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The death of magazines - click opera
February 2010
 
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Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 02:00 pm
The death of magazines

All is not well in the world of periodical print media. Paper magazines and newspapers are dying, replaced by the activity you're engaged in right now -- reading content free off a computer screen. The big picture is of slow decline -- the New Yorker reported last year that since 1990, "a quarter of all American newspaper jobs have disappeared... the dwindling number of Americans who buy and read a daily paper are spending less time with it; the average is down to less than fifteen hours a month. Only nineteen per cent of Americans between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four claim even to look at a daily newspaper. The average age of the American newspaper reader is fifty-five and rising." But the short-term picture, as of early 2009, is of a sudden, precipitous decline in titles and jobs. It looks like a cull, the beginning of a rapid end.



I want to look at mainstream publications in the US and the UK, but first let's start in the tiny world of the magazines I like. In October 2008 I blogged for the New York Times about Sede magazine, a publication from Argentina. My focus was the question of how the financial crisis will impact what we do, and three months later I had an answer: both Sede and my New York Times job no longer existed. Juan Ignacio Moralejo, Sede's creator, plans a new magazine called Postal. I continue to write for magazines, but am currently owed over $2000 in unpaid fees. I'm beginning to wonder if this is the future for freelance writers: put weeks of work into features, then worry increasingly if the company who commissioned you will even be around in a couple of months to publish them and pay you.



Mags I like, like Apartamento, Ku:nel, Re:Standard, CODE, MiLK, Turps, 032c and Brutus all continue, for now. But a title I blogged my appreciation of in late November, Kateigaho International Edition, has since disappeared. Will magazines themselves soon become Living National Treasures? Are magazine shops going the way of record shops?



Okay, let's turn away from poetic niche publications for aesthete post-materialists and look at the big mainstream players in the US and the UK. How are they doing? Well, British newspapers are doing pretty badly, according to the latest ABC circulation stats. All UK daily newspapers except the Daily Star saw year-on-year circulation declines. The Sun, the UK's biggest-selling paper (three million copies daily) is slipping least, The Independent is plummeting (down 14% in its daily edition, down 24.4% on Sunday). Guardian Media Group, despite (or because of) a shiny new building at King's Cross, implemented a pay freeze and bonus suspension across their whole staff. The Guardian was down around 5%.



Amongst UK music publications there's chaos; the circulation of traditional market leader -- the lobotomized, indie-oriented New Musical Express -- was down 24.3% year on year to 48,549 in the second half of 2008. At that rate of decline you don't have to be Einstein to calculate that the NME's circulation will be zero within four years. The IPC's NME was hammered by Metal Hammer, a metal rock mag from rivals Future Publishing, whose Classic Rock magazine overtook the NME a year ago.

Amongst the "retro necro" monthlies things weren't much better. Q lost 21.6% of its circulation in 2008, down to about 100,000 copies a month, and parity with Mojo, which fell 5.4%. Kerrang! lost 32.1%, falling to 52,272 copies. Uncut was down 4.3% to 87,069. In the US, Metal Maniacs, Metal Edge and Relix magazines all went "on hiatus".



What we could call the "glitz 'n' tits" sector of the UK market didn't do any better, with plummeting circulations seen by Maxim (down a catastrophic 41.4%), Zoo, Nuts, Loaded and FHM (down 13.5%). Weekly celeb title OK! lost 25.6% of its readers in a year. Can't say I'm sorry to hear this, personally; I hated those magazines. In the US, bankruptcy curtailed the activities of the Ziff Davis group.

Things get even more serious when magazine distribution companies start going bust -- we saw how foreign magazines have become almost unobtainable in Japan after the collapse of Yohan last August. The same thing is happening in the US right now, with reports indicating that magazine wholesalers Anderson News and Source Interlink are closing. "A worst-case scenario could have People's 1.5 million newsstand average cut to 1 million," reported MINonline.

There are spots of good news, though. Mr Magazine points out that for every magazine pronounced dead in 2008, there were 20 new launches. In the UK the overall number of magazines sold or distributed was up 3.7% year on year, to a total of 81,227,572 in the second half of 2008, up from 76,238,115 in the second half of 2003. Some magazines -- Red, Vanity Fair, Harper's Bazaar, Vogue -- saw increases or stayed level. Easy Cook magazine saw its circulation grow by 20.4%, as people increasingly spurned restaurants.

The recession's big winners were magazines about the recession, which increased their collective circulation 71.1% year on year, largely thanks to the appearance of a free magazine called Sense. Moneyweek was up 16.6%, The Economist was up 3.1% for its domestic edition and 6.4% for the international one, and The Week rose 6.4%. The Spectator and The Oldie also increased their sales. The meltdown meant good business for left-leaning mags: Prospect was up 3.2%.

See, that's the beauty of capitalism -- even the collapse of capitalism is making someone, somewhere money. Now, about that $2000 I'm owed...

69CommentReplyShare


(Anonymous)
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 01:29 pm (UTC)

What's your point? Or are you just doing straight reporting now?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 01:42 pm (UTC)

You see, I very cunningly slipped in personal agenda here -- post-materialism, retro necro, the death of capitalism and how I'm owed $2000 -- and you didn't even notice. Yes, I must be a regular journalist now!


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 02:02 pm (UTC)

I've read that the decline of the print media actually started in the eighties - i.e. well before the Internet.

On a totally separate note, I met Mark Wallinger the other day and he told me he is a huge fan of your work. Just thought you might like to know.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 02:17 pm (UTC)

Wow!


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)

http://theteemingbrain.wordpress.com/2009/02/04/economic-doom-indeed-fantasy-sf-and-horror-publishers-and-publications-scaling-back-and-shutting-down/

I'm actually officially a freelance writer. That's even how the tax office knows me. However, I kind of wonder if there's any future for people whose talent is to create information in some way. The advantage of media such as text and music is that you can record them and distribute copies (you don't need the original). However, with information now so easily copied, leaked and spread, who will go on paying creators to create?

Morrissey's album was recently leaked on the internet. I didn't download it, because I don't do that (released today, so I should here it soon), but here's a comment from the Morrissey Solo website about the poor chart position of the single:

too many download it for free
I can't say anything really because I downloaded it for free, too. Still, that's the reason it's not a bigger hit. It's too bad cus it's a good song. How's it doing in France? LOL.


http://www.morrissey-solo.com/article.pl?sid=09/02/11/1617231

It might be hard to feel sorry for a millionaire like Morrissey, but there are still plenty of artists struggling to survive. Will the new generation of free-downloaders simply say "too bad LOL" as they strip our corpses?

It would be FINE if getting things for free applied to everything, but it's only information based work that is affected in this way. If you're a musician you still have to buy food and pay your rent (you can't download these for free).

I don't really think there's anything that can be done about it. I'm just one of those who is not at all excited about a future in which people are more and more plugged in to some elsewhere, and don't know how to spend time away from the whole elsewhere network. In this sense, I do even think time with a magazine or book is qualitatively different in its 'elsewhere' than time spent online. If you're online, you're hanging on, drip-fed messages and so on. If you're on your own with a book or magazine, you are unplugging yourself from such drip-feeding. It requires greater powers of concentration, because, unlike the rat-and-pedal world of user and Internet, you are not waiting on little Pavlovian rewards. For that reason, it also brings greater freedom.

I wouldn't deny the advantages of the Internet, because they have been advantages to me, too, but I think that little attention has been paid to the disadvantages, perhaps because people are afraid of sounding like old fogeys.

Changing the subject, these 'Captcha' security devices could be used as a kind of oracle. Mine currently says, "Authority Moses". What does it mean?


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krskrft
krskrft
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 03:18 pm (UTC)

But it isn't as though the ad revenue just goes away. Producers of goods and services will have their names stamped on whatever content does exist in the future (whether print dies and everything goes online for "free" or not), and they'll pay out for the privilege.


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autopope
autopope
Autopope
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)

You may have missed the news about Anderson News closing their doors; they're one of the two major magazine distributors; overview here. Source Interlink are also rumoured to be in trouble, and between them they distribute 50% of the magazines sold in the USA.

Without distribution, a magazine is Dead, Dead, Dead.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 02:22 pm (UTC)

Um, I didn't miss those important facts, if you read my piece you'll see they're both in there.

Next: the death of reading!


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 02:19 pm (UTC)

I still see more foreign magazines in japan than i could ever care to keep track off. don't know who gets them but while i noticed HMV has less tites than it used to the newly opened Book1ST in the shinjuku gherkin building for example has more foreign magazines than i've ever seen in any shop save that big one in new york.

Also , now would have been a good time to show how unique japan is. the print media is as vibrant as ever -- there was a discussion on one of marxy's blogs recently where the general complain was that people , producer and consumer, were not switching to digital information.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 02:40 pm (UTC)

I think that the collapse of general distribution will provide opportunities for boutiquization. For instance, chains like Tower and Zavvi collapse, but Rough Trade East and little vinyl specialists do well.

Here in Berlin we've seen Do You Read Me, the mag boutique in my first picture, open recently. It seems to be thriving (pretty crowded last time I looked in) thanks to a good location in the arts district, excellent design values, and judicious stock targeting (creative titles appealing to affluent arts and media folk).


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olamina
olamina
blackgirlgenius
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 02:21 pm (UTC)

Thanks for this. Really great links.

I am especially glad to read the Guardian article since I am a freelancer writer for business magazines.

Good luck on getting that $2000!


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 02:44 pm (UTC)
Should bloggers be paid?

Songwriters and artists are paid for streams and downloads, where the service is not illegal and licensed (and totals add up to more than a micro-payment).

A script-writer friend was appalled. “So the writer of the music in a film gets paid when people stream it but not the writer of the script?!”

Hence the Hollywood writer’s strike.

Authors get paid when someone copies their text for use elsewhere. Text on the internet is “undeniably published” and subject to the same laws as print.

I can’t see any reason why Livejournal, in publishing a writer’s work, as a commercial company, does not owe someone a fee.

Obviously, Livejournal would fold. Although a blog entry would probably be worth $0.000001 per page impression or something.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 02:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Should bloggers be paid?

It's not LiveJournal who profits from our free content, but the telecoms companies charging us monthly for broadband access. They're the ones who should pay, if anyone.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 02:49 pm (UTC)
mags

Yea back in the early 80s I used to regularly buy NME, Sounds, The Face, Vogue, Architectural Review, ID, the Times and other one off things. No wonder I nver had any dole money left! Society boy on social security indeed.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 03:29 pm (UTC)

Momus, some of us must be wondering how and why you keep doing it--producing an illustrated column almost every single day of the year, one that must require a considerable amount of time and research despite how easily words flow from you, for no money at all! Not even the most highly paid fulltime mainstream journalists would or could demand so much from themselves. Of course, we your sometimes faithful readers support you down the line by paying for other products of your wit and imagination, but this arrangement just doesn't seem quite fair--in a shrinking media environment, maybe you shouldn't be giving so much of yourself away for free.

Not to suggest passing around the PayPal tip jar again, or taking in ads even if Live Journal allowed it (and after all, a lot of those who come here probably wouldn't come so often if this joint weren't free), but should we be feeling guilty every time we hit "refresh"? Aren't comments like this taking up too much of your time?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 03:41 pm (UTC)

I know, I'm technically insane!

If anyone's feeling guilty, feel free to donate!

Edited at 2009-02-16 03:42 pm (UTC)


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mippy
mippy
Wronger Than Ten Hitlers
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 04:27 pm (UTC)

With regard to the NME - it isn't the must-read it was ten, twenty years ago. Blame the web, blame also the fact that it's got about half the content in it than it used to have.


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dr__ben
dr__ben
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 05:28 pm (UTC)

i know nothing about economics whatsoever, but it seems to me that people get paid more to do things that they dont want to do as an incentive. from chatting to people who do the job (not a terrible source) being a street sweeper is better paid unskilled manual labour than working in a shop. being a senior manager or city banker (boring and morally uninspiring) is obviously a much better paid professional job than being a doctor.

publishing and distribution can now happen much more effficiently than before, and without commercial involvement. but people want to create content for other people, and i guess they will continue to do so, for its own pleasure, rather than for money. maybe its not too much to expect that people do some things which are dull to pay the rent, and some things for free, for the fun of contributing. thinking about the best performances i've been to, or projects i've been a part of, it seems to me that that is how a lot of interesting content has always been produced.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 06:10 pm (UTC)

Yes, that's the post-materialist way of doing things, and by and large it's how things happen here in Berlin. I like it. I think it's a sound hypothesis that people do better work for no money, as long as they have some source of money to keep themselves alive.

By the way, are those dreadful LBC people (and their lawyers) off your back now?


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ortho_bob
ortho_bob
Sir Florian Ognob QC
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC)

The golden age of magazines was over before any of us was born. Take a look at a 1950 or earlier issue of Lilliput to see what a popular, mass-circulation magazine could be like (as opposed to overpriced arty wank), even during post-War austerity.



It apparently went downhill when Jack Hargreaves (yes, the How! guy) started editing it.


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niemandsrose
niemandsrose
Niemandsrose
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 06:59 pm (UTC)

I was wondering what had happened to the Kateigaho...first an announcement of a name change (to WA, of all unsearchable text strings), and then nothing.

(For the record, the only magazines I actually subscribe to are Selvedge (textile porn) and American Theatre (self-explanatory).)


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 07:30 pm (UTC)

Momus,

Your error was not going the McLuhan/Gladwell/Eno route and lecturing to corporations for large sums. You simply need to provide some vaguely plausible vision of where things are headed and then instruct these corporations how to prepare themselves for it.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 08:17 pm (UTC)



You mean perhaps lecturing AIGA on The Future of Texture, or taling to The Insititute for the Future of the Book about The Really Modern Library, or talking at the ICA Boston about What New Is, or at the Architectural Association in London about the Iconic? I don't think I've really been slacking here, though certainly they're institutions rather than corporations, and don't pay those Tony Blair-type fees.

Coming up: a lecture next month in Oslo and a tour of the Darwin exhibition in Frankfurt.


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sketchesfromexpain.blogspot.com
sketchesfromexpain.blogspot.com
Mon, Feb. 16th, 2009 10:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks for writing

Hey Momus--

Just a couple of lines to tell you that I keep reading you almost daily, even if sometimes I get infuriated and say to myself "I'm done reading Momus--how can he [insert thing I don't agree with, usually concerning irrational anti-US bias or indefensible Japanese exceptionality]".

But I keep reading.


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bugpowered
bugpowered
Tue, Feb. 17th, 2009 10:27 am (UTC)
Re: Thanks for writing

Just a couple of lines to tell you that I keep reading you almost daily, even if sometimes I get infuriated and say to myself "I'm done reading Momus--how can he [insert thing I don't agree with, usually concerning irrational anti-US bias or indefensible Japanese exceptionality]".

That's only because US is to be scorned and Japan is exceptional.

(Only half-kidding)


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