– Firing old staff while new blood takes over at the top after a buy-out
– New management going for a “new” (younger) demographic
– Word count for articles will shrink (again)
Sounds like the Village Voice, doesn’t it? But it’s actually Spin magazine which just got bought out for a bargain basement $5 million dollars. Even if you’re not a fan of this pub, there’s little reason to celebrate.
What’s most distressing is the whole mantra about going for a “younger” audience. At this point, we’re talking Nicholodeon or maybe pre-school (where there is a market but that’s another story). The assumption is that the coveted teen demographic wants lots of pictures and shorter, punchier stories. These kids are already wacked out on video games and the Net so how else are you gonna attract them to print? Thus, a self-fulfilling prophesy of the dumbing-down for the mag world. Hey, even the Washington Post decided that this was the way to go and rest assured, many other pubs will follow suit.
But are the teens and college kids really that shallow or stupid or is that just something that’s easy and seemingly profitable to assume? The other media center that makes the assumption that everything has to be scaled back for a younger audience is the FCC (and their friends in Congress). With all of the increasing fines that they throw at TV or radio, the purpose is to keep the dialog fit for the kids. Of course, it’s totally unrealistic as is trying to keep magazines only readable for the pre-grad school set. In both cases, it flies in the face of reality, ignores cultural changes that happen all the time and completely ignores a huge demographic who actually graduated college. So far, the FCC has gotten its way but it remains to be seen if the idea of Blender-izing the whole music mag world will mean bigger circulation numbers. My guess is that it won’t because the original article is still around and despite Tracks Magazine’s failure to survive; there still is an adult music market that’s waiting to be tapped into.
But back to the mag in question… When Spin started out, it really was an alternative publication, no matter what you thought of Guccione Jr.. A friend of mine who worked there in ye old days said that he’d bring centerfolds from his dad’s magazine to their staff meetings and show them off. Another writer said that he’d have coke lines waiting for him in his desk drawer. How could he live like that? “I had to keep up with everyone else,” he said defensively. And yet, through this haze of sex ‘n’ drugs came a magazine that was really unique. Hell, Robert Palmer and Byron Coley would regularly turn in articles for them.
After Jr. had to take a walk because of sexual harassment charges, new regimes took over. Down the line, even I was writing some reviews for them when Alan Light was at the helm. I got to know some of the staff and they were good folks who did care about music and had an interesting way of speaking about it. Towards the end of his time there, I was on a panel with Light and the subject of cover stories came up. I was complaining that I could tell exactly what would be the big stories in Spin or Rolling Stone based on release schedules and that was too damn predictable. Light agreed to an extent but also countered that they had to sell newsstand copies and the way to do that a lot of times is to have a noted name/face on the cover. Then, they could push other lesser-known artists that they cared about also in the same issues.
Sia Michel took over in early 2002 and she was (rightfully) praised for helping to put some old-school indie heroes on the cover (i.e. Pixies, Morrissey). And yes, people would complain that the magazine still wasn’t like it used to be in the old days. That was true but it was also unrealistic to think that they could survive by doing so. Jann Werner definitely knew this and many fine pubs bit the dust when they couldn’t do so (i.e. Option, one of my all-time fave music magazines).
Even so, seeing the magazine being put up for sale for a measly $5 million dollars was shocking. Jr sold it off for over $40 million in 1997. Had it really plunged that much financially and in terms of credibility?
Even if you weren’t a Spin fan as of late, unless you were a curmudgeon, ideally you’d want things to pick up and improve rather than evaporate. So installing former Blender head/founder Andy Pemberton will mean what for Spin? Other than the staffing and article length, that remains to be seen. I’ll say the same thing that I did for the Voice when it also recently changed owners- if you don’t like what you see, don’t support it.