This morning’s email served up a surprise announcement from Gino Robair that he has been laid off as editor of Electronic Musician. “Due to a corporate restructuring,” he says, “my position was eliminated.”
Let’s see, now … the corporation publishes magazines. And they restructure a magazine so that it has no editor. This makes sense how, exactly?
Keyboard did exactly the same thing a couple of months ago. Laid off Ernie Rideout, leaving the magazine without an editor. For now, Steve Fortner is functioning as Keyboard’s editor, though without the title, the pay raise, or the staff he would need to do the job.
Last year Virtual Instruments had to close its doors. My most recent word from Markkus Rovito at Remix (which is owned by the same company as Electronic Musician) was that he would be able to pay only a small fraction of his former rates for articles, because Remix has gone online-only. And of course Kylee Swenson had already been laid off as editor at Remix. Gossip (totally unconfirmed) is that while Craig Anderton continues at EQ, his pay has been cut rather drastically.
This is all very discouraging if you’re in the music magazine business, but ultimately it’s musicians who suffer.
Three factors have combined to bring us to the present state of affairs: a worldwide economic depression, corporate stupidity, and the Internet.
The Internet nibbles away at magazines from both sides. On the editorial side, readers can get huge slabs of information for free, so why pay for a subscription? Plus, the Internet is blazingly current; a print magazine is always six weeks behind the times. On the advertising side, manufacturers all have websites now, so they have less need to buy print ads to tout the virtues of their products. It’s a deadly combination.
Corporate stupidity is a separate topic. I’ll save it for another time. Let’s just observe that a dinosaur can run downhill at a pretty good clip and still look like it’s in control — but when it has to change course due to a fallen log in the path, expect to hear a loud crash.
Here’s a perspective from an industry insider. I won’t reveal this person’s name, but it’s someone who has looked at the numbers. Magazines are paid for by advertising, and that has become a big problem: “The advertising-supported business model will not be able to sustain print magazines much longer,” says my source. “With ad revenues at an all-time low and magazines being distributed for free to ‘subscribers’ (not to mention the newsstand problems of printing copies and throwing away 80% of them), magazines do not generate nearly enough revenue to cover the costs of being produced, printed, and distributed. Subscriptions and advertising rates have been discounted way too much over the years, and too many copies are given away for free — all to sustain rate bases that advertisers have insisted on but never wanted to pay for.”
Musicians still need good solid information about all sorts of things — technology, career-building, musicianship, current events, other artists to keep an eye on. The trouble with getting your info off the Web is that it’s unmoderated. You’ll be subjected to all sorts of bias and blather, and weeding through it will become an endless time-sink.
That’s what magazine editors are for: to sort out the bias and blather. In recent years (since the late 1980s or thereabouts) bias has started to creep and ooze into the magazines’ editorial pages, due to unremitting pressure from advertisers and corporate cowardice in resisting that pressure. So I’m talking the theory of magazine editors here, not necessarily the reality in all cases. (If you’re an editor, past or present, please try not to be offended by that observation. I can back it up with facts.)
All the same, editors perform a valuable social function: They figure out what’s important, they fact-check information to make sure it’s reliable, and they package the results in a way that’s easy and convenient for readers to absorb.
Maybe I ought to start a music magazine. The idea has crossed my mind a few times. I can think of a few talented people I’d hire, and I’m pretty sure they’re all looking for work.
What does anybody think? If you were starting, not a print publication but a timely magazine-like information source that employed editors to prepare the content, what would you include? What would you leave out? Tell me a story.