Dull musicians have helped kill the music press
Johnny Dee: It’s time the NME and other music mags were given away free
Latest circulation figures made very worrying reading for one sector of the magazine publishing – the music magazines. Without exception, all of the remaining major music titles nose-dived and this once thriving area of publishing suddenly seems as culturally relevant and cutting-edge as a penny farthing being ridden by Gyles Brandreth along Worthing prom.
Among the biggest losers was the last surviving music weekly NME (the New Music Express) whose circulation has dropped 16.4 per cent year on year. It now sells around 32,166 per week, approximately 300,000 less than it was selling at its peak in the mid-1970s. Q, Mojo, Uncut, Classic Rock, Kerrang! and Metal Hammer's falls were less dramatic - but they all lost readers.
For anyone who grew up loving music mags these are sad times indeed. But why has this happened?
The answer would appear to be straightforward - people get all the information they need about the Vaccines, REM or Rihanna on the internet, with the addition of videos, free music and conversation with like-minded fans, too.
Once music magazines offered the only access fans had to their idols - now you can follow their tweets where only their toilet habits - and sometimes not even that - remain a mystery. What is the point of spending money on something that offers less access and is just full of opinions of people you don't even know?
The fact is, music magazine sales have been dipping ever since the Fleet Street newspapers began to include pop and rock in their arts coverage in the 1990s. The logic was - why would you buy a music mag if you got all the same news, reviews and interviews bundled in with your daily paper? Niche titles that dealt with heavy metal, dance music or folk thrived for a while but now they too are struggling.
So what's the answer? Are old media music publications on their way out or can they survive a few decades yet? The success of Rolling Stone in America - whose circulation is rising and currently stands at just under 1.5 million - suggests that perhaps they can.
Whatever propaganda the music companies peddle about falling sales there is no denying that music consumption is bigger than ever. Gigs and festivals are still selling out, people are still managing to fill their ipods and iphones with thousands of tracks, and artists such as Adele and Take That are still breaking sales records (despite evil free downloading). There is a growing market of music fans out there - it's just that music magazines, and NME in particular, are resolutely failing to reach them.
Perhaps people don't like reading about music any more because musicians themselves are a bit dull? For every Lady Gaga there are thousands of Justin Biebers (above) who, despite making music that people like, don't really have anything of note to communicate beyond their hair product preferences. Within NME's rock 'n' roll world that ratio's even higher (just substitute drugs for hair products).
The thing is, musicians have always been a bit dull. It's just that, in the past, journalists were given more of a license to make things up, to prod them a bit harder until they said something properly revealing. Now they wouldn't dare - through fear of upsetting Artist A so much that they refuse to attend their awards ceremony.
In the days before the internet, journalists could make a new band's music sound far more interesting than it actually was (an arrangement that worked well for both parties). Now everyone can head straight to MySpace, YouTube or Hype Machine and find out the grim reality for themselves.
How can music magazines save themselves? Perhaps the answer is that they are given away free at concerts, music shops and pubs. Then at least they could bump up their circulations. Detachment from the major publishers could also save them - freed of corporate ties, we might actually get a music press that's funny and opinionated again. Until then it's hard to predict anything other than extinction. ·
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