The end of hobbyist electronics magazines?

Posted on March 2nd, 2015 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

For  more than 20 years I have contributed to various hobbyist electronics magazines – including as a columnist, feature article writer and co-designer of electronic projects.

Hobbyist electronics magazines are interesting publications. Over a long period, they have evolved a business model that is based around specialist advertisers. These advertisers, often those selling electronic project kits and parts, form a major component of the income that keeps the magazine alive.

How it works is this. The staff at the magazine design a DIY project (say an audio amplifier); the businesses that advertise in the magazine source and stock the amplifier kit – and the magazine readers buy the kit from the advertisers. And while they’re in the shop, no doubt pick up a lot of other bits as well.

This is superficially all well and good – an interesting magazine is produced, the readers get access to better quality DIY electronics than they otherwise would, and the retailer prospers.

I say ‘superficially’ because there are deficiencies in having such a close relationship between advertisers and editorial content. Indeed one such deficiency has started appearing – and it’s something so major that I think it potentially spells the end of this type of print magazine.

What happens to that business model when, through eBay, you can save perhaps 80 per cent of the cost of buying hobby electronics kits and parts? To bypass the local retailer and very cheaply buy a pre-built or kit amplifier module, or remote control module, or even just parts like plugs and sockets and integrated circuits… just by going to eBay and importing them direct from China?

The cost of pursuing electronics as a hobby has just fallen through the floor – but how can hobbyist electronics magazines trumpet that? If they did, they’d lose most of their advertisers – and Chinese eBay sellers aren’t going to be stumping up the same amount of cash to take their place.  

Rather like has occurred with traditional bricks and mortar department stores, the speed of change in Web-based retail has caught-out these magazines.

From someone who likes electronics hobbyist magazines, are there solutions?


Moving to a purely web-based medium will reduce publishing costs – but of course, readers will need to be prepared to pay real money to access the content. (And despite all the talk, you can still expect to lose a lot of your readers if you move from print to being pay-walled web-based – consider, a loss of paying readers AND a loss of advertising income…)

Or what about just embracing the change in manufacturing and retailing? How could this work? The magazine staff design kits and modules; these are then featured in the magazine; manufacturing of them has been tee’d up in China; and they are then sold directly from that source to readers. This would give the best outcome for readers – who would have world-class electronics design along with low costs. The magazines would lose the advertising income from retailers – but they’d get more readers.

But taking this approach would represent a very major philosophical change for those who own and run electronics hobby magazines – I doubt it will happen.

In the meantime, these magazines will keep publishing as if nothing has changed, designing and featuring kits that few will  buy, pretending that electronics as a hobby is how it all was 10 or 15 years ago.

Well, to put it more precisely, they’ll keep doing this until they run out of money…

3 Responses to 'The end of hobbyist electronics magazines?'

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  1. Ben Powell said,

    on March 4th, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    It’s a shame, some of the stuff in magazines has been amazing. I’m sure you’re aware of the programmable ignition kit sold by jaycar? Things like that (that don’t have a mass market like more universal voltage/temperature/pwm switches and controllers) are probably going to disappear.

  2. Julian Edgar said,

    on March 5th, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    Yes another John Clarke design – a brilliant man, modest and wonderful to work with.

  3. Julian Edgar said,

    on July 21st, 2015 at 6:17 am

    Perhaps I wrote too soon – Everyday Practical Electronics in the UK are going to run a column on buying and using eBay electronic modules.