Digitalisation back

The last one standing

FOCUS on dying music magazines

The last one standing
Photo: © Alicia Kassebohm
Will she be the last one standing? No! Author Sonja Eismann's work is far from finished here.

Spex dead, Intro dead, De:Bug long since dead. Music magazines are dying out, which is also an effect of digitali­sation. But is it also the end of forms of pop­cultural recognition? Ten causes of death at the end of the music magazine – which is by no means at the end of the tether.


BY SONJA EISMANN (long-time editor of the music magazine Intro, today’s co-founder and editor of Missy Magazine)


At the turn of the millennium, when I started writing for mu­sic magazines, it was still – or so it seemed to be – the golden age of print journalism. There were people who consumed pop magazines with pleasure and passion, and music mag­azines were places of discourse. There were also people who still bought CDs of course, and even if online file sharing networks like Napster made the record companies nervous, their sales still brought in enough money to support music magazines with ads and free press. Back then I came from a feminist, lefty do­it­yourself scene and could hardly be lieve my luck when in 2002 I was actually offered a job as an ed­itor for the free magazine Intro – even if that meant leaving my beautiful, tried­and­true Vienna for a crazy, somewhat unknown Cologne. Given the fact that my journalistic output had been limited to self­organised media and fanzines such as nylon, an.schläge, Radio Orange 94.0 or Murmel Comics, none of which were able to pay much of anything, I was somewhat honoured to suddenly get not only money for my work for the first time, but also a permanent job. 

I could hardly believe my luck when in 2002 the free magazine Intro actually offered me a job as an editor. Now Intro is dead and gone

Well, almost 20 years later, the print mags Intro, Spex,  Groove and De:Bug are gone. Long gone. In financial terms, journal­ism has never been a goldmine – most magazines had a print run of 20,000 – 40,000 a month. At around 100,000 copies, Intro was even the largest German­language magazine – and was still blindsided in the end. But all these magazines were not just magazines that informed readers about the latest al­bums, they were places of confrontation – either in critical reflection of pop itself or with theories about pop. Few are still managing an online­only media presence today, such as Groove and Spex, for example, but are facing an extremely uncertain future. For me, too, the future is also certain and the present precarious, which is basically true for all of print journalism. And those who want to survive today have to find a niche. When I founded Missy eleven years ago, the format didn’t even exist yet: Missy Magazine, a magazine for fem­inism and pop culture. And yet: Missy Maga zine sur vives! Thanks to the permanent self­exploitation of all those in­volved, the numbers of sales, subscriptions, advertisements and cooperations are still going up. What seemed like an un­fulfillable, almost childish utopia to me in my time at Intro, when I was already dreaming of an explicitly feminist maga­zine, due to its non­market­shaped, thematically sharpened orientation, is today surprisingly proving to be a more sus­tainable – or more contemporary? – publication concept. To date, Missy has outlasted the slow dying process all print for­mats are suffering.

There is simply no need today for discussions of pop culture like there used to be. The fun of dissent no longer has an advocate. Instead of discuss­ing contrary opinions, our own personal filters are currently multiplying. And most of all, record companies are spending less money on ads in music magazines today – these are just a few reasons for the slow death of music print formats

Not just one death: The ten deaths of music magazines 

How can the demise of so many recent music magazines be explained? Let me give you ten conjectures on how this death has come about. First, the decline of music magazines is only one aspect of a general collapse of print media. Due to the free availability of media content on the net, consum­ers’ willingness to spend money on newspapers and maga­zines is declining. On top of this, there’s the growing scepti­cism and hostility towards journalists and their honesty due to the recent promulgation of fake news. Second, there’s no longer a need to engage pop culture as before. Not only does the era of great theories seem to be over, but people’s atten­tion spans are also much shorter. Third, the fun of dissent no longer has an advocate. Instead of discussing contrary opin­ions, our own personal filters are currently multiplying. “The dissident niches, the subcultural multiplicity, the mainstream of the minorities are now organised by a digital architecture of filters. In the gated communities of taste one doesn’t ar­gue, but clings to people who are similar and increasingly similar (…)”, Tom Holert wrote about “Pop criticism as inter­vention” in the last issue of Spex. Fourth, Pop has lost its rele­vant articulation of youth cultures. It has become increasing­ly obsolete to belong to distinct subcultural cliques. Identities are no longer based on Pop­distinctions; they are construct­ed by more diffuse forms of thought. Fifth, there are no more pop journalistic talents worth mentioning, either on the re­ception side or on the production side. Sixth, the traditional target group of music magazines – young people, students and graduates alike – feels like being on a hamster wheel. 

Everyone is becoming formally smarter (with higher levels of education), but this still doesn’t earn him or her any money – and there is certainly no time left for journalism. Seventh: The older generation, which grew up with the consumption of pop magazines, turns away from the current discourse of age due to age. In this case, people tend to be more interest­ed in collecting, completing, refining and archiving music, as well as in non­current genres. Eighth, music magazines have simply failed to design their own teams and their choice of topics – that is, less white, male, heterosexual, etc. They also have relevance for potential readers, who are becoming in­creasingly concerned about these factors. Ninth: In the age of constant availability, the value of music, as opposed to the unique live moment, takes a back seat. This means: Music fans spend their money on concerts and festivals rather than on magazines. And, finally, record companies that have to cope with the constant free availability of music today spend less money on ads in music magazines – and cigarette adver­tising, which was traditionally a staple in music magazines, has been banned since 2006 (except tobacco magazines) in German print products. 

And so what’s next? Is it going to keep going like this, are we all going to stop? 

Yet: What’s next now? Is it also the end of forms of pop­ cultural recognition? To a certain extent, yes. It’s never go­ing to be the way it used to be. But something new is also emerging: For a long time already, numerous blogs have been forming and renegotiating topics. New podcast eupho­ria is already pushing through the medial ether, whose end is far from being in sight. And magazines like Missy, which have never been based solely on pop culture analysis, but on a decidedly political perspective, keep going. It is just that we are accustomed to working at a precarious financial lev­el and at the same time to supporting the equally precari­ous community right from the start. One can now complain about the advent of new times, but one may also ask: How will criticism be formulated and reconfigured in the future? Where and how do new places, new formats, new ways of thinking emerge? I remember that even back when I start­ed writing, pop criticism was already considered in decline – partly because music labels wanted to influence expensive shows and interview trips to Miami Beach and similar places. Which, in retrospect, rath er than being something of a “gold­en era”, looks rather dim. 

Category: Specials


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