21 February 2008

Quite Depressing

The publishers of No Depression, an award winning magazine devoted (literally) to alt-country music, have announced that they will cease producing their print edition this spring. (Here too.) They hope to maintain a web presence. Despite its loyal, relatively stable readership base, a number of factors conspired to prompted the publishers to take this step:

[1] A precipitous decline in advertising revenue from Record Labels which, politely, are themselves experiencing uncertain times;

[2] A sharp increase in the costs for paper produced by companies that, also politely, face an uncertain economic future;

[3] Rising costs for postage resulting from new postal regulations designed (see sidebar) to favor media conglomerates;

[4] The demise of small independent record and book stores which might sell the magazine.

These broader political-economic forces have subverted more than the viability of one magazine. They threaten the sort of independent media necessary for a robust democratic culture. As the publishers explain:
The cumulative toll of those forces makes it increasingly difficult for all small magazines to survive. Whatever the potentials of the web, it cannot be good for our democracy to see independent voices further marginalized. But that's what's happening. The big money on the web is being made, not surprisingly, primarily by big businesses.

So, here is a magazine, devoted to covering and promoting a vibrant sort of American music you are unlikely to hear on any radio station, let alone on any commerical station that essentially will no longer exist. One more extinction in our cultural ecology. One fewer avenue for artists to find an audience and vice versa. One fewer outlet for writers seeking a chance and the space to stretch out and say something. While the magazine takes its name from an old Carter Family song referring to the Great Depression, the demise of the magazine is depressing in a more mundane way.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous improbable said...

I agree it's sad to see these things die. But I think this is a sneaky comment:

"Whatever the potentials of the web, it cannot be good for our democracy to see independent voices further marginalized. But that's what's happening. The big money on the web is being made, not surprisingly, primarily by big businesses."

These magazines never made "big money", if they were lucky they covered their costs and survived. The big money in the pre-web world was also made by big organisations.

The web has lowered the costs of distributing opinions, as well as music, and so it's not surprising if it kills off older business models of doing so.

Whether it will produce the same quality is, I think, not yet clear. Under the old model the paper was so expensive that paying writers was almost free on top. Whereas if it's now the only cost then it might be under more pressure? But on the other hand some real experts who would never have chased down a magazine column now write online, for free.

25 February, 2008 00:57  

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