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Farewell, Dr. Dobb's

This year, our website will deliver more than 10.5 million page views, which is an unprecedented number for Dr. Dobb's. It's up from 9 million last year and 8 million three years ago. That kind of growth is somewhat unusual for a site that has not changed its look or its mission, nor indulged in tawdry tricks like click-bait headlines or slideshows promising 9 quick tips for choosing a coding style. The numbers confirm that there is a deep thirst in the programmer community for long-form technical content featuring algorithms and code, as well as strong demand for explanations of new developer technologies and reliable reviews of books and tools.

If I were so inclined, this might be the right time for me to move on, and so leave, as they say in sports, "at the top of my game." And indeed I will be leaving Dr. Dobb's at the end of the year. But it would be more accurate to say that it is Dr. Dobb's that is leaving: Our parent company, United Business Media (UBM), has decided to sunset Dr. Dobb's. "Sunset" sounds like a marketing euphemism to avoid saying "closing down," but in this context, it has a specific meaning that "closing" does not convey. That is, that there will be no new content after year end; however, all current content will be accessible and links to existing Dr. Dobb's articles will continue to work correctly. It is the equivalent of a product coming to end of life. It still runs, but no new features will be added.

Over the years, my editorials have frequently analyzed market forces operating on different segments of the developer universe, so it would be wrong for me not to do the same for an event as personal and close to home as this.


Why would a well-known site, dearly loved by its readers and coming off a year of record page views, be sunset by its owner?

In one word, revenue. Four years ago, when I came to Dr. Dobb's, we had healthy profits and revenue, almost all of it from advertising. Despite our excellent growth on the editorial side, our revenue declined such that today it's barely 30% of what it was when I started. While some of this drop is undoubtedly due to turnover in our sales staff, even if the staff had been stable and executed perfectly, revenue would be much the same and future prospects would surely point to upcoming losses. This is because in the last 18 months, there has been a marked shift in how vendors value website advertising. They've come to realize that website ads tend to be less effective than they once were. Given that I've never bought a single item by clicking on an ad on a website, this conclusion seems correct in the small.

So vendors have redeployed their advertising dollars into more fruitful options. This is not a Dr. Dobb's-only phenomenon. Our direct competitors, BZ Media (parent of SD Times) and c4Media (InfoQ), are experiencing the same pressures. They have responded by putting on small conferences, which generate much of their revenue. Dr. Dobb's could do the same, but for the fact that our parent company is geared to large tradeshows, rather that many small events. (It owns Black Hat and Interop, among many other events.) Unfortunately, the software market today is so highly segmented that aside from vendor-sponsored events (JavaOne, Google IO, etc.), most successful programmer conferences are small, often very small. UBM argues (correctly, I believe): Why should we tie up resources starting a series of niche events that are unlikely to grow much, when we could put all that time, effort, and management attention into the bigger tradeshows and move the revenue up more quickly? The logic is unassailable.

So rather than continue with Dr. Dobb's until it actually loses money, they've decided to sunset the site — a sudden end to remarkably robust and wondrous journey that began 38 years ago.


No amount of analysis and explanation can mask the deep, personal sadness I feel at writing about this decision. Like many of you, I grew up reading Dr. Dobb's. For me, as I suspect it was for many of you, Dr. Dobb's Journal was the lifeline to a thorough understanding of programming. I recall that when the magazine appeared in my mailbox, all other activity for the day came to a sudden stop and the remaining hours were spent blissfully poring over article after article, soaking in the information. I learned C from Allen Holub's C Chest column, operating systems from the 18-part series on 386BSD, video programming from Michael Abrash's Black Book, and data compression from Mark Nelson. And so on — each month brought new, enabling insights and explanations of often arcane topics.

Having this deep, passionate connection, I felt lifted in ways not often encountered in one's career when I was approached about succeeding Jonathan Erickson, the editor who steered the magazine through its glory days in print. The honor of this position has fueled me every day, renewed by conversations in person with developers whose eyes would light up when I'd mention I worked on Dr. Dobb's.

Putting aside my feelings, I should note that recent events fulfill the original vision of Dr. Dobb's. The founders, Bob Albrecht and Dennis Allison, first put together a newsletter in 1976 with the specific aim of making programming information more accessible. It was an experiment in sharing.

Dr. Dobb's subsequent popularity meant that it became a worldwide means of sharing curated, high-quality programming info. The advent of the Web, which offered a vast array of new information sources, meant that Dr. Dobb's was no longer the central access point — a complicated transition for the team, but one wholly in keeping with the original mission. With the advent of Hacker News and Proggit and other aggregators, developers themselves began curating content from numerous sources, and in a certain way, our mission is now complete.

This should not suggest that there is no role anymore for Dr. Dobb's. As our page views show, the need for an independent site with in-depth articles, code, algorithms, and reliable product reviews is still very much present. And I will dearly miss that content. I wish I could point you to another site that does similar work, but alas, I know of none.

To the previous editors, especially Jon Erickson and Mike Swaine, to the many contributors, columnists, and bloggers (especially Al Stevens, Al Williams, Allen Holub, Andrew Koenig, Eric Bruno, Gastón Hillar, Herb Sutter, Mark Nelson, Pablo Santos, Scott Ambler, and Walter Bright), and to all of you, our dear readers, who sent us comments in the true spirit of sharing rather than admonishment, who helped us up if we slipped, and who gloried in our triumphs, allow me to quote Octavio Paz: Let me say "two words that all men have uttered since the dawn of humanity: thank you."

Paz goes on to say, "The word gratitude has equivalents in every language and in each tongue the range of meanings is abundant." Perhaps, none more abundant than in the sense I mean it today, as I thank you for so many blessings and contributions to Dr. Dobb's.

— Andrew Binstock
Editor in Chief
[email protected]
Twitter: platypusguy

P.S. Our managing editor, Deirdre Blake ([email protected]), who has toiled for two decades at Dr. Dobb's, will be looking for similar work after a short break. I will be returning to my former work of writing white papers and doing market analysis for technology vendors. If you want to stay in touch, please follow me on Twitter at @platypusguy or feel free to email me at my personal address, which is my first name at pacificdataworks.com.

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