2011 Music Scribing- The Bad and the Ugly, So Where's the Good?
Tracking the story of music journalism every year ain't exactly a happy task. When you have to come back year after year and say 'the industry is f-ed up but maybe it won't be so bad,' eventually you start to wonder.
Obviously music journalism isn't going away, at least online, where's there's plenty of it and too much of it sometimes. The problem isn't just that it's disappearing in print but also that the people who do it now are less likely to earn a living from it as time goes on. Even for freelancers, who you don't have to pay benefits to, it's getting worse- I've informally heard from several editors that their budget for FL's is almost nonexistent now, even when they come across a good pitch.
So what, right? There's plenty of scribes all over the Net to take up slack. Yes and no. Though I keep finding good pieces popping up on blogs and zines and all kinds of wonderfully strange stray sites, I keep coming back again and again to established news sources, online and offline, to do most of my reading (as you'll see with a lot of the links below).
I'm sure if I trolled around online more, then I'd find better sources but so far, it's been hard to find them on a consistent basis. I'm all for the egalitarian nature of the Net- after all, that's what let me start my own zine. But eventually, you see that an editor isn't a bad thing necessarily, especially when they help to bring some focus and clarity to articles and what's being covered overall. Every time I read a good article, I appreciate not only the writer who shared something meaningful and worthwhile but also the editor who helped the piece come to life. As such, I think the online writing gap isn't just a problem of unseasoned writers but also the lack of good editors to set them straight sometimes.
As such, when I put together this listing, I kept it here a blog post since I was tired out from all the bad headlines and tapered off on coverage around the end of the year, finishing this off without editorial oversight (the good kind that I got at rockcritics.com and PopMatters). Part of it was fatigue on my part- I over-extend myself too much with too many projects. But part of it was also fatigue with the biz itself. I still love writing and reading good reviews/think-pieces/interviews/overviews/etc.. but it's pretty depressing to keep chronicling piles of bad news again and again. Think of this as a rough draft or a series of notes and links that might be helpful to understand the state of the biz now.
And what to think of all these stories and what it says about the state of the music journo biz? It's not a pretty picture- you find a lot of mistakes and fumbles for sure, plus some of the more promising moves (Spin, Rolling Stone, Paste) are just starting out and not exactly long-term strategies that can get duplicated all over the place. On the other hand, mistakes and fumbles are sometimes what's needed to find the right solution in an online jungle where there's no long-term answers yet. You can expect more big and small players to go under soon while their writers will gravitate to other pubs or start their own site or blog. Again, the question is whether these other pubs or sites will be strong enough to take up the slack.
And finally again, I'd just ask that when you do come across good articles or good music sites, let them know about it. A little kindness and praise goes a long way to sustain a scribe or a pub.
* Report: 80% of Americans Not Willing to Pay for Online News
- NY Times and Wall St Journal get away with it as brand news but when news is available otherwise online, it's tough to compete, unless you also have compelling, unique stories to push.
* Newspapers Draw A Larger Share of the Internet Audubon
- Mind you this was early 2011 but this mirrors what I was saying about people gravitating towards trusted sources (most of which don't charge users for content).
* Magazines Wrestle with the Best App Strategy
"... the revenue for iPad apps has yet to materialize. Neither Conde Nast, nor Time nor Hearst has provided figures for what they're making off their iPad apps. They have released subscription numbers, which, while growing, remain miniscule. Still, while publishers refuse to give up on the slumping print editions, they clearly see the tablet as the future."
* Tablet Sales Will Cut Mag Paper Use by 2015
"As print circ falters in the magazine industry... publishers have been putting an enormous amount of time and resources into producing digital editions for magazines."
* Newspaper Job Cuts Surged 30 Percent in 2011
- Don't expect it to get much better in 2012 unfortunately.
* U.S. Newspaper Ad Spending Hits 25 Year Low in 2010
- To make it worse, "Print ads generated $22.8 billion in 2010, an 8% drop from the previous year." Online ads grew but only a fraction of print ads and not nearly enough to make up the print decline.
* UK music mag sales lagging
NME sales down though they claim it's still strong. Maybe but it's only relatively speaking...
MODELS OF THE FUTURE?
* PASTE MAGAZINE
- Bought up by Wolfgang's Vault & Goes Digital: Remember how this print pub died in September 2010? This was a logical and smart way to resurrect it. Should be a model for other mags- they beat out most other other national mags, using a custom platform with articles, videos, songs and films, plus weekly downloads
* ATAVIST as a new model for journo's?
- As of now though, it still only has a handful of stories.
* THE DAILY- Fox Corp's big investment in iPad journalism
- Gigaom article: "The Daily has seen 800,000 downloads since launch refused to disclose The Daily‘s free trial to paid subscription conversion ratio." Ol' Man Murdoch has a healthy interest in online media and willing to invest in it but then again, one of his last big online investments was MySpace.
- Fox's $10 Million Loss on the Venture
- They also lost Sasha Frere-Jones from their masthead
TECH COMPANIES MUSCLE IN AND GET BRUISED
* AOL buys HUFFINGTON POST
- What about the hundreds of writers (the majority of writers there actually) who did their work at HP for no pay? Are they going to see a cent of that $300 million-plus from the sale? Don't count on it. They were played for chumps. That whole deal about writers being able to use the HP brand name as 'compensation' turned out to be backwards- HP was using them to build up their brand so that it could be sold off. Now the payoff has come and it's not for the writers. Huffington clearly has no shame. The worst part of it is that the rest of the media is going to toast her as a genius and a pioneer. She is, but not in the way they think or will admit. Her biggest skill is shafting writers.
- Also see this L.A. Times article
- NY Times articles about Huffington: Time Blog & David Carr piece: they think that HP articles are just the same kind of online content as Facebook and Twitter postings but how many articles or blog-length posts are written on those social media platforms? Also, just because a post doesn't get a lot of traffic doesn't mean that a writer shouldn't be paid- do ALL the posts from the celeb writers get high traffic?
- Many Huff writers who built up brand got mad and left
- End result of corner-cutting journalism: another scandal about a young writer over-quoting copy from another source and absent editors who use them as scapegoats.
*APPLE and its antics
- Apple Launches Subscription Billing Service on App Store
- But... there are anti-trust issues involved
- Many mags were not signed up at launch time though too - caught by surprise?
- 'Any hopes that the iPad would be the industry’s savior has faded'
- Mediaweek declares 'iTunes model for mags fail'
GENERIC 'YEAR OF THE WOMAN' HEADLINE
No misogynist slight here, but the term is used much too often, as if females were never here before, doing anything significant. Still, it was hard to ignore the heavy movement in this area of scribing in 2011. Witness...
* Maura Johnston taking over the music editor post at the Village Voice in March.
* Melissa Maerz in at Entertainment Weekly as lead music critic.
* Ann Powers in as NPR’s music critic and correspondent as well as one of their main music presences on their website.
* Lorraine Ali became Pop Music Editor at the Los Angeles Times.
* NYU conference on new Ellen Willis anthology, which was an historic gathering of women music journalists. This also inspired my Flavorpill list on women music scribes.
SOME CHANGES WITH THE SMALL PUB PLAYERS
* SIGNAL TO NOISE (stalwart avant publication)
- Editor/publisher Peter Gershon announces in March that STN will become a yearly publication thanks to 'the reality of today's publishing climate.'
* Also in March, another fine indie magazine ARTHUR MAGAZINE announced that it would stop publishing and remain only as an online archive.
* In September, NEW YORK PRESS went out of business.
* CREEM MAGAZINE owners looking to revive it in print
- But as this NY Times story reveals, that's easier said than done and not just because it's a bad time for print pubs or the fact that someone named Lester is still gone.
SOME CHANGES WITH THE BIG PLAYERS
* ROLLING STONE
- RS embraces web video, holding artist sessions at their offices.
- Rolling Stone goes foodie with new restaurant.
- Rolling Stone readers chose band for cover, sponsored by Garnier Fructis, a L’Oréal brand hair product.
- Another big political scoop from RS.
- Wenner thinks iPad not ready for mass consumption.
- RS takes hit for a Matt Taibbi piece that liberally quoted from a City Pages article without noting that.
- RS performs strong at beginning of the year with ad-page gains of over 30 percent.
- Near the end of the year, Wenner changed his mind about iPad, now embracing it.
* VIBE MAGAZINE
- Got a big investment from Magic Johnson's company.
- They broached indie world with their Hive website and started MTV Iggy to cover pop/rock/dance from around the world.
* SPIN MAGAZINE - Good move- they offered up their pub as a low-priced app with a smart digital interface, "using more of a side-scrolling motif than a page metaphor to explore a table of contents and link to stories that are designed exclusively for landscape mode. In many cases large splash image fills much of the screen and a scroll of text is read along a side rail."
- Upper office shake-up: editor-in-chief and publisher out, their first Digital Head in. Scorecard here.
* VILLAGE VOICE
- Narrowly avoided a disastrous strike. Here it was on the brink. How bad was it? The staff actually threatened to launch their own separate publication (which is a good bargaining chip).
- VV also had to do a mea culpa after trying to rig the Reddit site.
- If that wasn't bad enough, they also continued their job cuts, laying off a senior editor who had just finished up their 'Best of New York' issue.
- Set-Back #1: Reuters ends their partnership with BB in favor of the Wrap blog.
- Set-Back #2: Billboard Pro (their paid service for up-and-coming artists) shuts down.
- Bright Spot: BB teaming up with marketing company for Country mini-magazine.
* TIME OUT
- Owner Partners With Groupon, To Merge Ticket Sales With Editorial Content
- Here's the tricky part that seeks to bury the sacred line between editorial and ads- "(they want) to become a go-to place for ticket purchases, with reviews encouraging ticket sales from users."