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What The Word magazine closure says about the new world of media

July 2, 2012

I DON’T really need to add to the many thousands of words written about The Word magazine, nor do I need to expand on the many explanations for why it failed – with a circulation of 25k it is difficult to get advertising in this day and age.

May be all magazines in the music sector are ultimately doomed – £50 Man doesn’t really use the music magazine as a gatekeeper any more – he has the Amazon app on his smart phone and if he isn’t guided by those algorithms then it is Facebook, Twitter or Youtube buzz that drives his purchase.

That’s not to be sexist, MP She is keeping the music industry afloat, she probably doesn’t have the time or inclination to look through a magazine and be bothered to trust the views of some bloke considered an oracle since the early 1980s.There are lots of brilliant feminist forums that have sought to redress the imbalance in the blokey indies anyway.

If the music buyer is younger and is £50 man’s daughter or son, then they probably haven’t paid for music for years, or done so infrequently. The young men I teach are also increasingly gehtto-ised in a way that I never was.

In an era of bountiful music at the flick of touch screen switch on a smart phone – cartoon strands  of rock and hip hop remain ever more popular. The young men I know tend not to read too much about music anyway. If they have anything to say about it they do so on Facebook or social media.

—–

The Word represented for me a civilised, witty and intelligent approach to music. It had (still has for a short time) an amazingly creative and vibrant online forum which felt a real kinship to the team.

In many ways, the forum was more important to me than the magazine, and that probably says more about the gradual digital shift even among old media dinosaurs like me.

I posted loads over there, but they never made a single penny online from me. This, says much about the orthodoxies of the Internet that have grown in the last 10 years. It’s been said that a vibrant online community of people posting would drive online revenues and bring an old media product into the new era.

So what did The Word do wrong? Seemingly nothing. Have the iPad app? Check. Vibrant online community and social media? Check. Organise official and sanction unofficial events? Check. Sell them music and tshirts? Check. An award winning magazine with a podcast with tens of thousands of downloads? Check. The closure of The Word makes a mockery of lots of the self-created myths of how to succeed in the online world.

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A couple of years ago, on one of the inevitable navel gazing threads about the magazine, someone said that the problem was that too many people saw being a Word reader like supporting a football team – to be done with blind faith.

Well, actually, it was like a football team for me – a team of writers that I have followed for as long as I have followed my team. In the digital age, we also found other ‘supporters’ and we had our little crews.

Many people on the boards used to complain that it was too civilised – too many teachers and frustrated writers, it was too nice. One old member of The Word blog asked members of the Mojo board today what it is like over there and got the reply: “It’s OK, but just don’t get offended if we call you a c*nt.”

I think that sentiment, and our changing attitude to buying music and magazines, says much about the current era. We value music less and less, at least in terms of buying it, and value what we think in exactly reverse proportions. You go to the internet to slag people off, take the p•ss, gang up and bully, just as it happens in any other community, it’s not about the music or the artist or the writer – it’s all about you.

This represents a lack of respect. A lack of respect for artists and writers and a more general lack of respect for each that takes a lot of the fun out of music for me. The Word put the fun back into music and allowed me to love music again.

It punctured ideas of being cool, it allowed you say you liked everything from French rap to Erasure, because there were people just like you there.  I’ll miss it when the last magazine is produced in July.

Well done to Mark Ellen, David Hepworth, Jerry Perkins, the indomitable Fraser Lewry and all the other writers and staff that made it a real blast being a member of the Massive.

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