Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

The Death of Vibe And The Future Of Magazines :: A Roundtable with Alan Light and Raymond Roker

alan

Vibe’s death yesterday sparked conversations across the blogosphere about the future of magazines, especially the kind many of us most care about–urban culture and music magazines. I wanted to surface one of them here.

It began with a Twitter post that reposted to my Facebook account. Here was that original post (re-rendered into something resembling proper english).

Jeff Chang: I could live with a smaller media landscape–but we need that middle between 1m+ circulation mags and circs of less-than-100,000 zines back.

And who should reply but Alan Light.

Alan was one of my first editors at Vibe. (He actually did me the favor of sinking a horrible Tribe Called Quest piece I did, easily the worst interview I ever did…a long story for another time.) Alan started at Rolling Stone and went on staff there from 1989 to 1993. He moved over to become Music Editor at Vibe in its inaugural year and took over as Editor-in-Chief the following year, where he worked until 1997. He edited Spin from 1999-2002, then broke out to start a new magazine called Tracks.

Tracks is a really interesting story. It launched with independent capital in November 2003 with a circulation of about 150,000. It targeted readers from 30-50, a bit of an older audience, more white than not. This group was thought to be the holy grail of the dying music industry–they were folks who actually still bought music. The writing got better, they started moving more urban (Prince was on the cover at the time of “Musicology”) and they built an audience, doubling their circulation.

But by April 2005, they folded. The magazine industry had shifted dramatically. The middle–as in all media and entertainment industries, hell, in American society–could not hold.

Let’s pick this up where Alan responded:

Alan Light at 1:00pm June 30
you have no idea how right you are…well, ok, you have some idea. but take it from one who’s been there – it has become almost impossible to make that model work. which is awful, because it’s obviously the most interesting place to be.

Jeff Chang at 1:33pm June 30
Damn Alan. That hurts to hear from you because I know you know this better than anyone else. I’m sure in fact it hurts you more.

Alan Light at 1:35pm June 30
no more, no less – we’re all out here together. but you isolated the exact right issue, in all types of media. you can be mega or you can be niche, but very difficult to play in between. magazines, movies, music…all the same drill.

Jeff Chang at 1:54pm June 30
Yes. How do we get it back? My first gut instinct is stronger anti-trust enforcement, but that’s just one side of it. Plus how does one begin to reverse consolidation? After all it’s a global thing. I worry we come out of the depression and the big are still bigger and still stepping on or casting long shadows over the seeds of the new stuff. You all have any ideas?

Jeff Chang at 10:40am July 1
(crickets) Haha! Oh well, fam, we all stay grinding.

Alan Light at 10:43am July 1
All you say is correct – but it’s a market issue more than a legislative one. On the one side, it’s too expensive to produce “old” media without sufficient ad/sponsor base, and on the other hand – though we love the democratizing part of “new” media – until it can be monetized, how does a single outlet get enough visibility to feel like it has any impact?

Jeff Chang at 10:56am July 1
Alan, is there any middle ground at all to be found? Is it possible to concoct a web/print model that can diversify income beyond ad/sponsor revenues? E.g. For what it’s worth, and forgetting how I feel about it for a second, most of the mags I know in the high10K/low100k circ realm have become quasi- or real marketing agencies.

Alan Light at 11:01am July 1
I honestly don’t know – can anyone point to an example of such a business that’s working? I didn’t get enough time or runway with Tracks to really learn any conclusive lessons. And that was pre-web-takeover, anyway.

Another question someone asked me yesterday that I couldn’t answer: Who’s winning? Who in the media space, print or web, is gaining any ground at all?

Jeff Chang at 11:04am July 1
I guess I think of magazines like URB, The Fader, and Juxtapoz, and Swindle as businesses that are working. But again, there are a number of ancillary units working there aside from the content work. All of them have massive marketing arms. Juxtapoz is part of the Upper Playground clothing/street art business. Swindle is part of Shepard Fairey’s empire.

But yeah, media qua media? Not so much…

Alan Light at 11:07am July 1
if anyone sees this who works with any of those, please chime in. but my understanding is that the magazine parts of those companies do not make money – but rather are a good investment in terms of visibility. as a kind of calling card for the rest of the operation where the profits are. Raymond? Andy? You guys out there?

And here’s where my man Raymond Roker, my very first editor-in-chief at URB Magazine jumped in.

roker

Since 1990, Raymond has built URB from a free tabloid newsprint broadsheet into a magazine whose circulation is now 50,000. “But,” he says, “I believe that the model for 2010 is smaller still. And with more direct to consumer distribution. The newsstand market will continue to deteriorate and be hostile to indie mags. The decline of big titles make it even tougher for the newsstand business, so real estate could be harder to find. Plus, I don’t believe in the lowest common denominator of the newsstand marketplace. I’d rather go directly to potential readers.”

In order to survive, URB has branched into marketing in a big way over the past decade, now offering these services, according to Raymond: “creative direction, Web promotions, custom media/custom publishing, music consulting, viral video production and seeding, experiential marketing.” The website relaunches next month. Back to our conversation…

Raymond Leon Roker at 11:27am July 1
I agree with Alan for sure, the model is not workable in its current state. Just look at Paste–a “perfect” model in terms of great audience, good advertisers, and plenty of bells & whistles (CD, added value programs, sponsored events, etc). And look at Vibe now–how does *that* not work anymore?

The advertising model is broken because not enough marketers believe in it from a traditional (read: old media) vantage. They don’t believe in the metrics of it or the effectiveness. Except in massive terms a la Oprah, In Style, etc. And even that at aggressive CPMs, more akin to Web numbers.

The Web promises (in theory) a perfectly delivered demo with measurable metrics and perfect data. And the CPM efficiency is akin to the largest mags in many cases.

So…

Raymond Leon Roker at 11:32am July 1
The ways us smaller print brands have a chance is to become boutique agencies. Filter, Cornerstone/Fader, BPM, et al, everybody is in the agency game. The magazines become the branded company pitch. A measure of credibility and clout.

But as print continues to melt away, in the eyes of clients and under the weight of constantly increasing production costs, some of these brands may drop their mags too.

The assumption is that magazine brands, if they walk away from print, can’t survive. That hasn’t been proven one way or another yet. But IMO, the only way they will is by becoming media marketing companies instead. Ones where content and marketing blur (hello ASME). But the standalone magazine model died years ago.

Alan Light at 11:34am July 1
there’s a pretty key “(in theory)” in there – all this is true about the web but are even the larger web outlets able to monetize effectively? what is Pitchfork’s business?

I will tell you what will drive me crazy until my grave – when Vibe came up for sale a few years ago, why would nobody major step in and grab it? It was a total category leader, virtually unchallenged in a desirable space, and had an 800K circ with absolutely no spending behind it – one push by a real company and it’s a million without breaking a sweat, plus a brand built to extend beyond the pages. Why did it not even get a long look from one of the big publishers?

Raymond Leon Roker at 11:37am July 1
I can’t a answer why the big publisher’s didn’t look at it. Unless they ultimately didn’t understand or believe in “ethnic” media. That’s the only answer I can fathom given the numbers and apparent opportunity.

Jeff Chang at 11:45am July 1
Uh first off what’s a CPM? And to both of you, I feel like we moved from a mini-consolidation phase–Spin + Vibe merging–to a VC phase. Are either of those to blame for Vibe’s closing?

Jeff Chang at 11:46am July 1
And I note the irony of looking at VIbe as ‘ethnic media’ when the urban category was invented by Black marketers and other marketers of color to get beyond that box…

Alan Light at 11:51am July 1
First, publishing is a terrible place for VCs to be, the return is too slow and too gradual. And are there other examples of consolidation other than Vibe/Spin?

And FYI, I don’t know how these numbers developed over the years, but in the years I was at Vibe it was amazing how close a 50/50 split we had in black/white and in male/female readership. Which was a bit of a problem until sales team were able to convince people it was a strength.

Jeff Chang at 11:58am July 1
Re: that’s so telling on the ad tip. And so when Wicks Group bought Vibe the writing was on the wall?

Alan Light at 12:00pm July 1
who knows? i mean, i guess there was cause for concern if, as i said, no magazine companies wanted in. i can’t comment on the state of things as of time of sale, long after i was gone.

Raymond Leon Roker at 12:04pm July 1
CPM = cost per thousand. Sorry. Term for what a marketer is paying per thousand people/eyeballs reached. The lower the better, for them.

Jeff Chang at 12:07pm July 1
So what do we all do now?

Jeff Chang at 12:08pm July 1
After all this, I won’t be offended if the sound now is of (crickets).

Alan Light at 12:08pm July 1
from my end? i don’t miss being in the editor’s chair right now, so i am spreading my bets and working various projects in various media and very happy with the juggling act.

Raymond Leon Roker at 12:25pm July 1
We embrace the new. Don’t lament too much on the past. There will always be old media support groups and once URB’s archive site goes live, you can relive the rave scene virtually ;)

But today, it’s about social media, shared content, multiple distribution channels and creative financing.

Good night and good luck.

posted by @ 11:53 am | 37 Comments



37 Responses to “The Death of Vibe And The Future Of Magazines :: A Roundtable with Alan Light and Raymond Roker”

  1. Take Money says:

    Me and my pal Vex talked to Roker about the future of magazines and the death of Vibe 2 days before Vibe folded. Creepyyy

  2. Jeff Chang says:

    Damn. Can yall, like, talk about the future of the world and the death of racism next time?

  3. andy cohn says:

    VC’s have no business (never have) getting involved in the media business. there is a long trail of INCREDIBLE media properties (or ones that had the potential for greatness) left in the dust by VC’s who thought they’d get some great rate of return on their investment. When i first started at Spin magazine in 1994, i remember reading that the average print magazine took up to 10 years to turn a profit. i’m by no means a financial wizard (just opposite in fact) BUT that would send some red flags to me if i was the one calling shots on who to invest with or not.

    I think if we all really did the research, it’s NOT solely about the magazine or the content that drives it’s success, it’s about the OWNERSHIP structure, and willingness to cultivate and organically grow a property.

    So, and i mean NO disrespect, because i have had the good fortune to meet Quincy, and admire and respect him tremendously, i find it perplexing that he can come out and bash the VC’s for ‘messing up’ VIBE when it was HE that sold it to them in the first place. if VIBE had been maintained by the great people that started it and came in along the way, and it remained with Quincy/Bob Miller etc, i have no doubt we would NOT be talking about it’s closure today.

    FULL DISC: i have worked for Spin/Vibe, The Source and have been Group Publisher of The FADER Media network for the past 6 years.

  4. Jeff Chang says:

    Thank you, Andy. Wish we could have had you in the convo from the top.

  5. Alan Light says:

    Very glad to see Andy jump into this – he’s who I was calling out to when Raymond came in.

    I just remembered that I want to give respect to the folks at Relix magazine – faced with their backer wanting out of the game, they basically bought themselves out and sucked up the pain and the cutbacks and are trying to keep the doors open whatever it takes
    It’s another niche that seems like it could support a bigger magazine – the jam-band-and-beyond, Bonnaroo crowd – but at least these guys are putting themselves out there, making no excuses, and fighting for an idea.

  6. andy cohn says:

    i’d also like to make one thing VERY clear that is a widespread misconception about the fader media + cornerstone connection. the fader media, inc is run as a COMPLETELY separate P&L that i’m fully accountable for. even shared benefits (office space, accounting etc.) are allocated against my bottom line. i can’t/won’t get into further details on that, but those are the facts. that being said, of COURSE we benefit from this relationship with regards to being able to put forth a much deeper and more diverse offering for our FADER clients/partners etc. so the bottom line is that The FADER stands on it’s own as a business and stays healthy by sticking with organic growth, great content, and knowing who we are (and most importantly who we AREN’T), and by doing it across multiple platforms (print, digital, events etc.), we have built The FADER as a brand NOT limited solely to being a print publication.

  7. jh says:

    I don’t have anything to add but I just wanted to say that this was really interesting.

  8. Nick Purdy says:

    Hey gents,
    Great discussion. Is the current model (my definition: being advertising dependent to drive a print-centric P&L) workable? ‘Course not. At Paste we see a future driven by one critical success factor: deliver content profitably to an audience. We are agnostic as to how we do that – one reason we’ve just launched a new version of the magazine and reinvented our subscription model to put a value on digital and make all physical elements (Print, CD, DVD, VIP program) as a la carte add-ons. We’ll see.

    In addition to creating great multi-platform marketing programs, it’s time to start charging more for our content – and we’re doing that. We sit at the feet of the fellas over at The Economist and Go. To. School.

    Online pays but not enough to support a real staff. It’s about doing a number of things well – and becoming a marketing agency – well, we haven’t exactly done that but it’s obvious that helps. Kudos to Filter/Fader (and Urb? Ray – didn’t know you had that piece going) on that front.

    Cost structure matters a lot, too. Being in NYC makes it harder for many “middle” properties to make a go of it. Our Atlanta location has helped on that front.

  9. Jeff Chang says:

    Nick thanks for dropping in. Can I ask–how do you determine the threshold of what people are willing to pay for the different levels of subscriptions? And are subscribers willing to pay?

    I ask because it seems like there’s two different trains of thought. Take a subscription-plus feature like archiving. Many newspapers have gone back to free w/registration or more free w/reg (even the Wall St. Journal), but then mags like the New Yorker and The Nation offer free archive access to all subscribers.

  10. Jeff Chang says:

    Didn’t complete the thought. So it seems like others have given up on charging for certain kinds of add-ons…

  11. Nick Purdy says:

    Jeff: First, newspapers and magazines are really operating in two different worlds right now. Newspapers may not make it whereas magazines will (though less of them). What we’ve done (take a peek at http://www.pastemagazine.com/subscriptions) is to give our readers enough options so that they have control over HOW they get our material and to a great degree, how much of an investment they need to make. It’s brand new so I don’t have a data-driven answer yet to your question.

    Secondly, archiving is an interesting question for us due to the fact that we view our print product and our website as two different publications, each with its own strengths & weaknesses. The website is a publication of its own, not a site about or repeating our print publication. That said, the only way to get the full digital archive of our print magazine is to join our Digital VIP service (which offers album downloads, exclusive MP3s and the archive, plus early access to the digital magazine and sampler). For the website itself, everything we’ve ever published is permanently and freely available – as it must be. Without content, you don’t get pageviews, without pageviews, no ad revenue. And we mostly sell out our website, so we need to keep growing traffic.

  12. Nick Purdy says:

    re: Charging for add-ons: We’ve created a sub model that allows us to be completely neutral as to what options our subscribers choose. If they go purely digital, the numbers are right. And any add-ons they choose cover the incremental costs. It’s at least rational from our perspective – how consumers choose to interact with these options remains to be seen. But better to be rational with respect to content than continue undercutting ourselves, which has been the practice of print media for far too long.

  13. Jeff Chang says:

    Thanks, Nick. You’re proving that the great advantage of middies–vs. bigger mags and newspapers–is the ability to innovate quickly. For you and all of us, I hope that you’re incredibly successful.

  14. Zuhirah Khaldun says:

    hi, yes, thanks for this– very interesting, meant to comment yesterday, but I agree with andy, quincy acted as a venture capitalist in this scenario. I have mad respect for venture capitalists, they take risks -like my former bosses at Converse, they bought the brand out of bankruptcy, but it has been under the ownership of Nike that the brand has really gotten it’s legs back. Economists studying innovation call new breaks and developments that spur innovation, macroinventions (“genius” or “luck” that happens on the ground)that are improved upon by microinventions (an intentional search for improvements -usually institutional)(see Mokyr). the corporatization of music industry did not allow it the chance to fully comprehend what was coming with that genius thing called the internet and it was not able to evolve with the art (or it’s artists) and is now a dinosaur — I wrote a paper on importance of indies using this macroinvention model in undergrad), however, in order to be truly effective, these innovations must be integrated into a microstructure, bringing us back to the importance of ownership model proposed by Andy. Any business if it is to last must have dedicated principals that can still talk about raves and their “virtual” potential and are able to grow and evolve with their baby/”property” – Vibe ventures for instance was not sustained due to so many changes in ownership. thanks for this.. makes me wanna get on twitter and not just man my job’s account. cheers and happy holidays!

  15. Re: Fader/Cornerstone. Didn’t want to imply that these entities were the same or interchangeable. Just that I perceived them as sister organizations that were able to draw on each for audience, marketing clout, consumer traction and promotional execution. And Andy Cohn is a very nice bloke.

  16. Grant Alden says:

    Interesting discussion.

    I want first to underscore that we seem inexorably to be moving to a two-tiered publishing model: Really big, professional, muscular, multi-layered and profitable; really small, and a hobby. That applies both to print and web-based publishing models, and probably applies to whatever inevitably comes next after that. It troubles me that this spells the end to niche media (where I played for 13 years at No Depression), because that is where the diversity of ideas flourishes and fails. My former partners tried to translate that into an online model, and it didn’t work — apparently because the online model demands millions of eyeballs (or at least not hundreds of thousands), and at our zenith we printed just under 40,000 copies of our magazine.

    As to the newsstand…I am now, among other things, the newsstand buyer for my in-laws’ bookstore here in Eastern Kentucky. We stock, I dunno, 300-odd titles, and I’m as quirky as I can get away with (though I have resisted the temptation to bring Urb in; I just don’t think anybody here will get it enough to buy it, much as I’ve liked and respected that magazine from afar these many years). First thing happened, a couple months back, Anderson News went out of business. Bang. Owing us money, as it turned out. We turned to our other distributor, Ingram, which is fine, and more profitable for us. Except they don’t carry all the titles I might wish to access, and the titles they do carry keep going out of business (and more will, since I’m sure Anderson owes some of them big piles of money, too). At some point I’m going to have to go to the family and say, Look, there aren’t enough good magazines out there to justify the amount of retail space we devote to them. Despite the fact that our customers WANT magazines, want to read magazines, want to see new stuff all the time.

    With the death of record retail, we lost — sorry, are losing — a ton of great newsstands where independent magazine publishers could build an audience. As the big chains contract and presumably prepare also to fail, we move abruptly to a marketplace in which there are few if any niche opportunities for niche markets. At the same time (actually, it was a couple years ago) WalMart pared back the titles it carried, and began insisting upon a 50 percent sell-through, when most of us were tickled at 35 percent. But I digress into another pit…

  17. OW says:

    Great convo Jeff.

  18. RW says:

    It’s important to note that Urb doesn’t pay any of its freelancers anymore, so “surviving” for the few people remaining who work there does nothing to add to the bottom line for writers.

  19. Jeff Chang says:

    Grant, you highlight something that the other publishers have referred to here as well–which is the impact of utter and complete collapse of independent magazine distribution, combined with the demise of large music retail outlets (geez…Tower, Virgin, etc. etc.)…

    (I think too of mags like Punk Planet that got jacked by the Independent Press Assn’s ill-advised transformation from an indie-mag advocacy group into another badly managed distribution company.)

    Raymond and Nick also are moving much more to a more direct interface with their base. In effect, they need to cut out the middleman.

    All this points to the idea that the biggest barrier to entry now for a music or urban content start-up is, in fact, the distribution game.

    Yet Alan’s question–What is Pitchfork’s model? Or put another way, how can the Internet truly be a substitute for the network of Anderson’s and Ingram’s?–stands.

    Wow. I want to form a question here, but…

    No Depression, indeed.

  20. gary moskowitz says:

    thanks for getting this conversation rolling, Jeff. just a quick heads up that Swindle is no longer being published, as I was informed.

  21. John Lee says:

    Great convo guys. I think we should give a nod to the Vice model of free distro. Out of everyone I know I think Suroosh and team have built an empire out of the ashes of the many iterations of what Vice could be. THAT is something that we could all learn from – inventing and re-inventing the wheel until it turns on a dime. Vice, Virtue, AdVice anyone?

  22. Grant Alden says:

    Isn’t Pitchfork’s model basically to build their brand so as to stir interest in their festival, which is where the money is made?

    And to be clear…I don’t know that to be true, that’s simply my guess, and I mean nothing ill by guessing it.

    Some years ago I was cold called by somebody wondering whether ND would be interested in creating a trade show, and appalled when I said, no. Really, no. Obviously, Publishing Executive and whatever other trades I used to get argue that a number of magazines (an increasing number) are using their print brand as a lever into ancillary businesses that are actually profitable.

    Which says print still has substantial value and cachet, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?

    Only slightly related tangent, but…I keep waiting, since the production price is still comparatively low, for a rebirth of the independent tabloid. Technology and a proliferation of 4C presses got us all into the glossy magazine business…which is where our former advertisers (in the music bidness) liked to see their adverts. Fine. No advertisers, no newsstands, plenty of writers and photographers and illustrators, and web presses are under capacity and still comparatively cheap. Plus the dailies in most markets suck. Plus the weeklies in most markets now suck. So why aren’t we back in the trenches figuring out how to do what we do in a newsprint setting again? Other than the fact that WalMart killed our potential advertising base…

    Aw, I give up. For tonight, anyhow.

  23. andy cohn says:

    Alan, i could not agree more re: Relix, i have major respect for the way they are battling right now, and dealt the the ownership situation. great people too…

  24. Jazzbeezy says:

    I don’t know guys, I hear what you all are saying but the idea of a magazine only being a magazine and expecting a large ciruclation…that just seems so archaic to me now. You have to be something else – whether it’s a boutique marketing agency or a creative content team or a production company or something. Let me offer up the example of Vice: they’ve had the print mag now for 15 years, for free, ad-supported. But they also created VBS as an online alt news site and production company: it survives with ads, but we’re also selling tv shows and documentaries and other video works around the world to mtv, sky tv, discovery, etc. And VBS has allowed Vice’s brand marketing and advertising agency, Virtue, to flourish, with a number of big-money advertisers coming to us with real ad agency dollars. It’s a story that I really couldn’t appreciate until I saw it from the inside, and while people like to pick on Vice a lot, to my eyes they seem to have made it work.

  25. John Lee says:

    Is there an echo in here?

  26. Grant Alden says:

    Another question, directed at nobody in particular. Magazines/newspapers always had a church/state separation between edit and advert, which was breached in various ways by various publishers, but in the main seemed inviolable.

    When magazines are now published as part of a broader marketing plan, how is editorial integrity of that sort to be maintained, or is that just another tired old illusion of my dead letter past?

  27. @RW, re: no pay for contributors, neither does my writing outlet, the Huffington Post. If you truly don’t think that writing for a respected music magazine does anything for your bottom line, then that’s fair. But many, many writers who count URB as part of their resume would differ.

  28. For the record, as a business model, Vice/Virtue/VBS (as John Lee first pointed out above) is an extremely effective enterprise. There are myriad reasons why this has worked for them: from the smarts and gravitas of the owners; to them being the right aesthetic at the right time (ask Dov Charney); to pushing what they believe in, no matter what. Really can’t argue with their approach or success.

    I’d say the Fader + Cornerstone are close to this success as well. have no idea on either company’s numbers or margins, but in terms of PR, market strength, etc, they both seem to win solidly.

    I’d say that most indie mags, at least in the foreseeable future, will be one of the following models:

    1) super lean and streamlined virtual and flat organization with tiny overhead and a very niche product that is distributed primarily outside of large scale channels (newsstands, supermarkets, etc)

    2) larger media (15/20+ ppl) and marketing enterprise with multiple clients and offerings

    3) some hybrid/smaller version of the two above

  29. @Grant, as a quick reply re: church and state, I’d say that’s a fading concern. It’s part of the old media reality and boundaries. Most magazines launched in the past decade or so could care less about church and state. And as magazines competed more for survival and attracting ads, it got even messier. Add to that a competitor who sheds most of that church/state responsibility (the Interweb), and you can see how much it all matters now.

    Most mags have run edit to secure ads or at least shut a client up. Anyone who denies this is lying or hiding behind nuanced excuses. Sorry. But it’s degrees and, above all, what is the appearance to readers.

    We live in a time where no media source represents a hegemonic status. So people can easily go around media sources they deem not credible. So buyer beware. And hope that the outlet you follow has enough balls and honor to put their editorial mission first (or as often as possible).

  30. Chris Force says:

    @Raymond Roker, re: Church/State, the division may be old & gone, but that doesn’t make it right. Don’t readers deserve more than to hope for balls?

    At ALARM we’ve turned to our readers for support, cutting out almost all corporate advertising, scaling back on newsstand, working more direct pre-qual distro, and raising our cover price by over 40%.

    While we’ve lost some circ numbers, our sell-through and new subs have actually increased.

    This isn’t the solution for everyone, but for a small outlet with Midwest rents & salaries, so far it has been the right choice.

  31. @Chris, I love your model–truly. So, you purposely cut corporate advertising? Was that due to some forces at play that you felt were corrupting? The Mad magazine and Adbusters model can indeed work. I never sought it, personally.

    I’m more of a pragmatist than an idealist. URB had corporate advertising back in 1990 (music labels, retailers) and we have it today. But I challenge anybody to say we haven’t not pushed the conversation—across race, culture, politics or music—forward. Or to say that we’ve been a PR vehicle for corporate whims.

    So, without being overly defensive, I’d say that you can have cake and eat a little too. But ultimately, your readers will judge you. They can seek out other sources of information to balance your perspective. Media outlets have a responsibility to their customers on both sides of the aisle–readers and clients. If a brand crosses over too far either way, they’ll likely lose.

  32. CORRECTION: But I challenge anybody to say we HAVE NOT pushed the conversation—across race, culture, politics or music—forward

  33. andy cohn says:

    this is all a great and very healthy (and pertinent) discussion, but to me, the bottom line is that there is NO one-size-fits-all methodology or business model here. look at each of the properties covered in this piece and subsequent comment string, and you’ll see a different model in every case. Some are working, some may not be, some are viable long-term models, some may be quick shorter-term fixes… again, my take is that it’s all about the ownership structure, and the coinciding expectations and plans for the business (i.e. stay private and keep/nurture/grow (fader, xlr8r, urb), seek outside investment to expand (vice), sell to larger media company(wired) sell to private equity (vibe, blender) etc…

  34. Damn you, Andy, cutting to the quick. Again.

    Thank god for one size not fitting all.

  35. andy cohn says:

    jeff c., i think we are keeping with the spirit of the name of your site’s namesake!!!!

  36. [...] Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation spurred a discussion on Twitter (which he re-posted on his blog) musing on the future of magazines, especially those focusing on urban culture. Chang [...]

  37. Chris Force says:

    @Raymond, Yes, ALARM has purposely cut corporate advertising. That’s not to say we will continue to refuse it (there is one corporate ad in our next issue), or that I feel it is detrimental. Like Andy said, no model fits every situation.

    For us, the staff and expense it takes to manage corporate advertisers / agencies just isn’t worth it to a mag with a page rate / circ like ours.

    Putting that energy into building paid readership with a few very focused events is a better fit for us.

    Also, importantly, I make magazines because I love doing it. I love working with the labels and partners that really “get” what we do.

    One of the few aspects of my career that feels like a “job” is dealing with corporate advertisers/agencies. Not dealing with them this year has been extremely liberating.

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