dot-com boom, says Dan Harnett, co- CEO of The Highwater Group.
"I do think that there is opportunity for consumer software [in technology magazines]," he explains, "but a lot of that opportunity is now found in publications not usually associated with software reviews, such as parenting or women's magazines."
This is no longer strictly an early adopter audience, so eliminate the complex terminology from consumer-software pitches and stress ease of use
Consumer-software stories are increasingly being found online, so look to outlets like Yahoo, CNET, and the blogosphere
There are plenty of freelancers covering consumer software and they're looking for stories to pitch, so leverage that community to get placement in multiple outlets