Monday, 27 October 2014

Published & Damned: The Decline of the Magazine

I've made no secret over the years of my love for the form of the magazine. Hell, I even worked at one for four years (before it 'went biannual'). And I had a brilliant time: I travelled the world, was showered with gifts, was invited to events as diverse as you can imagine, ate and drank for free...

It sounds ridiculous, and for the most part it was. But please note: this money for travel and gifts and everything else doesn't come from your publication, but from an increasing number of brands with a small to sky-high marketing budget chasing a rapidly-decreasing number of journalists and publications - especially in print.

The current model of fashion media is still doggedly clinging to print publications. Everyone loves to see something in print, is what we're told, but in truth, who does it matter to? Not to the public for starters. Here's a truth that might sting, if you work in print: no-one reads magazines. Your mates don't, your parents don't, people under 25 definitely don't. It's an industry in decline, and that isn't going to change. Print publications as a mass-market means of communication are over. When was the last time you bought a magazine? When was the last time you saw someone with a daily paper that they'd paid money for? Even the Saturday/Sunday papers tradition seems only kept alive by pubs.

I don't think I'm being overly hyperbolic (and in fact, I'm happy to be put right), but the way people consume has changed. It's all about the internet. Obvs. Print magazines won't die, but I've always likened the relationship to MP3s and vinyl records: you wouldn't wander around today with a turntable in your bag would you? Everyone has an MP3 player, or more likely, a phone that plays music. But the people who love a certain band, who cherish the experience of hearing their music, will go out and buy a vinyl record. Same with magazines; but fashion (like music) is a bit of an inward-looking world, and everyone that works in it buys magazines (or rather, has them delivered to their desks), and still likes seeing shoots in glossy format. Interns devour biannuals at a voracious speed.

This decline in popularity has lead to a depressing lack of money in an industry that is supposed to be reasonably desirable: the trickledown effect being that magazines are run by posh girls who love shopping and Daddy's Platinum Amex, and interns. The resulting effect of the lack of money, is a lack of investment in the surrounding media and talent: the second-tiers of print publications are run now by mavericks with a little VC investment (or inheritance); a lack of competition means that advertisers don't spend money further down the tree - I know enormous fashion websites with readerships in seven figures that are run from kitchen tables. Great journalists and writers are following the dollar signs to the Land of Content, overflowing with rollerball pens and heavy gsm writing paper.

Anyway, without going a bit Lexi Featherstone (or moaning relentlessly about the volume of emails one has to sift through) I guess it's just a bit sad to see that the established media hasn't found a way to get around this and jumpstart the industry. The halcyon days of making whatever you want and getting paid top dollar for it are over. Writing a 20-page feature for a glossy magazine and being paid £10k just doesn't happen any more. You're lucky if someone even pays your paltry invoice these days, especially in music journalism.

Some might say that the closure of a magazine is a sad thing, but really, it's an inevitability - they were never meant to last forever. It's the medium that I'll miss; the idea that you could turn a page and have no idea what's coming - a hugely powerful trope in a mass-market product. As my old Editor once memorably put it: "A magazine is a storage space for dynamite; and we want ours to blow your face off."

Don't get me wrong. There are still great opportunities to make content and tell great stories (I'm working in one such place now, in fact). You could start a blog, work with your mates, start a niche's not hard. Build your voice on social media, speak what you believe to be the truth, read (for God's sake READ!), write some words somewhere, and who knows, you could be the next Suroosh Alvi or Shane Smith - seemingly Vice is the last hope for some sort of future to the media, and I can't imagine having typed that a few years ago.

I guess what I'm most sad about is the changing idea of telling a great story, and telling it with words, really well. So many fashion writers are so bad at using a keyboard (not that I'm Proust, but at least my sentences are vaguely grammatically correct), which I find to be a huge shame: there are so many fantastic stories in the fashion industry that are just waiting to be well-told.

But I'm going to end on a positive note (and try to get this one put to bed).

First, remember that as long as those sky-high marketing budgets are there, there's always a way to get your words read.

To conclude (and continuing the musical analogy): all the best music has come from tiny, unknown scenes; repressed people, searching for a way to do things their own way. Look at disco, or acid house, or techno. Perhaps this switch in writing culture, driving the best writers away from established channels, away from the old structures of work and supporting themselves will drive a revolution in people writing great stories, putting great words in unusual sequences and making thrilling narratives, just because they want to.

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