On newspapers, music magazines, and Quincy Jones
The web-based culture magazine The Curator kindly published this piece on mine in August exploring the future of music magazines and the difference between them, the music industry they cover, and all the buzz over the fate of newspapers. Thanks to AW.
Few things get Quincy Jones riled up like death.
First, it was Michael Jackson’s. Then, it was Vibe’s.
The monthly magazine covering black pop culture was shuttered suddenly last month 16 years after Jones co-founded it. The private equity firm that owned it failed to find a buyer. That was the only way to keep it solvent. The next day, after the news emerged, Jones vowed to revive it: “They just messed my magazine all up,” he told the Associated Press. “I’m’a take it online because print … is over.”
The problems facing newspapers right now have convinced some, like Jones, to think print is over. But what newspapers are facing seems categorically different from the current plight of music magazines. Significantly, newspapers haven’t had to deal with piracy, which over the past decade has reconfigured the entire recording industry and by extension reconfigured the landscape that music magazines cover. For newspapers, news is news, whether in print or online. Distribution is the problem, not the nature of journalism. For music magazines, the problem is existential. What is the purpose of a music magazine in light of the dramatic shifts of the past decade?
In 2000, CD sales, having survived Napster 1.0, continued their decline, but slowly. By the middle of the decade, they were in free fall. Just two years ago, estimates ranged from 1 to 2 billion illicit downloads a year. That figure is surely low now. The marketplace value of music has cratered. It’s expected to be free. Few really expect paid downloads to match, much less surpass, former profits. Most industry insiders, including musicians themselves, consider CDs to be a marketing device for live concerts. To have a hit record, furthermore, is almost meaningless when that means selling a few hundred thousand copies. Meanwhile, those able to top the charts are fewer and fewer in number. When people say Michael Jackson’s death signaled an end to an era, they in part mean there won’t be superstars like him ever again.
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