The rebirth of print
A new lease of life for print publications may well be provided by hitherto online entitles dipping their toes in inky waters
Formats don’t ever really go away and that certainly applies to print. At a time when every single media organisation with a legacy print product is wondering what to do with the damn thing when sales are dipping, lagging and drooping, there are some sparks of life for the format being demonstrated by entities which have done most of their work to date online. The difference is that this is about niche not mass market.
Enter, stage left, Pitchfork. Last week, the venerable veteran online music mammoth anounced plans for The Pitchfork Review, “a quarterly music publication that combines new long-form feature stories, photography, illustrations and other ephemera”. It launches next month just in time for the Christmas market and it seems, like Pitchfork’s varous music festivals, to be perfectly pitched for its core market. If you’re a P4K fan with a fully-blown vinyl habit already, a retro print publication could be just the thing for you.
You can be sure that will be other such one-off or seasonal publications to come. For instance, The Quietus, home of some of the best music writing on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, published Point Close All Quotes: A Quietus Anthology over the summer as an ebook. The compilation of the best of the site’s 13,186 articles from September 2008 to August 2013 would make a handsome print title too and it would be no surprise if the publisher went down this route with any future editions. Closer to home, we’ve also seen new print wares like Hatred Of Music and We Play Here, helmed by Ian Malaney and Eoghan O’Sullivan respectively.
All of the above may well be the answer to a question which gets asked with great regularity about the demand for and supply of new music magazines. If there is such a need, it’s one which should be met by quality not quantity. Unlike the music magazines which have set the pace in the past, none of the above are weekly, fortnightly or even monthly titles and would, by my reckoning, have no interest in doing so.
When frequency becomes the key, the pressure is to fill space and meet deadlines rather than produce a piece of work which you, the publisher, are 100 per cent happy with and which you know offers readers something they can’t find online. You simply become a slave to the demands of the printing press, the distributer and the retailer when you have a print schedule to maintain. You also face the problems and pressures, as Stool Pigeon editor Phil Hebblethwaite put it when that brilliant title closed in February, of keeping the show on the road which, in their case, simply “knackered” all involved.
So don’t expect any print renaissance to get the presses cranking up to 90 again. It’s safe to say that those days are largely gone and you won’t be seeing the NME hitting those historic sales peaks from the 1970s again. Instead, it’s more about niche, more about publications to be sold in stores like Artbook, more about publications from titles who’ve a band of online loyalists and who want to give them something to spend their money on, more from titles keen to give their readers something they won’t find elsewhere. The titles have already established their bona-fides with these readers by virtue of their online activities – you certainly won’t be relyng on print to grow your audience – so this is about tapping that support base and giving them something neat, smart and bespoke in return.
Don’t expect the new print titles to suddenly produce a ton of cashflow either. Your print-run won’t be giving the old-school press barons sleepless nights. It also won’t be giving you sleepless nights either because you won’t be wondering what to do with the thousands of unsold returns taking up room under your bed. Instead, you cut your cloth to suit and you keep it simple. Not all titles will succeed or even maintain long-term beachheads, but then again, that has always been the case. As formats go, print still has much to recommend it. The difference between now and then – and it’s an important one – is that it’s niche not mass and the heavy lifting with regard to an audience and traction will already have been done online.