5. October 2013

Yesterday I found out that the German publisher Markt & Technik, known for its wide range of computer literature, is being shut down by its parent company Pearson this year. I have to admit that it has been a long time since I bought one of their books, but it is still sad to see such a big name suddenly vanish. Markt & Technik had been one of the major influences in my early computer history in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when their books and magazines were simply the best on the market.

[Note: a German translation of this article is also available.]

Everyone who ever owned a Commodore 64 in Germany bought either the 64’er or Happy Computer (or both), two monthly magazines from Markt & Technik. They focused not only on games, but more heavily on hardware and software, even publishing several program listings each month sent in by their readers which you had to type in yourself. The range of topics reached from current news in the industry, extensive software and hardware tests, programming examples and listings and much more. Both the 64’er and Happy Computer (which actually preceded its counterpart and also included other 8-bit-computers) also spawned the so-called Sonderhefte – thick special editions about a single topic and more listings, later almost always including a floppy disc so you didn’t have to type in the programs. These magazines were basically the internet of its day as a huge source of information – even mailboxes were not very common back then and electronic program transfer was extremely laborious and expensive.

Markt & Technik was also very proficient in computer book publishing and invented a whole new concept called Bookware. For a relatively low price of 40-60 Mark you got a thick book of several hundred pages including a floppy disk with the corresponding software on it – either a collection of tips and tricks, courses about programming or applications like the word processor MasterText, the database MasterBase, graphics programs like GigaPaint and GigaCAD and much more. There were also a couple of game collections and a lot more – the books were all very well written and taught the reader much more than just the basic usage of their computer. In these days, you really knew your machine even if you didn’t break out the soldering iron all the time. Markt & Technik also published a lot of books about the Commodore Amiga and other computers, but the really interesting stuff revolved around the C64 and 128 in the late 1980s.

Markt & Technik was also the publisher responsible for bringing GEOS, the Graphic Environment Operating System to Germany. That’s right, a complete graphical user interface on a Commodore 64 – for 90 Mark you got the operating system with the DeskTop program manager, the GeoWrite WYSIWYG word processor including a spellchecker and a mailmerge module and the graphics program GeoPaint plus some utilities like a notepad, clock and calculator. Seperately sold were also the spreadsheet GeoCalc, the database GeoFile and even GeoPublish, a graphics and text layout program. The possibilities were endless, and most importantly, I learned to use a mouse in conjunction with a GUI – amazingly, this was in November 1989! When Windows was still in its infancy, the Commodore 64 had a fully functioning graphical user interface, running quite well on 64kb RAM and 170kb floppy discs.

After the C64 era, only few more Markt & Technik books found the way onto my bookshelves. One of them was a huge tome about Turbo Pascal, which helped me enormeously to make the switch from Basic to Pascal programming, others were a couple of Amiga books and the famous series of references for PC software, which were enormeously helpful in the beginning. Unfortunately the last two books I bought in the early 2000s about C++ and Delphi programming were a disjointed, unusuable mess. They were from a series called Jetzt Lerne Ich… (Now I’m Learning…) which wanted to be a competition to the popular For Dummies books, but completely failed because they started with the basics, but then suddenly switched to hardcore programming, which was not particularly helpful for beginners.

Browsing from time to time through their book catalogue, I had the feeling that in the last years Markt & Technik was mostly cranking out a lot of books for beginners about just every operating system, software and device – there are no less than six different books about Windows 8 and a couple more about Windows 7 in their program at the moment. This artificial diversity may have been their downfall, it seemed to be all about selling books just about for everything from Windows to iPhones and digital cameras. I would not be surprised if I found a book about maintaining a coffee machine in there.

Since the company had been acquired by the Pearson Group in 1999, the original Markt & Technik had long since ceased to exist. The magazine business had already been spun off earlier in the mid-1990s and what remains today to be closed by Pearson at the end of 2013 is just a shadow of what once was one of the best computer book publishers in Germany. And it’s not only Markt & Technik that is going to be eradicated – the German branch of Addison-Wesley is also going to be closed by Pearson, leaving a huge gap in the computer literature section. But I’m sure other publishers will jump in quickly – Data Becker is still around, the German branch of O’Reilly is also very busy and with Galileo Press, the next generation of publishers is already coming.

[Update 9.10.: Today there was an announcement that Data Becker is also going to close in Spring 2014.]

In the end it’s still sad to see a name like Markt & Technik simply vanish like Commodore did, but I guess that’s just free market economy.

Kategorie: Books, Computer
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