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How Long Will We Have a Sustainable Music Press and Media Scene?
GOING hand in hand with the closure of music venues...
IN THIS PHOTO: The former Cosmopolitan editor Sam Baker (left) and Lauren Laverne (right) co-founded The Pool/PHOTO CREDIT: David Levene/The Guardian
seems to be the struggle of parts of the music media. Although music is only a small part of what they do, I read that The Pool was set to close. It was set up by (or co-founded) by Lauren Laverne and has been running for years. It is a female-run website that looks at fashion, music; opinion, entertainment and all sorts of things. It is a great platform but, as this report documents, they have not been given a fighting chance:
“The editor of online women's magazine The Pool has said she is "absolutely gutted" the venture is to fold after almost four years.
Cate Sevilla said she was "heartbroken" more than 20 members of staff faced redundancy from the firm, which was co-founded by broadcaster Lauren Laverne.
Staff were not paid in January and some freelancers are owed sizeable payments.
The collapse of the firm raises questions about whether women-focused journalism can thrive online.
One industry expert said The Pool was caught in a "deadly vortex" of declining advertising revenues.
The site, styled as a "platform for women too busy to browse", went live in 2015 and signed up a collection of prominent female writers and contributors.
The Pool's editor Cate Sevilla said in a series of Twitter posts: "I don't really know what to say. I'm absolutely gutted...
I haven't had an official role at @thepooluk for a while, but I co-founded it and I am extremely sad to hear about its closure. However I am also very proud of what we achieved. It was an honour to work alongside such an inspiring and creative team, on something people loved.— Lauren Laverne (@laurenlaverne) February 1, 2019
"This has been an extremely frustrating situation, and I'm heartbroken for my team. For our freelancers. For our readers.
"I always wanted to work at The Pool, and I can't quite believe what's happened."
A GoFundMe page to help pay The Pool's staff and freelancers had raised more than £8,000 of a £24,000 target by Friday evening.
Eleanor Mills, chairwoman of Women in Journalism, which supports female workers in the industry, said online news websites were suffering because Google and Facebook were so dominant and took such a large share of all digital revenue, which she estimated at 95%”.
There is a lot to take from those quotes and this article. It seems there is a decline in advertising revenues which is threatening a lot of great sites and journalists. It costs a lot of money to support any website or music magazine and many people forget that. Even if you are getting free tickets for gigs or a lot of free products, you need to pay for the website uptake and there will be members of staff. A lot of music sites have free contributors but, like The Pool, there are expenses that need to be considered. If there is an office then that adds a lot of financial pressure and there are events that require money. In fact, when you do a list of all the costs associated with bringing quality journalism to the people then it is quite galling.
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The printed press, to a degree, can charge and relies on that revenue but so many outlets do not have that option. One of the reasons The Pool was such a success was the variation and the fact there were real voices providing this very useful service. Rather than charge people to read, The Pool relied on advertising revues for the most part. The wages are not steep but there has been a struggle maintaining the site. It is part of a modern culture that, more and more, expects things to be free. This is pronounced when you look at music and realise that many do not want to pay to hear music, let alone read about it. Spotify allows a free service and sites such as YouTube do not charge subscription fees. A lot of times these giants need advertisers to keep them afloat but, really, they are not as solid as you’d hope. There are so many websites and new people coming through, it means the money from advertisers is less stable and assured. The music media used to be lucrative when there were fewer options and the only way you could read a magazine was to pay for it. Pre-Internet, there was this (strange today) culture of purchase and, because of that, there was less need for advertising. It is true that music media has evolved and the sheer choice we have now is a definite step forward.
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I love the fact there is a website for every taste and you can get your fix of music news at the click of a mouse. I also like the dedication and passion you can see from every corner. It is wonderful seeing so many committed journalists ensuring we are aware of the happenings in the music industry. There is still an active music press but there are fewer magazines than there used to be. Big names like NME have not survived and, whilst there are some new options in the market, I wonder how long this will be the case. These magazines have a dedicated following but I feel, as more websites come out, that might threaten the future and stability. Many of the bigger websites and players – such as CLASH and The Line of Best Fit - have built a name and they have a fairly healthy revenue stream. I am guessing this but I think their attractiveness in terms of advertising means they are not in immediate trouble. Vice is another big name that is experiencing an uncertain future and it seems very few are safe. This article from The Guardian last year suggested the security of the music press was assured:
“And yet, to walk into any major newsagent in 2018 is to be greeted by a dizzying array of titles – far more than there were when Melody Maker, NME and Sounds shipped hundreds of thousands of copies. Today’s circulations are lower, but there are magazines for every niche or genre, from Classic Rock to Blues & Soul to avant garde title The Wire...
PHOTO CREDIT: MOJO/Getty Images
“I’ve read thousands of words about the so-called ‘crisis in music journalism’, but your average punter would be hard-pressed to understand that,” says John Mulvey, who edits the 63,000-selling monthly Mojo, which celebrated its 300th issue last month. He argues that the ill-fated free NME was “a last attempt to court a general audience, as titles have realised that they are no longer mainstream but specialist publications”.
Following what Mulvey calls a “recalibration”, today’s music titles are adapting to smaller circulations and more competitive markets by lowering overheads, using smaller teams and refining their core specialisms, emphasising quality, longform journalism in the face of an avalanche of disposable free content. Mulvey – an ex-NME staffer who edited Uncut until last January – wants to develop an ageing readership gently by covering new artists alongside the “evolving stories” of veteran Mojo favourites – so Paul McCartney can be on the cover and Malian star Fatoumata Diawara inside. Uncut’s current editor Bonner wants the 44,000-selling monthly to “celebrate the best of old and new” – so David Bowie retrospectives mix with passionate pieces on Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever or Moses Sumney”.
I agree there are some names in the market that look safe but, as many commentators reflected on the comments section under the article, there isn’t the same appetite for printed magazines. A lot of the younger generation are unwilling to step away from their phones and it seems a loyal core is keeping these magazines safe. I am pleased there is clear visibility regarding physical press but I feel, the more sites that come in, it will not be long before we see many disappearing from the shelf.
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A lot of these magazines rely on advertising and, with more websites taking business, can we really say that, in a few years, the newsagent shelves will be as broad and well-stocked?! Each week produces some new music website but they often do not charge a subscription fee and, again, are at the mercy of advertising. The market is so eclectic and growing so it can be hard creating that U.S.P. Even if your website or magazine seems unique and caters to an audience that has been deprived, before long you get mimics coming through who make survival harder. There are those who pay to read about music but we live in a time when anyone can listen to music without having to pay. We can all access a world of music media without leaving the house and do so without payment. Retailers like HMV are struggling and I do wonder whether we are losing sight of the importance of funding music. Artists and great sites/magazines cannot continue to work for free and, the more we continue to digest without considering the results, the less certain the future is. I am part of the problem when it comes to my music ingestion. I pay for Spotify but do not for YouTube. I do not pay for any online music sites but, then again, they do not ask – and I would love to contribute. I think there is that fear people will balk if money is asked for but what are the options?!
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Things are pretty tough right now and I wonder whether there is a way out. I would love to think the music magazines we have on the shelf will be there years from now; all the great websites are safe but, as we see closures happening, do we need to address how music media is funded?! I do worry we take everything for granted and expect it all to be free. I know it is impossible and unfeasible for us to pay every website we visit. It is unfortunate that demand a packed music industry leads to more websites and magazines being created but, before too long, the strain associated with maintaining a free-to-view option becomes too much. What are the solutions to this enigma? So much advertising revenue is being taken by companies like Google and I do not think there is an easy way to increase advertising revenues. Many websites do offer this free trial where you can look at a few articles but then need to pay. I think people who are loyal and use a site a lot should pay a little bit. The costs are not too high and it means that site can continue to provide content. Maybe if it was only a couple of quid for each user, that would make a big impact and not bankrupt anyone! The problem is a little harder to fix when it comes to the printed press.
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There is a loyal customer base for these magazines but I wonder, as the core demographic ages and these publications rely on the younger generation, will they still be able to trade? I think it is a case of asking people to pay. Music has only come this far because people bought it and it is not fair to ask websites and magazines to produce excellent content without reward. They do a job and it is not fair to consume everything for free. It is sad to see websites like The Pool struggling and I do know for a fact there are smaller music magazines and websites that are facing the same realisation. We need to reverse this rather pampered culture where we can access what we want for free. It is hard to get advertisers involved and should they alone be responsible for financing something like a music website? I do think the consumer has to face some of the cost and, even if it was a small subscription fee, it would help create a more solid future. Every time a venue closes, it is like a punch to the stomach for musicians and the public. The same can be said of the music media: artists rely on these sources to spread their music and give them a platform. The more we take for granted and the more closures we see, the less clear the future is.
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There will never be an extinction of the music media but we are incurring too many losses and there are so many people working for free right now. That is fine if they want to but many sites and magazines cannot afford to pay people. The music press and media has been a central part of the industry for decades and many assume filtering it online means it will continue to grow and be a lot more secure – that is not the case at all. The solution to this problem is not clear but it is clear that we need to do something and try to avoid any more closures in the market. So many talented journalists put their hearts into the work they do and it is a crying shame we have to see them out of a job. Things can change but I think we need to be pragmatic regarding financing and how we consume content! I feel it is wrong to use Spotify for free and I do not feel that comfortable browsing websites for nothing. It would be a bit much to ask a big amount from everyone to view content but some sort of compromise needs to be realised. The music press cannot survive for free and, day after day, it is becoming harder for websites and magazines to keep running how they would like. Maybe that is the burden of competition and the changing nature of the press/media today...we do take too much for granted and are very causal when it comes to the plight and sustainability of music sites. I hope there are relatively few issues this year for websites and magazines I love as it would be a tragedy to see them go. If we all clubbed together, financially and intellectually, I do think a solution can be affected. It may not be a quick turnaround but, in order for the brilliant music press and media to continue to give us the news, reviews and articles from the comfort of our homes, we all need to...
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DO as much as we can.