Editions of you: Roxy and magazines

For Your PleasureBefore home video made it possible to possess film, print was the only was the only to claim ownership of visuals. Roxy Music made records, but they made a world too – a freakish outgrowth of the style mags, and one built on print.

In the More Than This documentary, designer Anthony Price talks up the prestige of being a “Roxy girl”: “It was quite a benchmark of success. It was second only to a Vogue cover.” And Bryan Ferry reckons that print culture was part of the reason for Roxy’s success: “I think in Europe, people’s taste was more informed by magazines, by music newspapers, and music was analysed and talked about. In America, it was all about what was on the radio.”

12″ sleeves and the glossy magazines can’t define dreams and desire in the same way anymore. The music press has ground down to the NME, which seems to be more taste-chasing than taste-making, and retro-looking monthlies. With Roxy, magazines mattered.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009. Full review will appear in DVD And Blu-Ray Review.

British johns for British working girls

Local papers are in a bad way. The pressure to cut costs at the expense of editorial has gutted them of their local content, and driven away their readers. And while circulation has collapsed, advertising has headed the same way – eBay, Craigslist and Freecycle have swallowed the market in classifieds, and now there’s a recession, companies are hacking back their publicity budgets. So it takes a brave business to make a principled decision about what advertising they will accept, and Newsquest won lots of admiring comments when they announced that they would no longer accept ads from the sex trade:

Andy Parkes, group editor of Newsquest’s south London papers, is quoted: “Despite operating in accordance with industry guidelines, the company has taken a decision to no longer publish adult services advertisements, either in print or on its websites. Increasing concerns regarding the appalling issue of human trafficking has been significant in this decision, which is effective immediately.”

So what’s a brave company like that doing running banner ads for the BNP on their websites? Maybe it wasn’t the exploitation of the sex trade that got to them. Maybe they were actually taking a stand against the illegal immigrants offering five-quid oral and taking British johns from British workers.

The BNP is a racist party. They might be legal, but all their policies aim to restrict rights on the basis of ethnicity: Newsquest is associating with a brand whose main values are “viciousness”, “stupidity” and “hate-mongering”, and lending them the legitimacy of trusted local titles.

Such stupidity should create its own punishment by repelling readers who abhor the BNP, hurting circulation and pushing your reader profile downmarket where even fewer legitimate advertisers will want to buy a piece of your hopelessly damaged newspaper. But just in case the Newsquest management is too dim to figure out cause and effect, email them and let them know why you’ll never be taking one of their hate-friendly trash-rags again.

Newspapers wonder: why aren’t we more like the beloved and successful recording industry?

Why the sneaking emergence of pissing and moaning about Google in the newspapers? Because the Assosiated Press is trying to establish search engines as the enemy in the latest attempt at saving a newspaper business model that only ever worked because of the economics of the printing press, that’s why:

Last Monday The Associated Press announced at its annual meeting that it would begin tracking how its content and that of its member newspapers was used and seek a share of the revenues generated by it. If an accommodation was not reached, The A.P. and its members would pursue legal remedies, the association said.

Beyond the saber rattling (or empty threat, if you remember how poorly hunting down users went for the record industry), The A.P. said it would build its own search-friendly landing page, a place where links to licensed content from member newspapers (including The New York Times) would be aggregated.

There are sites big and small that scrape content and serve it up with their own ads, often supplied by Google, but the clearest target of The A.P.’s announcement was Google News, which was not mentioned in the announcement, but which features an enormous amount of content from The A.P. and its member newspapers.

David Carr, “The Media Equation: Papers Try to Get Out of a Box”, WSJ

Of course, the recording industry is still trying extremely hard to penalise its customers into coming back (and the RIAA seems to be having a nice run of political success at the moment, even if everything else in the world is screaming that they’re doing this wrong).

But however much print tries to emulate the “sue your punter and carry on as before” model, political muscle isn’t enough to compensate for a transformed knowledge economy. Traditional print media outlets are preoccipied with wishfully thinking that they can carry on making money in the same old way while everything around them is changing – and as a result, according to Clay Shirky, “the conversation has degenerated into the enthusiastic grasping at straws, pursued by skeptical responses.”

So what’s going to happen? Thrillingly, nobody knows. Shirky again:

Print media does much of society’s heavy journalistic lifting, from flooding the zone — covering every angle of a huge story — to the daily grind of attending the City Council meeting, just in case. This coverage creates benefits even for people who aren’t newspaper readers, because the work of print journalists is used by everyone from politicians to district attorneys to talk radio hosts to bloggers. The newspaper people often note that newspapers benefit society as a whole. This is true, but irrelevant to the problem at hand; “You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model. So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs?

I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it. The internet turns 40 this fall. Access by the general public is less than half that age. Web use, as a normal part of life for a majority of the developed world, is less than half that age. We just got here. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.

Mags not dying, just a bit poorly

Magculture linked to a Salon feature arguing that the magazine isn’t doomed, it’s just been badly mishandled. According to the writer (Gabriel Sherman), publishers aggressively launched titles during the “bubble years” (is that we’re calling the last decade now?) to exploit new advertising markets, but without cultivating the standards that build lasting readerships:

a closer look at the types of magazines that have closed reveals a more nuanced and, in many respects, hopeful portrait of the magazine business. According to a list compiled by Advertising Age, titles that have shut down in the past year come from the shelter, technology, travel, luxury, and teen categories. The reason for each category’s challenges are obvious, from a meltdown in the housing sector to teenagers’ wholesale abandonment of print for Facebook and Twitter.

As someone who’s pretty keen for people to carry on buying magazines so that some of the magazines will hopefully pay me to write for them, I don’t feel totally consoled by the suggestion that it’s ‘just’ the teenagers who are deserting the news-stands: if teenagers aren’t buying mags now, then what’s going to make them start in time to replace the older readers who’ll be dying off? And similarly, it’s possible that the tech audience is just out at the front of a movement into reading online, and the recession is masking a much more permanent shift.

Still, the failed mags gibbeted by Advertising Age do seem to have been mostly aimed at conspicuous consumers, and the fact that so many were diffusion titles – jimmying an established brand into a new marketplace – backs up Sherman’s thesis. And obviously, I’d really like this part to be true:

the current downturn can be good for publishers. Magazines still offer an unsurpassed ability to marry literary ambitions with deep reporting, photography, and visual design. In this new media age, people talk about the importance of transforming readers into “communities.” Magazines have never had a community problem. Great magazines have built enduring relationships with their readers that Facebook and Tumblr still aspire to. But in a race to grow their businesses, publishers put advertising first and editorial excellence second.

Magazines still retain emotional capital, and publishers need to remember that they’re not in the advertising-delivery business. If a magazine can speak directly to the reader, advertising dollars will follow. Titles launched to capitalize on a booming market segment will never survive over the long haul.

Paperhouse reads: Karen magazine

This arrived yesterday:

Karen cover

A magazine made out of the ordinary.

I ordered Karen after reading about it on Magculture. The magazine, put together by Karen Lubbock, has a very simple tagline which makes it something very unlike standard lifestyle junk. It’s about Karen – things she cooks, people she meets, stuff she thinks – but in an unassuming and generous way that makes it, more or less, about everything.


The thing is this financial crisis has hit the middle class that’s why it’s in thew news all the time. Maybe the middle class, will stop worrying about e-numbers now. […] What really matters goes across the board. It goes across class. What is it though? We’ve got to re-find it because everything has been covered over and hidden with s–t for years.

This is the only part of Karen that’s like a manifesto. The rest of the mag enacts it: what really matters is the food you eat, the people you live among, tatoos, mole trapping, found objects, snips of conversation. It’s absorbing and intelligent. The layout is supremely simple and supple: Helvetica, white backgrounds, point-and-shoot photographs combine artfully and and unfussily to make a magazine that’s beautifully consistent and subtly unexpected page-to-page.

Why do people buy unnecessary items?

Karen feels like an essential. Jeremy of Magculture talks about the best magazines being “a world apart, a place to escape to”: Karen is a place you disappear into and return from changed, refreshed, more fond and respectful of everyday life. It’s something really and truly out of the ordinary.