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The rise and fall of magazines - click opera
February 2010
 
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Thu, Apr. 24th, 2008 09:11 am
The rise and fall of magazines

Over the next day or so two new articles I've written go up online -- a piece about the 101 Tokyo art fair for the Frieze site and a piece about the 5th Berlin Biennial for The Moment. They probably won't get much attention -- art pieces never do -- and, after a week or two, will be completely swept away in the ephemeral rush of fresh online commentary.



I've been thinking recently about magazines, newspapers, kiosks, newsagents. In the days before the internet, the closest thing for an information addict was the newsagent. But nothing could be harder than reconstructing the magazines (let alone the cultural and intellectual climate) of a bygone era. There are hardly any pictures of the outsides of British newsagents in the 1970s, let alone the magazines on their shelves or the content of those magazines.



Here's a quick snapshot of the periodicals I would have been purchasing in newsagents in particular periods of my life:

Typical Teenager, 1975: Time, The Listener, The Montreal Star (with its groovy supplement Scene), The Radio Times, Amateur Photographer, Car, Design.

Make it new, 1980: New Musical Express, New Society, New Statesman, New Left Review, Spare Rib, Gambit, Bananas, Zigzag, Studio International.



Style Press and London Listings, 1985: Smash Hits, The Face, i-D, The Fred, TLS, City Limits, Time Out, Blitz.



Getting More French, 1990: Actuel, Liberation, Lime Lizard.

Digital and Japanese Culture, 1995: Les Inrockuptibles, Select, Nova, Wired, Interactif, Magic, Barfout, H, Beikoku Ongaku, Cutie, Olive.

Japan Seen from New York, 2000: Studio Voice, Tokion, Raygun, FRUiTS, Relax, Frieze, Index, Sleazenation.



Esoterica and Slow Life, 2005: The Wire, De:bug, OK Fred, Kidswear, Exberliner, Vice, Artforum, Ku:nel, 032c.

British newsagents in the 70s were feral, shabby, habitual places, corner shops filled with confectionery, cigarettes, mags. The struggle was always to find something intelligent in them, yet in the 70s there was still something Reithian on the racks -- the BBC's magazine The Listener, for instance. There were still left wing sociology magazines like New Society, for which John Berger, Rayner Banham, David Cooper, Colin MacInnes, George Melly and Dennis Potter wrote.



When the 80s rolled around you could find intelligent writing in the style and music press, though it was a bit more glam and flashy than the Reithian voices of the 70s. I began to turn to the French press -- Actuel and Libé. Globalization meant that you could buy those pretty easily in London. As for the art and design press, in Britain they were still in the dark ages. Peter Fuller's Modern Painters didn't launch until 1988; before then you had Artscribe and Studio International, both now gone. The Design Council's Design magazine, despite the nice cover, was full of rather snoozy insider's reports on Thorn lighting rails and trade fairs. It's gone now too, although consumer design commentary has percolated and permeated everywhere.



The fact that I'm writing now for the online presences of journals like the New York Times and Frieze (reports which don't appear in the print versions) says a lot, I think. Magazines and newspapers will be eaten by the web, and when that happens newsagents will become tobacconists and confectioners, and nobody will have to go out in the rain to try and find an interesting magazine to read. Nobody will walk up to Waverley Station's news kiosk at midnight -- as I did one evening in 1978 -- and come back with a typewritten copy of Zigzag with Iggy Pop on the cover. It'll all just be a click away, with a banner ad.

Hisae tells me that a magazine she used to read regularly, Kokoku Hihyo (広告批評) has announced that it's to cease publication in April 2009, soon after celebrating its 30th anniversary. Kokoku Hihyo (literally: ad criticism) is a cultural review about advertising. It reviews the work of ad directors and copywriters, celebrating commercial creatives pretty much the way the music press celebrates musicians.



Former editor (now publisher) Amano Yukichi is getting on now, and he's closing his mag not just because magazine culture is being eaten up by the web, but because advertising is. The mass culture ads he's reviewed -- ads familiar to all Japanese -- are becoming targeted niche ads online. The situation described by Keiko Sei in this 1990 article is rapidly vanishing:

"CMs enjoy such immense popularity in Japan that advertising comes to seem less an accessory and more a primary industry in itself, an important creative output generating yet further spin-off media. From wholly dedicated CM magazines to regular mention in the 50 million daily newspapers and 1100 million other magazines, discourse on CM takes many forms. Japan’s leading "intellectual" newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun, features a weekly column, CM Watching by Amano Yukichi , chief editor of the monthly Koku Hihyo (Advertizing Critique), as well as another weekly column, Cheerful Consultations by major copywriter Nakajima Ramo. Both claim a huge readership, the former known for his skill at educing a picture of the world at large from a single CM, while the latter adopts a tried-and-true CM format to discuss eccentric queries from readers. Cheerful drivel to be sure, yet Nakajima’s media presence is telling. In any other country, the persons behind-the-scenes in advertising remain invisible; in Japan, they are familiar household names. Where else but Japan do hit commercial makers step forward and become stars? Ask any Japanese: there’s top copywriter Itoi Shigesato, and CM "creators" Kawasaki Toru, Nakahata Kishi, Sugiyama Kotaro and Lee Taeyong, to list but a few. This "up-front-behind-the-scenes" awareness is paradigmatic of the critical doublethink relationship that exists in Japan between the media and the viewer."

Eighteen years later, Yukichi says "Kokoku has come to a big turning point once more, the transition from the era of exclusive devotion to mass media to the era of coordination with internet. As things were going slowly with mass media Kokoku, we decided to have a break now." The break, I suspect, will be forever. Once-lively Kokoku Hihyo will join the list of interesting, defunct periodicals old codgers recall fondly on their blogs.

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33mhz
33mhz
The Queen of Overdub Kisses
Thu, Apr. 24th, 2008 07:54 am (UTC)

Where else but Japan do hit commercial makers step forward and become stars?

Well, there are those arty short film/music video/advertising crossovers like Chris Cunningham, Gondry, and LaChapelle. They're not exclusively advertising people, but neither is Shigesato Itoi, a name I recognize from the credits of Earthbound.

Edited at 2008-04-24 07:55 am (UTC)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 24th, 2008 07:59 am (UTC)

I think in 1990, when that article was written, the division between commercial and creative cultures was a little more impermeable than it is today. Outside Japan, anyway.


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obliterati
obliterati
Night of the Living Dave
Thu, Apr. 24th, 2008 08:18 am (UTC)

In Albany I used to work for a place called Coulson's News Center, which was the largest magazine stand in the city. Mostly I sold a lot of candy and lottery tickets but the magazines made the job bearable. Gamblers would always go there for the horse racing forms, kids would get video game mags, a lot of people got their comics from there. It was the only place to get newspapers from other cities in all of downtown, in the capitol of New York, and we got Legislator types buying those in the mornings sometimes. You could tell them from their long coats when everyone else was so ghetto-fied.

It's a shame everything else sells but the magazines anymore, and it's kind of mindboggling imagining all the titles that came and went with barely anyone noticing. Some of that is probably Albany's fault though, this is a town where the mayor still calls people "youse".


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thebestweapon
thebestweapon
thebestweapon
Thu, Apr. 24th, 2008 09:13 am (UTC)

surprised not to see merge magazine in your "japan seen from [the West]" list.
unfortunately, information on the long-defunct print mag is hard to come by - in its place, myspace sites and other hasty publications use the same name, but to nowhere near the same ends - so here's the closest i could find to a proper link: http://www.published-in-sweden.org/pub/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=24&Itemid=1

they definitely helped to shape my young brain, and their frequent writing about japanese art/sound/architecture (i remember distinctly the first issue i purchased, #5 or #6, had a feature on the "fluid" architecture of Tokyo) - and the Western artists informed by same - likely have a lot to do with why i read this journal each morning.


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thebestweapon
thebestweapon
thebestweapon
Thu, Apr. 24th, 2008 09:21 am (UTC)

better link than the one i provided in my comment: http://www.published-in-sweden.org/pub/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=16&Itemid=80


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 24th, 2008 10:34 am (UTC)
It's all rather nostalgic

but you should try being in the industry, or at least trying to get into it. It's rather like joining a tug of war team as they are being dragged across the dividing line. You think that you can make a difference, but it's too late - the things that have been put in motion are not going to stop. Magazines are the new records.

I recently got asked to move to london to work for a magazine. A well established world-wide publication. They were very interested in having me join them, and i graciously accepted their offer. However when it came to talk of salary they said "oh you won't get paid, it's like an internship."

Well screw that. This is where the pinch is coming in this industry. Yes i understand the need for internships and work experience and it has been happening for years, but how exactly do they expect me to be able to afford to move to london and live.... This magazine makes a huge profit and that's all they care about. They don't care that maybe i'm the ideal person to have on board, they care about getting anyone to work for free - and some poor sole will, some london dweller who happens to live within waking distance. Is that how you advance your publication? By limiting it to those who live close by? This is one of the reasons why magazines are failing - the big ones that are left are only left because they don't spend money on the things that used to make magazines great (the staff) Did anyone ever think that it wasn't just the presence of the internet that was forcing falling sales, but for me it's because the great writers are on only found there, not in the magazines The presence of a car will nullify a bike, but only if someone can drive it- no-one can afford to have them any other way so they work for free from home - thus magazines are dying because they don't spend the cash, they're appealing to a smaller and smaller market who buy them despite their diabolical state. If you have any sense these days you don't buy masses of magazines, but not because they are expensive and often hard to locate, but because if you want to read great writing online is the becoming one of the only places to find it.


wwb


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 24th, 2008 11:05 am (UTC)
Re: It's all rather nostalgic

Well, I write online for free too (at least on Click Opera) and I can put so much time and work into it precisely because I don't live in London and pay London prices. I'm a classic telecommuter in that sense, but also a classic intern, in that this free work has, eventually, led to a trickle of real income in the form of paid writing gigs.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 24th, 2008 10:49 am (UTC)

I remember shabby newsagents - though to call them feral is a bit too condescending for me - but the major power in the English magazine market in the 70s was WH Smith who, at the time, seemed quite modern. Private Eye hated Smiths because they couldn't get shelf space there and were denied access to a major market. Didn't John Menzies have a similar profile in Scotland?


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 24th, 2008 11:02 am (UTC)

N.B. John Menzies' guide to pronunciation:

http://www.johnmenziesplc.com/assets/sounds/menzies2.wav

A lively young damsel named Menzies
Inquired: "Do you know what this thenzies?"
Her aunt, with a gasp,
Replied: "It's a wasp,
And you're holding the end where the stenzies."


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Thu, Apr. 24th, 2008 11:36 am (UTC)

This makes me think of those revolving magazine racks. Packed in tight, groping past the Marvel and DC to find the TV21. Great band name that! They were not only to be found in "news agents" but also in all-in-one home furnishing stores like Woolworth's and Co-op - beside the old radiograms playing Pinky and Perky singles.

Was it Mark Perry of ATV or Mark E Smith who had one of those revolving Woolworth racks full of albums? I know Perry was seen lying naked on a floor strewn with all his favourite LP's.

I also recall the newsagent in Peeping Tom where folks came to buy dirty postcards.

The hipper mags were always to be found in Better Books in Forrest Road. In the Bristo magic triangle opposite the Oddfellow's Hall.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 24th, 2008 11:49 am (UTC)

I actually found a Picador rotating bookstand, still wrapped in plastic, outside an Aberdeen bookshop. It became a feature of my room (I had to buy the actual Picadors, of course) and got mentioned a lot in early interviews -- local colour.


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steviecat
steviecat
Stephen Drennan
Thu, Apr. 24th, 2008 02:18 pm (UTC)

Interesting that you were buying Spare Rib, as I was too. I didn't know any other males who did. Seemed that so males unfortunately missed the point that feminism actually benefited everyone, wasn't solely about liberating women. As a teenager it seemed important to keep up, to have knowledge of all those important issues.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 24th, 2008 02:47 pm (UTC)

Yes, I used to work in dank left wing bookshops -- there was one on King Street in Aberdeen, and one just off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Nobody ever came in, so it was quiet work, and you could read the books and magazines. I read a lot of Spare Rib in there.

I think I wanted the things in Spare Rib to be universal. I wanted women to be much more active and discriminating in their mate selection, for instance (ie choose me and do all the work I would otherwise have to do!). But actually what I found in those magazines was the opposite of that mainstream thing you're describing. I found that they allowed fairly mainstream, bourgeois, articulate white people to identify themselves, somehow, as a culty, spiky, cliquey, mysterious subculture. I think I was drawn to that as an escape from class guilt about my privilege, and through my general attraction to margins and alternatives.

My favourite theme in those days was "femininity as alienation".


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 24th, 2008 06:30 pm (UTC)



Not even a Wikipedia disambiguation for this poor old forgotten London style mag -- they do remember "a weekly "what's on" magazine published by Arc @ UNSW at the University of New South Wales" of the same name, though.


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ouranticipation
Ryan
Thu, Apr. 24th, 2008 08:42 pm (UTC)
You Say You Want a Revolution? Hypertext and the Laws of Media

Though you may have read the above mentioned essay by Stuart Moulthrop, I tend to agree with him that printed press will not die contrary to what many folks believe.

Many think that due to an overly digitalized world that printed news, books, literature, etc. will cease to exist because of the popularity of a hyperlinked information super-highway. But, what I think a great number of people neglect to see is that if something is interesting enough to a reader then they will inevitably end up printing it off and passing it along. Printed press will never disappear, and it's actually more available than ever before thanks, in part, to the internet. Anything published on the web can be ordered in material form or simply printed off.


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pay_option07
pay_option07
Thu, Apr. 24th, 2008 11:19 pm (UTC)
periodicals old codgers recall

I read Scientific America at Starbuck's today and came across a great modernist Thomas Telford. Have you ever considered him.
He's in the Iron age of industrialization in the UK with some amazing achievements and great pics.


http://www.americanscientist.org/template/IssueTOC/issue/1061


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Sat, Apr. 26th, 2008 07:13 pm (UTC)

A life measured out in magazines. I love it.


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