Bleeding Ink

04.29.10 7 years ago 30 Comments

I asked the owner of my favorite Mom-n-Pop bookstore where all her music mags went, why the racks were so thinned out. She replied, “It’s not beneficial to anyone to keep magazines on our shelves if they’re not selling.” Following the law of supply and demand, distributors don’t deliver when the demand isn’t there.

All that’s left of this favored magazine section is obscure reads about electric guitars, bass guitars, acoustic guitars and just plain ghyee-tahhrs. These are the mags I thought no one actually bought, until I saw they were the only publications left amidst a peppering of Rolling Stones, Pastes and Filters. No XXL, no The Source, no FADER, no Wax Poetics. I expect Paste and Filter will be gone any day now too.

Disheartening? Sometimes.

Empty racks mean a loss of jobs, and avid readers are finding fewer opportunities to leaf through glossy pages. But then you get an article like the one from Paste a friend recently sent to me. This thing was so gawdawful I question why anyone should be asked to hand over their cold, hard cash for such balls writing. Sometimes I imagine writers are just mashing on their keyboards with clinched fists and closed eyes, and editors are approving the work because they don’t have enough time, money or resources to give a hard edit.

Disheartening? Absolutely.

The amount of money a small publication is able to pay a writer for a brief article is insulting. The injury isn’t the meager sum itself, but rather the impersonal nature that surrounds the editing process between editors and freelance writers. When a writer is viewed as dispensable — what with thousands of recent j-school grads willing and able to fill the spot — there is no reason to treat that writer or his work as anything more than a faceless silhouette handing in mere ink on a page.

Yeah, keep your money. I’m straight. I don’t need to see my words in your ink that bad.

Beyond the editor/writer relationship, many niche music magazines lost perspective of what should always be the No. 1 concern in writing — the reader. If you can’t engage the reader you have nothing. That reader will go elsewhere… like to us… on the Internet. If you fling the doors open on this e-office, you get a face full of “Welcome to TSS” and “Respect My Fresh” from a gang of hungry writers who’d rather entertain their readers than be micromanaged into a crappy formula that’s dead where it stands.

Yes, writers and editors and all the rest should be paid to do what they do. It’s a hard job and not everyone can do it. But if you lose the crowd, you lose the fight. And if you’re just throwing haymakers in the dark, not entertaining your readers, not treating your writers with the respect that’s more valuable than any dollar sign, you’ll stop being worth it for the distributor to deliver your reams to the Mom-n-Pops everywhere. You won’t be beneficial, or necessary, for anyone.

My hope is that this massive hemorrhage in the world of print — especially in music coverage — will push writers and publications to do better work. That hope mirrors the one I have for music itself. These two industries had become so diluted with lukewarm talent, we were all facing a paradox of choice. Sure, we loved the myriad options presented to us that were so niche we had sub-sub-sub-genres to appeal to our specific tastes. But once we had that many options in front of us, we were furthering ourselves from the common and core interests that bind us together.

Welcome to the future, print magazines. Our name is The Smoking Section. We respect our writers. We exist for our readers. Follow this formula — Respect Our Fresh — and you too may be beneficial for someone again.

Magazine Sales Fall 9% At Newsstands [USA Today]

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