Is This The Final Chapter For Music Magazines?
I’m seriously trying to get my magazine mojo back.
It was 1962 when I bought my first copy of Downbeat Magazine. Everything I wanted to know about jazz was in there including my heroes; pianists Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson. Then along came John Coltrane. Oh how the traditional dudes howled bloody murder. Coltrane and Thelonious Monk upset the faithful who determined jazz started with Louis Armstrong and ended with Benny Goodman.
I’d await each monthly issue as if the Lord was my personal postman certain a new side was coming that would nail me to the piano bench in search of a mysterious harmony, a succession of impossibly played phrases, that touch of genius, the back story of a young person escaping raw neighborhoods infested with poverty and single minded determination to make it to the top.
Teen magazines were for silly girls who read cover to cover and posted pinups of Frankie Avalon and Elvis, from bedroom to garage. Serious players searched for articles with weight and insight, then along came Rolling Stone Magazine.
It’s 1967 and I’m walking the cramped sidewalks of Haight Ashbury thinking to myself, how the fuck did I land in this scummy hellhole. I detested junkies, mattresses with stained sheets, and buggedeyed street urchins. During one of my daily spins past new stands I come across Rolling Stone Magazine. This was a revelation. It just so happens I’m playing Hammond B3 organ in strip clubs with a great band from Los Angeles and building a repertoire of songs I’d never heard or played from Lowell Fulson to Bobby Bland holed up in this derelict San Francisco hotel on Geary Avenue with a few extra dollars in the pocket. The lobby was decorated in crazies, pimps, lost girls, the dazed and confused. I’m seriously in need of escapism.
Then I notice John Lennon plastered across the cover of Rolling Stone How I Won the War. Read the review of the movie and went hunting for a cinema. Found one and settled in and came away disappointed. It was a period when I was hypersensitive, near broke and wanted art to be better than real life.
Given time Rolling Stone never let me down. I collected and saved every issue as if misplaced, I’d lose something of surreal importance. Somewhere between Ralph Steadman’s cartoons and Hunter Thompson’s infiltration of the 1972 GOP convention credentials or not, I had a journalistic partner for life. I truly trusted and was emotionally invested in the magazine. Today the physical copy has the weight of a cocktail napkin yet online digital is by far one of the best designed.
I was thinking about this when news arrived midday the Toronto Star was laying off 50 journalists and concentrating on digital. I get that, it’s inevitable nothing on the planet rests for long. Facebook and iPhones are the Goliaths when it comes to sucking up online advertising as print struggles. Newsprint is in decline and online the future. I remember reading at one time National Geographic had 10,000,000 subscribers. This allowed them to concentrate on “in the field” stories, dropping a scribe and photographer in a tropical rain forest six months at a time for 10,000 words and ten companion photos.
Back in the late 80s’ I decided to start my own magazine with high school teacher, Greg Sutherland - the Jazz Report Magazine. We actually sustained nearly nineteen years. The first years we grew from an eight page newsletter to a full blown international magazine. These were heady times, there were twelve Canadian record companies carrying jazz. I could tap into this well of goodness and scrape together enough advertising to produce sixty pages of content.
Then comes the GST, then comes increases in the cost of paper, then increases in postal rates, then the biggest blow of all - major label acquisition of indies. By the time we printed our last issue in 2006 there were two majors left standing with potential jazz dollars. Greg and I bolted ahead of financial armageddon.
Even at $3.99 it was difficult competing against the discounters those $1 an issue specials that arrive by mail and sit unread on countertops. Media buyers were only interested in circulation numbers, unless you were pushing 20,000 copies an issue there wasn’t much to talk about.
Today print advertising finds it near impossible to offset the loss of print revenue with digital and mobile platform profits. Subscriptions account for 90% of revenue, newsstands the other 10%. Greg and I figured this out early on. The large book conglomerates would send us an order for 20,000 and we’d send them 5,000 consequently we kept returns at a minimum and stretched the life of our specialty publication.
There was a time, son Jesse and I would hit the magazine stores every two weeks and consume everything of interest politics, music, photography, gear and drop a big wad on the counter and then we suddenly stopped.
Enter the tablet the iPad!
Here’s my take on this. Music content turned into celebrity babble. No context no stress, no wars connected to artists, no breakthroughs, nothing radical suddenly we found ourselves prisoners of the shiny ones, the bling grabbers, the palatial princes and princesses. I’m not dropping a dime on this crap! I’m a trained seal I want content with depth; stuff that moves me.
Newsstands are plastered with survival magazines, recognizable with big reputation. No longer ninetysix pages, more like thirtysix and a hefty $5.99 starting price. The big glossies can range from $19.95 on up! Now you’re treading in book price range. This is the new fashionable print success Bookazines, drawing $500,000,000 profit 2015. Larger, thicker and drenched in impeccable photographic images, lovely text, and solid writing. In fact, I laid down $28 yesterday for a copy of Aperture issue 223 Vision & Justice absolutely stunning.
As for politics and news junkies, they are no longer willing to wait the next day to get on board with the most salacious recycled stories of the day. It’s now or no go! This is shark infested waters. Those stories have no future in print unless a hundred field reporters can keep their mouths zipped and come with another Panama Papers.
Music still stands a chance. It’s always about the writing, the insights, observations, the color and sounds amongst the grooves. Tell me something old, bring me something new, just don’t waste my time!