The Paperless Music Office: The Decline of the Magazine Industry
IT is not merely music magazines, I guess, that are under threat in this current climate.
one of the saddest pieces of music-related news was hearing how Rolling Stone magazine was up for sale. This is how the Variety reported it:
“Until recently, Wenner Media was among the largest independent publishers still operating primarily in the print field, with titles Us Weekly and Men’s Journal rounding out its portfolio of magazines. In April, American Media Inc. (AMI), publisher of the National Enquirer, Star, and Men’s Fitness, among other titles, bought Us Weekly — for a reported $100 million, a fraction of the $300 million sale price for a 50% stake that Wenner paid to Disney in 2006 — and Men’s Journal in June (financial terms were not disclosed, but according to an insider, the deal nearly fell apart).
Currently, a diminished Rolling Stone staff occupies a small area on the second floor of 1290 Ave. of the Americas. It has been rumored that Gus Wenner had surveyed a variety of commercial spaces in Brooklyn to which he could potentially move operations. In a recent interview with Bloomberg Business Week, he lamented: “Long-term, I don’t want to be in the business of solely relying on ad revenue with the way things are changing so rapidly.” BBW cited a nearly 10% drop in newsstand sales while online traffic in the U.S. for RollingStone.com had declined by 28%".
PHOTO CREDIT: Duane Prokop/Getty Images
Ultimate Classic Rock weighed in on the news:
"The New York Times reports that publisher Jann Wenner, who co-founded the magazine in 1967, has agreed to pursue a sale that will leave Rolling Stone out of his hands for the first time in its history — and although Wenner and his son Gus, who’s taken on a leadership role at Wenner Media in recent years, have both expressed a desire to stay on after they strike a deal, they’ve conceded the possibility that the new owners may opt to move on without their involvement.
Paraphrasing Bob Dylan, the elder Wenner told the Times that “if you’re not busy being born, then you’re busy dying,” conceding that as a 71-year-old at the helm of what was once a pointedly counterculture publication, he believes “it’s time for young people to run it.” Both Wenners also admitted that given the current state of the publishing industry, their company’s position isn’t where it needs to be in order to “grow the brand” the way they’d like.
The Times‘ report outlines the ways in which Rolling Stone‘s influence has waned and reputation suffered over the years, as well as touching on some Wenner business deals that have undermined the company’s publishing presence while eroding its ownership stake in RS. It isn’t hard to understand why Wenner might decide to seek out a new owner with “lots of money” to breathe new life into the magazine — but it’s also easy to see why the prospect of a sale is cause for sadness among those who remember its glory days.
“That sense of the magazine editor’s hands on the magazine — that’s what’s going to get lost here,” predicted veteran Rolling Stone critic and editor Anthony DeCurtis. “I don’t know who’s going to be able to step in and do that anymore".
This does not mean the end for the beloved journalistic institution but does paint some worrying shadows. To me, like vinyl; music magazines are the physical format that we all grew up on. I remember buying editions of Q Magazine, MOJO and NME. Each publication has its own vibe and one can get a nice balance of the mainstream best and those working away underneath the hoopla. Maybe, like music itself, there is an inevitability music media will become digitised and be more computer-based. It was one of the joys of my early years: rushing to the newsagents and buying the latest edition of NME – sifting through the pages and looking at the reviews and cool features. That magazine is still around but has had to make it free. The fact Rolling Stone is being sold indicates financial burdens and some uncertainties. In fact; I do not know the fate of the U.S. publication – I assumed they would be fine and find new owners who can help jettison and secure the magazine. It is hard to say how its fortunes will play out but I hope there is an injection of finance and guidance that gets the magazine back on track. To be honest and open; Rolling Stone has never failed to provide striking covers and interesting content. Creative Industry Hub backed up the article (above) with their views surrounding NME give-it-to-them-for-free approach:
IMAGE CREDIT: Unsplash
“It’s been a sad few days for music fans from the previous generation and beyond, as NME announces that their circulation has decreased from 300,000 to 15,000. In order to keep the classic publication and legacy alive, they’re being forced to distribute it as a free magazine in hope of gaining a bigger distribution and making the deficit back through advertising instead.
This all sounds too familiar. NME is now using the Spotify model of, ‘give it away for free, and make the money back in advertisements.’ That consumer greed and the lack of willingness to pay for intellectual property, i.e. music is a sick thought, but sadly, this is the reality of music and media in our generation.
PHOTO CREDIT: Anna Wenner
The world is changing as websites move over to digital territory. According to Yorkshire Post, ‘to generations of music fans, it signals the end of an era,’ and I agree. ‘Then, it was an essential part of the pop landscape, promoting the likes of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and putting them in the line-ups of its annual Poll Winners Concert.’
Again, I agree. And other music magazines such as Kerrang! have struggled also, since the arrival of the digital revolution. But we’re all guilty of it. I used to be an avid, and almost religious buyer of the Kerrang! when I was a teenager, but with social media and the internet, there is no need for me to pay for information any more, and lots of music fans would agree”.
PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash
I know people have to move with the times and accept the way an industry evolves. It is easier now to get up-to-the-minute updates and a range of new items and articles. We use the Internet for our news – and do not buy newspapers…oh, wait, yes, we do. All of us can access breaking news when it happens so, acknowledged we buy newspapers, then why is our music press under such pressure? Newspapers can contain content their online pages do not and one might get puzzles, articles and conversation-pieces that are solely in the newspaper itself. I worry we are bastardising music and stripping it down to its electronics. The mechanicals and engine are rusting: physicality, soul and complexity have been replaced by something simple and easy. We can apply this theory to music and the way we buy it. C.D.s are still fairly popular but their appeal and sales figures have waned over the years. I buy C.D.s a lot and prefer to have something in my hand that I can actually feel. That may sound odd but many people have the same passion. This is why vinyl has come back into the fore: one can hold a record and get a sense of where it came from and the people who put it together – other than the artist themselves. I have the same reaction with music magazines and press. I want to go down to a newsagent and explore the collection of magazines and what is written on the cover. I get hooked by a great interview of big piece of news shouting from the skin.
IN THIS PHOTO: Zane Lowe interviewing Chance the Rapper
There are complexities to the argument and we cannot overlook how expensive hiring journalists can be – and the cost of arranging interviews attending gigs. Those expenses are the same in an online forum but I suppose being able to produce so many new and ever-changing pages/articles a day means the reader gets greater regularity and consistency. You do not have to wait a week for something to come out in printed form – sometimes, some of the articles are outdated by the time they hit the shelves. Rolling Stone has, in past years, faced legalities and issues regarding interviews and some of their pieces. If they were to do that online – and not have it printed – it would be easy to retract and remove that offending piece. It is a lot harder when it is in printed form and can throw up a lot of new legalities and offences. I can see the downsides of music magazines and how they are not as relevant and progressive as they should be. That is not their fault: one can only do so much with the printed word. I can accept the limitations and the fact the modern world is becoming digital but we cannot cast away the traditions we put down. I mentioned how we buy physical music and newspapers: D.V.D.s. still exist and they have not been completely extinguished because of the Internet. While I can get on board with a balanced argument: there is another side to things...
PHOTO CREDIT: iStock
Journalism is an industry always-growing and appealing. The more musicians that come through the greater the demand for pieces appearing on sites/magazines. We still have publications and newspapers with a large music section so I wonder why magazines such as Rolling Stone are facing threats. Music has become a paperless office and editors are keen to reduce overheads and streamline production. Upcoming journalists want to write for the large and popular magazines and follow in the footsteps of the greats. It is aspirational being a writer/contributor for a magazine: online sites seem less personable and more reductive. Too many writers are told to limit their word-count and produce something punchy and bite-sized. Magazines have time to wallow and bring the reader a more immersive and detailed experience. We cannot abandon great magazines and make everything music-related digital. It is soulless and, whilst it may be more updated and versatile – money plays too much of a part of things. Everything coming down to cost and affordability is what is strangling a lot of the promise and soul out of music. Rolling Stone needs to address its controversies and legal issues but, if you take them away, you have a trusted and fascinating source for music. In my mind; the best part of discovering new music and reading about the week’s event is giving that magazine in your hand. I love to pour over an article and sac each line. Maybe there is a different chemical process when reading from a screen but you cannot beat the feel and experience of reading a music magazine.
Some argue there is tabloidisation and a lack of teeth in the British music press, for one. The current mainstream best is not as explosive as Punk and the huge movements we experienced before – there are not many artists with something important to say that could lead to a front-page-worthy headline. Even if that were true – there might be few who would argue against – there are plenty of marvellous and original artists in the underground that can kick-start magazines. If we turn more column-inch and time to the underground acts it will only put the spotlight on the next generation but guarantee there is always something worth buying – people will pick up magazines get more into the written word. Even with music; I think we should be encouraging people to spend less time in front of computers and more time reading. It is easy to list arguments why we cannot allow the likes of Rolling Stone to face peril and (possibly) close their doors. If that were to happen – or they would change drastically – we would lose one of the last big music magazines that can…
PHOTO CREDIT: Lu-Hai Liang
ATTRACT more people into music journalism.