The Word magazine’s final edition is out this week, closing after nine years, Getintothis’ Paddy Hoey reflects on the demise of his favourite music monthly and why he supported it like a football team.
I don’t really need to add to the many thousands of words written about The Word magazine, nor do I need to expand on the many explanations for why it failed – but I think it says much about the commercial crisis in both the music and news media industries
May be all magazines in the music sector are ultimately doomed - £50 Man doesn’t really use the music magazine as a gatekeeper any more – he has the Amazon app on his smart phone and if he isn’t guided by those algorithms then it is Facebook, Twitter or Youtube buzz that drives his purchase.
That’s not to be sexist, MP She is keeping the music industry afloat, she probably doesn’t have the time or inclination to look through a magazine and be bothered to trust the views of some bloke considered an oracle since the early 1980s.
And, if she’s sufficiently political enough to care about the gender politics of music journalism, there are lots of brilliant feminist forums that have sought to redress the imbalance in the blokey inkies anyway.
If the music buyer is younger and is £50 Man’s daughter or son, then they probably haven’t paid for music for years, or do so infrequently. Music is consumed on YouTube or elsewhere online.
Most don’t care about either print media or the artists enough to want a couple of pages of writing on them. They certainly don’t eagerly await tips on what’s hot and what’s not from a bloke in Blue Harbour V neck who looks like their dad.
Music lovers are spread too thinly across a huge swathe of music, many are ghetto-ised anddon’t care for anything but ‘their’ music. And hey pop picker reading this, if you’re not ghetto-ised – then good on you, sport, it’s not an attack on you personally.
But, the whole swathe of human musical output from the Renaissance to today is available at the touch of a button, yet Bruno Mars and Jesse J literally sell lorry loads of music.
An era when Katy Perry, Bieber and Rihanna are in the top 10 US instead of bands like U2, Coldplay and Radiohead is usually bad for the mature rock magazine market. It’s an even worse era when it’s David Guetta shifting most of the units.
Big selling rock isn’t replenishing the kind of gene pool that used to sell music magazines.
To illustrate this, let’s play the popular game: ‘Which British heritage, guitar or indie act would you stick on a magazine cover to shift 50-70k copies?‘
You’d deffo go: The Beatles, Macca, Stones, The Who, Dylan, The Clash, U2, Coldplay, Weller (but only in Britain), Radiohead and a few others.
How many of us, hand on heart, have not read enough about all of these acts? Go cult, new or, heaven forfend, with a black or female cover star, and you risk lower sales.
The Word tried to do this, with varying degrees of success and failure. The crisis is not merely a crisis of print, rock also needs to replenish its gene pool.
The Word represented for me a civilised and intelligent approach to music. It had (still has for a short time) an amazingly creative and vibrant online forum which felt a real kinship to the team.
In many ways, the forum was more important to me than the magazine, and that probably says more about the gradual digital shift even among old media dinosaurs like me.
I posted loads over there, but they never made a single penny online from me. This, says much about the orthodoxies of the internet that have grown in the last 10 years. It’s been said that an active community of people posting would drive online revenues and bring an old media product into the new era.
So what did The Word do wrong? Seemingly nothing. Have the iPad app? Check. Vibrant online community and social media? Check. Organise official and sanction unofficial events? Check. Sell them music and tshirts? Check. An award winning magazine with a podcast with tens of thousands of downloads? Check. The closure of The Word makes a mockery of lots of the empty myths of how to succeed in the online world.
A couple of years ago, on one of the inevitable navel gazing threads about the magazine, someone said that the problem was that too many people saw being a Word reader like supporting a football team – to be done with blind faith.
Well, actually, it was like a football team for me – a team of writers that I have followed for as long as I have followed my team. In the digital age, we also found other ‘supporters’ and we had our little crews.
Many people on the boards used to complain that it was too civilised, too nice. One old member of The Word blog asked members of the MOJO board last week what it is like over there and got the reply: “It’s OK, but just don’t get offended if we call you a cunt.”
I think that sentiment, and our changing attitude to buying music and magazines, says much about the current era. We value music less and less, at least in terms of buying it, and value what we think in exactly reverse proportions.
You go to the internet to slag people off, take the piss, gang up and bully, just as it happens in any other community, it’s not about the music or the artist or the writer – it’s all about you.
This represents a lack of respect. A lack of respect for artists and writers, and a more general lack of respect for each other, that takes a lot of the fun out of music for me.
The Word put the fun back into music for me. It punctured ideas of being cool, it allowed you say you liked everything from French rap to Erasure, because there were people just like you there. I’ll miss it when the last magazine hits the shelves.