As social media becomes the main place fans find out about the latest music news, what’s happening to popular and indie print music magazines? Brand recognition only goes so far, even for music industry staples like Rolling Stone Magazine and NME.
Even for younger fans, there’s a nostalgia attached to print music publications. Anyone aware of modern music history understands the importance of journalistic interviews, especially in rock and roll. Though print magazines have long shared the stage with radio and TV, they maintained a prestigious foothold in pop culture — until digital media changed the landscape
Let’s take a closer look at how music magazines cope with changes in how people consume music-related content.
The Demise of Print Media and Boomer Nostalgia
In 2008, British publication NME magazine ceased print publication after 66 years, heralding a massive change everyone knew was coming: Most people now read about music news online. MAD Magazine also folded after its rebranding, creating a standard for pop culture publications: go digital or fade away.
Bob Dylan characterized it best: “Your old road is rapidly aging. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand, for the times they are a-changin’.” Following generations have taken charge of manufacturing music and media, and that means most of it’s consumed and promoted online.
Video Killed the Print Magazine Star
In addition to the print magazine to digital format change, there’s another way music magazines have been surviving in the digital era, and MTV started it in 1981: video. “Video Killed the Radio Star,” a music video by The Buggles, was the first video played on the station.
MTV, of course, started as a TV station and not as a print magazine, but its format quickly dominated music media. As time progressed, MTV pioneered reality TV and music journalism, broadcasting live interviews and concerts straight to the masses. Print magazines could see the industry changing as it happened with MTV’s coverage and content, and many quickly adapted to include video in their online publications.
Now, viewers prefer online video content to TV — and 92% of people watching videos on their mobile phones will share them with others. Google indexes video results right along with blogs and articles. The age of video is already here, and one way media companies keep up is including video in their offerings.
That said, online video isn’t the only way these publications can keep it together: TV and radio ads are still useful investments for many advertisers, especially those looking to target people who are in transit. Therefore, partnerships with traditional media establishments can still prove valuable for publications.
Social Media Rocks
In the United States, more people get their news from social media than from newspapers. If social media is powerful enough to stir controversy and potentially sway voter perception in our country, what can it do for music news?
Streaming may very well be part of the answer. In live streaming, a content creator can stream live discussions and performances directly to their audience via social media. Platforms like Facebook, which include livestreaming but aren’t exclusively devoted to it, seem to have algorithms favoring live video streaming as well, meaning it’s easier for publications to get streamed video content in front of viewers with little or no advertising dollars.
This must, however, be done with strategic partnerships, as copyright violations can easily stymie marketing efforts.
Print Is the New Exclusive
Pitchfork Review got it right when it decided to provide exclusive content in its print edition. In other words, the online content is free for the masses (usually supported by advertising), but the print edition survives by providing high-quality content to consumers willing to pay and collect editions. After all, if people still collect historical music magazines and paper products like Pokémon cards, why wouldn’t they be interested physical editions?
It’s a tough game. Many other media companies opt to instead gate exclusive content behind online subscription platforms and technology that doesn’t allow ad blockers.
Rolling Stone Magazine delves into something other publications don’t: its writers recognize that art is inherently political. The magazine bills itself as having “Music, Film, TV and Political News Coverage.” This broadening of the genre has permitted in-depth interviews tying together pop culture in a way that no other publication has matched. Rolling Stone can still criticize the president and produce music industry coverage in the same issue.
Eco-Minded Music Fans
It’s almost too late to save the planet from the effects of climate change primarily caused by humans. Millennials and younger generations are well aware of this, and most are ready to take action. That means many small environmental acts, such as considering the costs of commutes and recycling paper.
While it is still a challenge to recycle shredded magazines and other types of shredded paper, many municipalities will accept magazines for recycling. In earlier decades of recycling, it wasn’t possible to recycle magazines at all, and there’s a lingering perception that glossy magazines are terrible for the environment.
Raising awareness of the recyclability of print music magazines can help print magazines survive, but 12-17% of greenhouse gas emissions result from deforestation due to paper demand. This supports the notion that print magazines should go online-only. Instead of framing the transition as a print-edition demise, they can consider boasting about the eco-friendliness of their decision.
While print magazines can do small things to maintain their eco-friendliness and draw back to more nostalgic times for older readers, it’s time for them to view print publications as supplements to their online offerings, if they stay in the print game at all. In music history, pop culture print publications have developed strong brands, but in a digital era where video content feeds primary consumer habit, advertising-fueled digital publications are mandatory for success.