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In the 1980s, type-in listings were a staple of many home computer magazines[1]. This suggests that they added value to the magazine, and that people did actually type them in. On the other hand, typing in programs was hard, boring work, and while one might argue that you'd learn something from typing in a short BASIC program like e.g. this, typing in pages of hex listing like this was a chore.

Which makes me wonder: Did a significant number of people actually type in these listings? Did people instead buy the program disks (available separately, at a much higher price than the magazine)? Is there any hard data on this, e.g. from market research, reader polls, or number of orders for the disk, from any of the publishing houses back then?

[1] At least they were where I lived (Germany); if this was different elsewhere, I'd be happy about a comment.

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    I typed in lots of them. A few times I even convinced my mom to read them while I typed. Not all magazines had disks of the programs available and even the ones that did didn't have them in the early years. I didn't buy any disks because they were too expensive. I dud learn a lot of BASIC programming ideas by typing these programs in. Lately I've been reading through the COMPUTE! magazine issues and last week I typed in a small game.
    – Tim Locke
    Dec 30, 2021 at 21:51
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    Like Tim, I typed in lots of programs. One way to get some indication that readers did actually type programs in is to look for corrections printed in subsequent issues (sometimes with the letter(s) to the editor pointing out the mistakes, or credit to the reader(s) who noticed them), and ways some magazines found to add checksums etc. to help people validate their input. Dec 30, 2021 at 22:06
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    PC Magazine was my go-to source for programs and although you could get them from Compuserve there was no way a kid like me could afford that! I would argue that type-in was the default distribution model for many magazines like PC Magazine, given the number of reader contributions (User to User, etc.) and full programs (Lab Notes, Utilities) in the back half of each issue (until that stopped sometime in the 2000's).
    – ErikF
    Dec 30, 2021 at 22:17
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    It was pretty common for me and my computer literate friends (both of them!) to type stuff in. Especially from Compute! and Compute!'s Gazette; at least - until I got my first modem. After that it was way easier to find and download what you were interested in. - but in those days everything was magic. Typing in something from a magazine and having a word processor, or a sprite editor, or a game, or an 80 column hack without having to beg your parents to buy something was awesome.
    – Geo...
    Dec 30, 2021 at 23:46
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    Somewhat off-topic: people are still doing this today. Some historically-significant source code only exists as line-printer listings too blurry for OCR. The solution: retype it from the listings, preferably two independent copies, which you can then compare and hope the errors are disjoint. This is surely hard boring work - but if you want the programs, that's what you have to do. (I make no claim to having contributed any such effort). Dec 31, 2021 at 2:37

6 Answers 6

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I don't know if there exists definitive proof how many people typed in these listings. Anecdotally, I spent many an afternoon typing them in, and even teaming up with a school friend (he types 20 lines, we switch places, I type 20 lines, and so on) to ease the pain.

One indicator that people were indeed doing this work is the proliferation of program typo software in the early 1980s. This disk at Internet Archive contains several programs that aided typing in code, usually by checksumming each line, which could then be compared to a checksum printed in the magazine. Antic Magazine (which focused on the 8-bit Atari line) produced Typo which they printed in each issue alongside their listings. (Yes, you had to type in Typo.) They followed it up later with Typo II. Compute! had their own called MLX.

To me, this sounds like a lot of wasted engineering on the part of the magazines if there was no real need. Home computing enthusiasts at the time were a dedicated bunch but leaned to the frugal side. Given the choice of purchasing a disk through the mail (on top of buying the magazine in the first place) or sitting down one evening to type in the program, many took the cheap path.

Side note: Typing in these programs was a great way to learn BASIC and assembly (the dominant languages back then). I know I learned a few tricks this way.

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  • Don't forget that adding these helpers not only improved keying in success, but as well filled the pages as a project themself.
    – Raffzahn
    Dec 31, 2021 at 3:31
  • I did the same, switching off with a friend.
    – LAK
    Dec 31, 2021 at 19:09
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    One nice thing about Atari Basic was that it tokenized the line after you typed it, so listing the program was sort of like "pretty printing", with spacing. I don't know how those VIC and C64 users didn't go insane with the listings that had most of the spaces removed, I suppose to save memory or performance.
    – mannaggia
    Dec 31, 2021 at 22:00
  • As a VIC coder (then and now) I can confirm that whilst CBM BASIC listings could look incredibly cryptic, after a while we didn't see the code - just blonde, brunette, and redhead. Jan 6 at 16:22
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Unless someone can present actual data to the contrary, I'd say there is no hard data (as in, actual numbers) on the popularity of the type-in programs.

There is, however, plenty evidence that people did try them out, as other commenters have noted - some people sent in their improvement suggestions and error corrections, and others have actually sent in their own programs to those magazines.

For people that could not afford buying ready-to-use media or used machines that didn't support any more or less standard external media (most notably programmable calculators or pocket computers that either had no external storage whatsoever or used all kinds of non-standard and incompatible with each other magnetic cards), type-in programs were the only viable way to obtain the software. This may have been less of a concern for middle class families in countries like USA that could afford buying more sophisticated Apple, Commodore, Atari, and even IBM machines, but was an everyday reality even for the most well-off families in countries like USSR, where most computer enthusiasts remained mere "programmable calculator enthusiasts" well into early nineties, with only programmable calculators available being Электроника family devices that had no other way to enter programs except from listings, and where there were massive country-wide mail clubs dedicated to exchanging said listings.

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    Even for "middle class" families type in programs were definitely a thing for a good while. From my own experience it was about 2 years between when my family got our first home computer, a Commodore 64, and when we could actually afford to buy a disk drive for it. During that period we were almost entirely dependent on typing in our own programs to save on the tape drive as very little software on tape was commercially available in North America. Almost all retail software was only distributed on disk.
    – mnem
    Jan 3 at 13:24
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    @mnem fair enough - my own experiences can only speak for the fledgling lower-middle class in ex-USSR, where we couldn't afford any computer until late 90s, and the perception of the same socioeconomic class in USA being an order of magnitude better off.
    – moonwalker
    Jan 4 at 14:51
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The personal anecdotes in answers and comments to this question seem to me to constitute some degree of documentary evidence about the prevalence of program entry from listings in magazines and journals. Of course, this evidence doesn't allow us to precisely or accurately quantify the prevalence of this practice. Perhaps an author who has written a history of home computing in the era has a better dataset to work from.

My own personal anecdote highlights some other motivations and purposes for typing in programs from listings, in other words, why it was worth it to expend the tedious effort.

My family got an Ohio Scientific Challenger 4P in 1980. (I was 10.) We didn't have a disk drive. Our only storage medium was cassette tapes. Although there was some commercially available software, the system was much less common than its contemporaries from Apple, Commodore, or Tandy. I remember only one retailer in the entire Chicago metropolitan area that had C4P specific software available for purchase on tape. You could of course mail-order software, but you couldn't see a demo if you did that. (I learned about this the hard way when I saved my allowance to buy what was purported to be an Asteroids clone.)

So yes, we entered programs verbatim from listings in journals like PEEK (65), which was specific to Ohio Scientific systems.

More frequently and importantly, we learned how to do on-the-fly ports from listings in magazines about general computing, or specific to the more popular systems. Every system had its own flavor of BASIC and peculiarities of I/O, so you had to adapt nearly everything. (The OSI C4P was based on the 6502 and had one of the earliest 6502 versions of 8K Microsoft BASIC in ROM, written by Ric Weiland.) There would have been no value to receiving a cassette (or disk) with the program written for another system. Typing it in was the only way.

The magazine listings were also used as a repository of program snippets, incorporated into our own programs.

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I can only offer anecdotal evidence in the form of a personal experience, but yes; I did type in a lot of those program listings back in the day, on my Commodore 64.

My first encounter with type-in programs was with the Finnish MikroBITTI computer hobbyist magazine. Back in the 1980s, each issue featured several reader-submitted computer programs — so-called “program listings”, which were not much more than dot-matrix printer printouts of the program code, scanned and laid out in columns on the magazine pages.

The published programs targeted the popular microcomputers (“home computers”) of the era — mostly 8-bitters:

MikroBITTI 8/1985

“Skivic-Jump”, a type-in ski-jump game for the VIC-20

“Kuvittaja”, a type-in utility which converts the content of a text-mode screen (graphics constructed using graphics characters and colors) into a BASIC program that recreates the same screen using PRINT statements

The magazine paid a pretty good sum for the “program of the month” and handed out smaller rewards for the others so there was a monetary incentive to try get one published.

The published programs were typically written in various machine-specific BASIC dialects. Any other language was a rarity. Usually they were simple games, sometimes utility software. A program listing was accompanied by a brief description of what the program does, how the reader is supposed to use it, and on which lines the major pieces of logic or subroutines can be found. Sometimes, there was further discussion on how one might port the program to another BASIC dialect or platform.


Initially, you had no way of making sure you had typed every character correctly. A small typo in, say, a conditional statement might not have prevented the program from running but would make it behave strangely. You might also not have known how to produce all the required control characters featured in the listings. For instance, the BASIC variant used in the 8-bit Commodore computers requires the use of various Shift, Commodore key and Ctrl key combinations to produce special screen control characters. These appear in the program listings as inverted graphics symbols, and it is not always obvious from the symbol how you should type it in.

To remedy this, the magazine soon started converting special characters into more explicit key-sequence mnemonics, to make it easier to type them in correctly. They also added checksums on each line.

There was a separate, small, type-in utility program which would help with the checksums. Once loaded and run, it would sit in the background, monitor the user’s keystrokes and calculate a checksum value and display it in the corner of the screen each time you typed in a new BASIC line and pressed Enter. This made it easy to check that you have, in fact, typed in each line exactly as intended.

In many homes, it was the responsibility of a dutiful adult (mommy or daddy) to read aloud the program code from the magazine which their offspring would then type in as dictated.


Later on, the program listings started turning increasingly into BASIC loaders for machine-language code. The program would start with a small routine which would read raw byte values from DATA statements in a loop and copy them into a suitable memory area, then start executing that data as machine language code. The rest of the code to be typed in would have been just endless DATA statements with comma-separated decimal numbers, or a bit later, gobbledygok strings resembling Base64 encoding. This allowed distributing more capable programs (since machine language allowed using the capabilities of the computer to the fullest) but those endless DATA statements were no longer fun to type in or look at, as you could not really study what was going on by looking at the program listing.

All in all, it was a very inefficient and cumbersome method of distributing software. Yet, getting your hands on a new issue fresh off the press and seeing what kind of new programs they had published this time was exciting, as was the idea of being part of this larger community of hobbyists where ordinary people could have their self-written computer programs published and distributed to the masses in this rather public way — on the pages of a widely-circulated magazine.


Magazines were not the only source of type-in programs. The user guides provided with the computer usually came with a BASIC programming manual that had small type-in sample programs demonstrating various features.

There were also many programming books catering for the hobbyist programmer / microcomputer / home computer market, also featuring type-in programs.

“BASIC Computer Games”

“Write Your Own Adventure Programs for Your Microcomputer”

(Answer partially based on my similar answer first published on Quora.)

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Our family bought an Exidy Sorcerer in 1979. Dick Smith Australia had 3 cassette tapes on sale at the time, which were really just simple BASIC games. Unless you went down the expensive route of CP/M software and hardware, your choice was limited. That said, many excellent games and utilities were created from 1979 onwards and sold on tape.

As a teenager, I quickly became bored of the meager tape offerings and would type-in from Creative Computing, Kilobaud, BYTE, and user group newsletters in particular.

So to answer your question from my personal perspective, over 4 years from 1979-1983, in my case I would estimate bought software: 30%, type-in: 25%, self-authored 45%.

Type-in programs were hard work, particularly for machine code. The Exidy's excellent keyboard and keypad helped somewhat.

In recent years I have searched old printouts in magazines and books to see if there are any 'lost nuggets' that may have been too lengthy or poorly printed to have been popular enough at the time for someone to type-in and share on tape. To echo someone else's comment, sometimes these faded magazines or books are the only copy available to this day... and even now would take a lot of manual effort to transform to another medium (tape or disk).

So, I developed a combined workflow of OCR and emulation software loading to recover ancient printed listings and turn them into code. There aren't many primary code sources around now for the Sorcerer, but there are some still to be found. One such example is 'The Wizards Castle' which I processed in 2020 from the original source: Recreational Computing Magazine, 1980. The converted working version is now available online as a tape recording for hard-core Sorcerer fans. Google 'tezza exidy wizards' to find it if you are interested.

The bottom line is that type-in was a pain, but at the time it was very handy. Even today, it serves a purpose for recovering old relics.

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The particular magazine I remember (Hebdogiciel) invested half of its pages for those listings.

Translated from french wikipedia:

The concept of the journal, when it started in 1983, was the weekly publication of readers' programs in the form of listings. Gradually, editorial content has been integrated.

On my Oric, commercial games weren't too many, even if you could get illegal copies of them.

So we sometimes typed listings from magazines, made something new and some where pretty good and free.

People had incentive to send tapes so the listings could be published if selected, and got money per page or line or whatever... and the glory.

Why printed listings? because most of targetted computers had cassette interface only and there were 10 or more different computers. How could a magazine include a tape of all programs for different formats ? that would be impractical to load a specific game, and also not flat and heavy (and duplication errors would be a big problem for the magazine if it happened)

Later, magazines published coverdisks or PD as floppies, it was much lighter, and there were tricks such as three-format disk (Atari/Amiga/PC) to distribute only one disk for 3 computers.

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