End of the line for Code Quarterly

A bit over a year and a half ago I announced that I was starting a magazine for programmers, Code Quarterly. Today I’m pulling the plug.

So what went wrong? There were three parts to the theory that led me to start Code Quarterly:

  1. There’s a market for high-quality, in-depth articles for programmers.
  2. By working with other writers and providing extensive editorial support, I could produce more high-quality content than I’d be able to write on my own.
  3. New ways of publishing (Kindle, iPad, print-on-demand, etc.) have opened up opportunities to publish (and sell) different kinds and different lengths of writing than had been feasible in the past.

As far as I can tell, I was right about point number one. Over two thousand people filled out the form on our web site to express interest in subscribing to Code Quarterly and the comment and emails I’ve received have been very enthusiastic and encourging.

Point number two, however, turned out to be the sticky wicket. I couldn’t find enough people to write the kind of stuff I wanted to publish, even with me doing a lot of editing. There was interest: almost four hundred people indicated that they might like to write for the Quarterly. But I wasn’t able to turn that interest into actual pieces: from that pool of four hundred I got thirteen writers to the point where I actually sent them a contract. Eight of those finished a first draft, three persevered to a second draft, and only one got all the way to a published article.

For a while I thought, “Okay, I’ll just do most of the writing myself.” Unfortunately there turned out to be two problems with that theory: one is that I couldn’t write enough, quickly enough to make the Quarterly a viable publication. The other, even more serious problem, was that I found myself losing interest in writing on the topics Code Quarterly was supposed to be covering. I have, for some time, described myself as a writer turned programmer and a programmer turned writer. These days I’m feeling more and more like just a writer and one who wants to write about things other than just programming and computer science.

As a result, I never got Code Quarterly to the point where I could find out whether the third part of my theory was right. I’d like to think it was: two out of three wouldn’t be bad, even if not good enough for success.

I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to pull this off. It’s certainly possible that there’s something I could have done differently over the past year and a half that would have led to a more successful outcome but to continue now would be to fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy—the time and money I’ve spent are gone and spending more when my heart is no longer in it is just a recipe for ending up with less of both with no more to show for it.

My thanks to everybody who encouraged me along the way and my apologies to those who are still waiting, hoping to see something come of it. I especially want to thank Adam Solove, who did some beautiful design work, both print and web, which now, sadly, will never see the light of day and Michael Fogus, my one writer to complete an article, his interview with Rich Hickey.

Up next, I try to figure out a new career as a writer and editor. I hope to write more books but I’ve discovered, working on Code Quarterly, that I also enjoy editing other people’s writing. So if you know anyone who’s looking for a freelance or part-time development editor send them my way.

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30 Responses to “End of the line for Code Quarterly”

  1. Greg Pfeil (@sellout) Says:

    Sorry to hear it. I know I was one of those in the “showed interest, but never contributed” group. CQ showed promise, and it’s unfortunate when someone with good follow-through (like yourself) discovers that not everyone else is up to the challenge – even with your continued efforts in supporting and encouraging them.

  2. Don't know Says:

    4. People did not know about this effort
    5. New products need to convince by providing some free examples of the value they are providing.

    I’ve written published technical articles for a number of magazines and never heard of your effort.

    • Peter Seibel Says:

      Just out of curiosity, how did you hear about this blog post? (I’d be surprised if it has already been mentioned anywhere that the original CQ announcement wasn’t.)

      • anonymous Says:

        I read about it on HN.

        • Peter Seibel Says:

          It got pretty good play on HN, both when I announced it and when I put up the first articles a few months ago. But maybe more PR effort would have paid off–who knows.

      • Don't know Says:

        HN… but I don’t read it every day obsessively so I may well have missed the original announcement.

      • Marc Kuo Says:

        I was so excited when I just ‘discovered’ Code Quarterly, through gigamonkeys.com. The excitement was short-lived — I’m sorry it didn’t work out despite all the efforts.

        I am an aspiring computer nerd, and despite spending the last year and half almost full-time reading on coding on all sorts of sites (including HN) and learning Lisp (including your book) and searching for a magazine for coders, I did not encounter Code Quarterly, strangely.

        I suppose PR on the web is quite tricky. A well-written intellectual essay will never get as much attention as a hysterical baby.

    • thinkdevcode Says:

      I also agree with #4… I would’ve attempted to write at least an article in my domain of expertise, but I did not know about this. To Peter: I found this blog post on HackerNews.

  3. Adam Solove (@asolove) Says:

    Best of luck to you, Peter. This was a really fun project. Maybe after a few years of you working as a development editor the world will have enough good tech writers to try again.

  4. Amir Hooshangi (@amirhoshangi) Says:

    :(

  5. Code Quaterly, a publication which aimed to provide high-quality, in-depth articles… Says:

    [...] End of the line for Code Quarterly A bit over a year and a half ago I announced that I was starting a magazine for programmers, Code Quarterly. Today I’m pulling the plug. [...]

  6. Anonymous Says:

    It might’ve helped if you talked about these problems earlier. Based on the information you released, I assumed everything is going as it should, and I might be able to participate later. So this message is a bit surprising.

  7. thewonggei Says:

    I am the editor for a couple of magazines that are teetering along and I feel for you. It’s a ton of work just to attract authors and twice as much work to extract good articles out of them. You’re correct about your first point, no doubt. The second point is right, but only if you’re willing to pay (as in cold, hard cash). The truth of the third point is still much less clear to me. In theory it’s true, but I’m seeing that tech magazines haven’t done much more than transition from paper to PDF. The EPUB and MOBI formats are very restrictive in terms of graphical layout and can severely limit the ways available to express authors’ ideas.

  8. Daniel Tiggemann Says:

    What a pity. I’ve really hoped Code Quarterly would take off.

    Maybe what made CQ so attractive to potential readers – profound articles with thorough editing – discouraged potential writers. I played with the idea of writing for CQ, but I couldn’t imagine to pull it off with a day-job and some hobbies. On the other hand, maybe I’m just too easily distracted.

    Anyway, I wish you good luck with your next endeavours.

  9. rodguze Says:

    I want the Code Quarterly to exist. I’ve even toyed with the idea of starting it myself.

    My thesis around this would be that there is enough good content being generated already. In fact, there probably is too much. The value that a publication of this sort would add is not the content, but the editing/filtering. The Hacker Monthly does this very well for Hacker News. http://hackermonthly.com/

    Have you considered this approach for CQ?

    • Anonymous Says:

      Somehow I doubt this is going to work well. There is a list of things on the CQ website, that Peter expected people to write about. If you look at it, you’ll see that people don’t write about such subjects very often. And when they do, usually they are under no obligation to produce complete or comprehensible material. So I think that an editor and some guidance is actually necessary create high quality content.

  10. Franklin Chen (@franklinchen) Says:

    Writing really long pieces is quite demanding, both for the writer and the reader. For example, the Rich Hickey interview was fascinating, but I actually had to repeatedly put off reading it when it first came out, because it was so long. Most of us find ourselves pressed for time in our lives.

    Also, publicity was indeed extremely poor for this effort. I only found out by sheer accident and then subscribed to this blog, followed the Twitter account, and then there were hardly any updates to even remind me of the existence of the effort.

    The Code Quarterly Challenge was one of the ways I heard about CQ, and initially I was planning to submit an entry, and ended up not doing so, but then I never even heard again about what happened with it. Was it ever judged and reported on?

    • Anonymous Says:

      I think longer pieces wouldn’t be much of a problem if released quarterly. Surely, in three months you can find some time to read what interests you?

  11. Thomas Alvarez (@thomasalvarez) Says:

    Are you thinking about providing the past content in some way now? I never heard about this until it was too late.

    Just read about it on HN. Obviously a lot more people are hearing about it now since there’s more than zero comments on this blog post compared to your posts announcing it in 2010.

    • Peter Seibel Says:

      Well, the content that went up (the Hickey interview and my own interview with Hal Abelson) is still up. I’ll probably be putting up a few more things that were in progress when I pulled the plug. But that’s about it.

  12. Perry Says:

    What about this doesn’t fall into the “I’ve got a great idea, but I want others to do most of the work” category? Exactly.

    • Peter Seibel Says:

      Uh, the amount of work I put into it? This was my sole occupation (other than taking care of my kids) from when I started to when I pulled the plug. It’s certainly possible that I could have directed my efforts more efficiently and got a better result but I was working at it the whole way. In particular I spent many, many hours editing the pieces I did get–in some cases possibly more than the writer had spent on their drafts. But thanks for your concern.

    • Lee Says:

      To improve your category theory, add “and getting compensated”. So this might work, “I’ve got a great idea, but I want others to do most of the work and get compensated”.

      Either you are business stupid or you think Peter is. Not knowing who you are and base on one business statement you made, you’re business dumb, exactly.

  13. Levi Says:

    Hi Peter! I purchased Practical Common Lisp shortly after it was published, and just recently I purchased the Kindle version of Coders at Work and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it. I’m sorry to hear that Code Quarterly didn’t work out, but I’ll definitely consider purchasing any of your future publications, whether they are on the topic of Computer Science or not. Good luck!

  14. Barbara Benham (@StickyClicky) Says:

    Hi there,
    I just bought Coders at Work and, after sending along a complimentary tweet, found your website which led me to this post. It’s understandable that you were not able to get a quality quarterly up and running on your own. I realize you are starting a new job on Tuesday but if you are ever interested in reviving CQ, consider putting together a virtual editorial team and experimenting with the power of numbers. I do think there’s a market for it. It’s a confusing world to non-technical folks like me. Coders at Work is going to help me, pardon the pun, crack the code.

  15. rbpasker Says:

    Maybe the best way to recruit writers is to go to where the smart writers are, ie blog posts. So rather than getting 400 “interested people to write on things interesting & deep, develop an targeted editorial calendar 4 quarters out. Then identify bloggers who have written on each topic in the calendar and send each one a note asking them to expand on their blog post. That way you are at talking to people who (1) have a history of actually writing (we know how hard that is) and (2) are already known to be interested on the specific topic.

  16. rbpasker Says:

    i proofread my comment with a red marker, but somehow it only made my screen dirty

  17. Geoff Knauth Says:

    Wow, only 1+ years after the closing of Code Quarterly do I learn of its existence. I admire you for trying. I stumbled in here reading your interview of Hal Abelson. I learned all kinds of things I didn’t know before. Thanks!

  18. Fred Sanders Says:

    should have just hired ghost writers.

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