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Linux, Perl get play in growing magazine market

The Internet spawns a plethora of specialty sites dedicated to hot topics such as Linux and Perl, but surprisingly, the printed word doesn't fade as a result.

The Internet has spawned a plethora of specialty sites dedicated to hot topics such as Linux and Perl, but the new forums haven't displaced the old: Magazines named for popular software, operating systems and program languages are springing up in bookstores everywhere.

Graduate students, programmers and other professionals turn to these obscure publications for practical how-to news, such as the "Stupid Programming Tricks" column in the latest edition of Linux Journal.

"I think people are looking for things that speak more narrowly to who they are," said Jeff Hadfield, publisher of Visual C++ Developers Journal. "Readers want information more tailored to them."

Seattle-based Linux Journal, for instance, has seen its subscription base triple, said editor in chief Marjorie Richardson.

"The popularity of Linux has gone over the top," she said. "Everybody has started jumping on the bandwagon, and now people are looking for a place to read about Linux."

At Cody's Books in Berkeley, Calif., customers skip over the other glossies that cater to a broader audience and snatch up the computer mags. For a while, the store couldn't keep enough in stock.

"Anything with Unix on it, sells," owner Andy Ross said.

While readership has been strong, the real engine behind the boom in tech trade publications has been advertising. Established players as well as start-ups flush with unprecedented venture capital investments are earmarking big chunks of their budgets to marketing. While large, mainstream publications--including newspapers--have benefited from the trend, there has been plenty of trickle-down.

The open-source Linux operating system and Web programming tools such as Perl and Java have spawned an entire cottage industry of trade publications, with such distinguishing names as The Perl Journal, Java Developer's Journal and Linux Journal, among others.

The magazines are a natural attraction for the makers of the systems whose names are emblazoned on the front pages.

Microsoft, maker of Visual C++, makes up about five percent of the advertising in Hadfield's magazine, he said.

"Obviously, they want to support it," Hadfield said.

Computer trade magazines are not the only publications reaping benefits from the tech boom.

Business 2.0, a popular Net magazine, recently beefed up its publication schedule because of reader demand. Instead of appearing once a month, the magazine now comes out twice in a month.

Even newspapers, often considered to be on their last legs because of competition from online new services, are also experiencing a surge in advertising revenue as an influx of Internet businesses look for exposure.

"People still have an emotional attachment to paper," Hadfield said. "They like the portability of a magazine they can crack open anytime. But it has to speak to them."

Perhaps that is why the trade magazines are faring well--at least, as long as the program languages and operating systems remain popular.

"We cater to what you would call the geek market," Linux Journal's Richardson said.