The Emerging Internet Through Trade and Industry Magazines, 1994-96

In October 1993 I started working at the Kirstein Business Branch of the Boston Public Library, then located in downtown Boston. It was a busy place, filled every day with local business people, from CEOs to young people in their first jobs, as well as entrepreneurs, investors, job seekers, students, and the simply curious, all with business research needs . 

Kirstein and its rich collection of resources were available to anyone who came through the doors of the three story building in the narrow alley where Kirstein had been since 1930. (The library is still around today, renamed the Kirstein Business Library and Innovation Center and located in a renovated space in the basement of the main library in Copley Square.)

The first floor of the Kirstein Business Library in 1930. It looked much the same when I worked there from 1993 to 1995. (Photo credit: Boston Public Library)

One of my responsibilities was maintaining the hundreds of business and trade magazines on the third floor of the library. They ranged from broad, well-known magazines like Business Week, Forbes, Fortune, and Inc., to niche trade magazines and newspapers like Women’s Wear Daily, Travel Weekly, Supermarket News, Broadcasting & Cable, Modern Plastics, and many more.

Before long, I started noticing a growing number of articles about the internet, in the bigger, more general magazines at first, but increasingly in the niche publications as well. In October 1994 I launched a monthly publication, sharing and summarizing such articles.

I called it Tradewinds: A monthly round-up of Internet coverage in trade and industry magazines. It was emailed to subscribers – there was no cost – as a simple text file. The first three issues had just a brief introduction, followed by summaries  of recent articles, organized by industry.

The banner and introduction to the first issue of Tradewinds. The computer I was working on did not have much in the way of graphic capabilities (and neither did I.)
An example from the October 1994 issue of Tradewinds summarizing an article in Travel Weekly

1995 brought changes, for me and for Tradewinds. In January I left Kirstein for a new job at Baker Library at the Harvard Business School. Tradewinds moved with me, published (beginning with the January issue) under the auspices of the library. By February, it was on the Web, though subscribers — I had about 500 –could still receive it via email.

In April, I started including essays, summarizing trends and patterns that emerged from my reading of the trade coverage of the internet. The first one looked at a new way of thinking, in the age of the internet, about the old adage that says the three most important things in real estate (or retail) are “location, location, and location.” In the online world, said a consultant quoted in the fashion industry publication DNR, “the word takes on a whole different meaning.”

Subsequent essays focused on trade press coverage of such topics as new approaches to customer service, revenue streams, trade associations, small business, broadcasting, and the impact of the web on the trade press itself.

The July 1996 issue of Tradewinds was the last one. I had too many other responsibilities, including building and managing the library’s first website. With two young kids at home, I couldn’t devote my spare time to the newsletter, and I let it die.

But the essays still live. They provide a window into what business people almost 30 years ago thought the internet was going to mean for them. It’s fun to see how differently it turned out.

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