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Finnybank merges Acorn Publisher, Acorn User

By Chris Williams. Published: 3rd Dec 2003, 14:52:04 | Permalink | Printable

John Cartmell takes over from Tau Press, talks to drobe.co.uk

John Cartmell finally has what he's always wanted for Christmas - Acorn User magazine. The editor of Acorn Publisher has today acquired the ailing Acorn User from Tau Press and relaunched it under a new name, Qercus. Acorn User and Acorn Publisher will now be managed and published by Finnybank Ltd. and edited by John.

Finnybank have described their proposed changes to Acorn User as "radical" and will be pushing through a change in format to the magazine. The biggest change will be the inter-meshing of Acorn User and Acorn Publisher. The two titles will work together to provide a broad range of content from art and DTP to RISC OS programming and news.

In other words, Acorn Publisher and Acorn User are basically merging under the new Qercus brand name. If you subscribe to Qercus, every other month you'll receive an issue that is essentially Acorn Publisher which will feature graphics and design related articles. These issues are hoped to ideally appeal to people outside of RISC OS. For other months, you'll receive what is essentially Acorn User, which will focus on RISC OS news, tutorials and reviews.

An extra issue is also planned for next December and will include a review of 2004 among other things. Finnybank's John Cartmell is particularly confident that we'll still be using RISC OS in 12 months time and said his acquisition of AU is definitely for the long term. Qercus will also be produced in the same way Acorn Publisher is - on StrongARM RiscPCs with OvationPro and other assorted packages.

This fusion of the two magazines is hoped to give Acorn User a breath of fresh air and the complete overhaul it desperately needed. Punters can optionally subscribe to Qercus and receive only the graphics and design issues. Current subscribers to Acorn Publisher and Acorn User should be unaffected and Finnybank are currently contacting current and previous AU contributors to get creative minds in gear for the new format. Finnybank are also looking for anyone willing to write or suggest articles or even just send in a letter to raise an issue.

We've learnt the new Qercus magazine will have around 50 pages per issue, with 50 percent of each issue in full page colour (not including the adverts).

An early AU front cover A modern AU front cover A pretend AU front cover
AU through the ages: From left to right, a 1985 frontcover, a 2003 frontcover and a mocked up impression of a 2004 cover

"I am very happy that John has agreed to take over the publication of Acorn User", Tau Press' Steve Turnbull is quoted as saying. Legend has it that on the day Tau Press acquired Acorn User from its previous publisher, Acorn announced the break up of its workstation division and the end of the Acorn-era. Despite this foreboding start, Tau Press kept AU afloat while the RISC OS landscape under went drastic changes, although many users have felt the magazine has nosedived over the past couple of years in terms of content quality and accuracy.

Braving the tears, Steve today added: "With Tau Press moving into new areas we won't be able to devote all our energies to it and a change in publisher always generates new ideas and new viewpoints."

Our news inbox revealed no emailed press release from Finnybank, so we gave them a phone call instead and warmly grilled John Cartmell after congratulating him on the news of his new publication.

John explained that the name Qercus is derived from Quercus, the botanical name for the Oak tree, a tenuous link to Acorn and greek names like Archimedes. We didn't have the heart to tell John that Qercus is also an amusing anagram of 'sucqer'. John told us he's been meaning to get rid of the 'Acorn' name in his Acorn Publisher magazine and Qercus is interesting enough to appeal to people outside of RISC OS. We have to agree with Finnybank's actions here - the Acorn name is like Acorn hardware: old and crusty, let it go.

It turns out that Acorn Publisher had been planning a big change in name and format for some time, before Tau Press contacted them recently with a proposal. John described his talks with Tau as "third time lucky".

Having said that, they say they will also keep the Acorn User name going for a while, either on the front cover or inside the magazine itself. Qercus will still remain a newstand publication, although John admitted that in most cases, you have to have it ordered over the counter at most newsagents. Finnybank hope to make use of Acorn User's archives, which includes other magazines like Archimedes World that have over the years been incorporated into AU, snowball fashion.

John also said he's willing to pay content contributors for their articles and at what he believes is a generous rate, given the income the magazine receives from adverts. Qercus will hopefully have more RISC OS relevant adverts and less 'advertorials' that AU became infamous for under Tau Press and will give RISC OS companies a single, unified spot to advertise in.

Qercus will see the return of *Info, a popular column in Acorn User that showcases new freeware with some explanation on how they work as well as the famous yellow pages with annotated program listings for people to read and learn from. John said he'd ideally like to see all kinds of programming in the yellow pages, from BASIC and C to perl and PHP to OvationPro applets. There are, however, no plans for cover discs as any software can be linked to or hosted from the magazine website. John added he'd be willing to press floppies or CDs for readers without internet access, stressing that this would only be possible if a few people requested such a service.

Fondly recalling the time he typed in a mini-spreadsheet application from the yellow pages in an AU of old, John emphasised that he wanted more people to learn how their computers worked in order to appreciate and understand them more. Throughout my chat with John, I felt a particular theme coming through - the education of others and this is probably no coincidence given that John used to be a teacher.

John also isn't a fan of regular of columns and doesn't particularly like filling pages simply because they have to be filled. Qercus will also see a return in interviews, with one already in the works with RISC OS dealer Image Factory, located in Australia. John reassured us that the focus of interviews will be of a personal angle and examine the people behind RISC OS and what "makes them tick".

An issue that takes some of the punch out of magazines these days is the online reporting of news. By the time an edition is on the doormat of readers, any news will have bee reported and discussed to death online. John was unfazed by this, saying he's trusted by and is on friendly terms with RISC OS companies so finding hot news won't be so much of a problem. Looks like we'll be sourcing the next MicroDigital exclusive from Qercus.

Every editor needs a campaign or an issue that needs addressing. John told us he would particularly like to see the benefits of using ARM powered hardware promoted more and also see RISC OS properly updated. He'd like to see features such as SVG import into !Draw and also for there to be greater co-operation between software. As for emulation, the Qercus editor believed that emulating RISC OS hardware "makes sense in many, many ways" - for example, getting RISC OS onto a laptop and for users who simply need both Windows and RISC OS.

The first edition of Qercus, the January issue, should be in the post by mid-January.


Finnybank website Press releases: AP buys AU, AP spawns Qercus - details on pricing, distribution etc.

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The design of Acorn Publisher is bland - I hope the new magazines inherit the good design of Acorn User of 4 or 5 years ago.

 is a RISC OS UserDaveW on 3/12/03 7:47PM
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I can't say I'm hugely positive over the loss of the Acorn User name, although I will admit I wasn't a fan until it basically turned into the BBC Micro User under the Acorn User name. I am actually quite tempted to finally pick up my subscription again after all these years given such a change - reintroducing good coverage of free- and GPL-ware is a great idea given that's now such a major part of the Acorn computing landscape.

 is a RISC OS Userninja on 3/12/03 8:02PM
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I have one smiley to say, and that is:


 is a RISC OS UserPhlamethrower on 3/12/03 8:08PM
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Perhaps between them they'll have some worth-while content.

 is a RISC OS Usernunfetishist on 3/12/03 8:18PM
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The design of the magazine has to be good - I quite like what Acorn User did in their later issues to improve page layout, although I do think more could be done. Something like Computer Arts magazine please! I think it'll be nice to see the Acorn name go to - we've got to move to RISC OS, and away from Acorn.

Time for comp.sys.riscos if you ask me...

Best of luck John!

 is a RISC OS Userrod on 3/12/03 8:25PM
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Oh, and please inherit the current design of the Acorn User website!

 is a RISC OS Userrod on 3/12/03 8:28PM
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A thoroughly well thought out article which is both interesting and informative.

We shall have to see how well Qercus competes with online competition such as drobe.

 is a RISC OS Userjonix on 3/12/03 8:31PM
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I met John Cartmell at the South West Show 2003 and was impressed. He's passionate about the RISC OS platform and spent a lot of time networking, drumming up support for AP, and, well, being a leader. All this and he actually took care to listen to people and their ideas too. A good bloke - I wish him every success with this brave venture.

 is a RISC OS Usermartin on 3/12/03 8:40PM
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I agree with the comment that AU was in severe decline. Also many little niggling things and a loss of practical articles. I was ready to drop my sub. Now bring on the yellow pages. Yeh!

 is a RISC OS Userpipalya on 3/12/03 9:07PM
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Wow! Excellent news. I sincerely wish John and the AP team all the best of success in this new venture. *info is great!! :-)

 is a RISC OS Usertamias on 3/12/03 9:08PM
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I hope this is good news. AU is (was) our only presence in the newsagaents; as such it gives valuable visibility and credibility to the RISC OS platform and community.

AP has always been a well-produced and attractive magazine. In absolute terms, it has been better than AU for some time in production values and it has more articles with wider relevance than just RISC OS. So... it ought to pull in more readers, particularly as the new name should intrigue people who would, understandably, not bother to look at an 'Acorn' magazine.

I'm not convinced that type-in listings are going to work in modern times though (perhaps download the program having read about how it works would be a better strategy?).

Here's hoping! Well done John, you've got a challenge on your hands.


 is a RISC OS UserTonyStill on 3/12/03 10:14PM
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Great, super, smashing.

All I can say is that when you query the strange new name, and the editor points out the number of other magazines beginning with "Q" and how that will make it easier to find in the newstand listings, one can't help feeling that AU/AP/Qcs will proceed with an amazing amount of intelligence and thought.

This announcement has been a long time in the making. I'm sure you won't find any developer or advertiser who is anything but pleased as punch about it. Good luck John and well done!

 is a RISC OS Userstdevel on 3/12/03 10:44PM
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1) AP has been better than Acorn User for some time and John Cartmell has all the enthusiasm.

2) Qercus is a horrible name. It sound like some freshly-privatised public sector organisation. Cue the meaningless swirl logo.

3) The 'alternating issues' thing sounds like directionless basket-weaving and doesn't sound like a plan for the definitive 'Best of' Acorn mag.

 is a RISC OS UserJessFranco on 4/12/03 12:21AM
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Please make this a good magazine, that will be interesting to us pennyless students!

 is a RISC OS Userem2ac on 4/12/03 12:56AM
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Cool, now I'll be able to ring the Acorn User editor without being told that a fictitious character is out of the office. I won't even need to speak to a certain person interested in religion and science.

And to Martin: Perhaps you now realize the value of a bit of constructive critisism. :D

 is a RISC OS Userfylfot on 4/12/03 1:46AM
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I suppose that half the 'old' AU mag is better than none. I will look out for it in local WH Smiths.I assume it will reach Altrincham ;-)

 is a RISC OS Userjlavallin on 4/12/03 2:08AM
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As a former AU insider, here are my thoughts!

"Legend has it that on the day Tau Press acquired Acorn User from its previous publisher, Acorn announced the break up of its workstation division and the end of the Acorn-era."

Actually, we got the news during TP's first meeting of staff, which took place four days before we officially started work. I won't forget that day for a while.

Steve did put his all into the magazine during those subsequent years, but times change, and this very interesting development will hopefully give the magazine a much needed shot in the arm (no pun intended).

 is a RISC OS Usersascott on 4/12/03 3:26AM
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fylfot: What makes you think that John is not interested in religion and science? :-)


 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 4/12/03 8:19AM
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I'll be subscribing; and I let my sub to AU lapse years ago. This is brilliant news.

Things are going well recently...

 is a RISC OS Usermoss on 4/12/03 8:23AM
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As someone who as suscribed to both Au and AP in the past but who let both subscriptions lapse some time ago I would like to say that this news is the push I needed to re-subscribe.

[Phew! that was a long sentence :-).]

Good luck John

 is a RISC OS Uservshears on 4/12/03 9:56AM
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OK please dont flame me?????? :-)

I am an acorn publisher subscriber and I'm delighted that John has AU. However, I think the name is silly. I never bothered about things like Phoebe (spelling?) or the colour etc etc etc. But Quercus????

Anyway. If you want a name from the blue that will get other readers who have never heard of RISC OS reading it and even possibly get it into the shops and with external advertising............. Then call it ARM user. Have a PALM and PocketPC section.

People will buy it for the PDA section and then read about "these strange RISC OS desktops" and you can have weee timy apps and none of the windows virus attacks can cripple them etc etc etc.

Just my 2P worth, but I will buy it no matter, even though I am not using RISC OS anymore.

Cheers Bob

 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 4/12/03 10:26AM
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Nah, not ARM user. Quercus is quirky!


 is a RISC OS Usersascott on 4/12/03 11:04AM
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I think that Bob has an idea there. ARM User would be a great place for the likes of Castle to push their hardware as good dev platforms for the portable world.

Re:Qercus. This 'alternating issues' idea and the dropping of any mention of Acorn or RISC OS seems a like a way of distancing the magazine from the core customer group in an attempt to attract outside interest in an Acorn mag. Is this a good thing?

-- Spriteman

 is a RISC OS UserSpriteman on 4/12/03 12:49PM
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Actually I quite like Qercus (Quercus might be better, I was irritated by the misspelling when I first saw it, but maybe Quercus has already been used for something). I'm sure yer average non-RISC OS computer user would ignore anything with Acorn or RISC OS or even ARM in its name, but might be curious about Qercus. Well, enough to pick it up and have a look in W H Smith or wherever (assuming they can be persuaded to stock it). If it has enough articles in it about DTP etc that are not (too) platform specific they might even buy it! I think this is a welcome development. I'm tempted to subscribe already!


 is a RISC OS Usermrtd on 4/12/03 1:44PM
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Oh, BTW Quercus is latin, not greek!


 is a RISC OS Usermrtd on 4/12/03 1:46PM
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Like someone else said above, I *hope* this is good news. It's very sad to see Acorn User disappear, which is essentially what this is. It's been with us through thick and thin since the start and I will mourn its loss, despite what it turned into recently.

Alternating issues? A very odd idea, not keen on that...

I hope John isn't taking on too much here - the AP website was generally awful and the AP Online stuff sounded like a fair idea at the time, but has since been seemingly abandoned.

Not meaning to be on a downer here, I wish John all the best and will likely subscribe.

Bye Acorn User *sniff*

 is a RISC OS UserSparkY on 4/12/03 1:58PM
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"I'm sure yer average non-RISC OS computer user would ignore anything with Acorn or RISC OS or even ARM in its name"

Not so true now, as Microgrot is supposedly writting either Longhorn or the next one to use an ARM chip / instruction set.

btw, does this dissapperance have anything to do with the dissaperance of Risc Domain, or is it just coincidence?

 is a RISC OS Userem2ac on 4/12/03 3:30PM
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In reply to Spriteman:

I can assure that John has NO intention of distancing himself or the magazine from its core readership. If we can get new readers interested in Risc OS then thats surely a good thing but Johns primary customers will always be looked after!

In reply to Sparky:

With regards the alternating issues John is keen to make sure that current AP subscribers don't lose the sort of magazine they subscribed to while making sure that AU readers are well catered for as well.

Yes the AP website never got as much attention as it deserved, thats something that will hopefully change going forward.

 is a RISC OS UserCol1 on 4/12/03 3:32PM
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Not good timing for this:



 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 04/12/03 5:22PM
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In reply to Flyfot:

Scientology has nothing to do with religeon or science. It has everything to do with cults and brainwashing. Please do not get these confused - they are about as similar as two totally dis-similar things in a pod!

Paul (knackered - but happy - teacher training is fun!)

 is a RISC OS UserNodoid on 5/12/03 1:14AM
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Those that can, do. Those that can't, teach, Those that can't teach, teach teachers.

 is a RISC OS Userpiemmm on 5/12/03 9:08AM
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Mystery Oak killer made from glass and movable pieces of fences

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 05/12/03 09:17AM
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Dont you just love how the BBC think about this sort of situation:

That could mean disappointment for thousands of British children who look forward to a plentiful conker crop each year.

 is a RISC OS Userem2ac on 06/12/03 3:27PM
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Jolly bad show, say what!

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 06/12/03 7:39PM
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