That's the question Slate's Jonah Weiner attempts to answer in an essay he wrote today called "Spinning in the Grave: The three biggest reasons music magazines are dying." In the piece, he posits a theory that the recent demise of music-focused magazines like Blender and Vibe and the ongoing troubles of publications like Spin and Rolling Stone are partially owing to the troubles facing all "old"-media organizations these days, but can also be attributed to three key factors specific to this niche: There aren't as many musicians whose visage alone can sell magazines, music journalists are no longer getting special access to bands or albums in advance of the general public, and social-media phenomena like Facebook and Twitter have usurped music magazines as a place where conversations about music and bands once took place. All of these are fairly strong, well-supported theories, but if we were to pick one of them as being the most influential on our own personal decisions, we'd have to go with reason two.
Back in the pre-Napster days, we spent a substantial portion of our disposable income purchasing CDs (and, quite frankly, a pretty healthy slice of our nondisposable income, too). It was during this time that we needed music critics to assist us in sorting through the dozens of new releases that hit the shelves each and every Tuesday, and to help us figure out where we could get the best bang for our entertainment buck. However, as Internet bandwidth began to increase, music became increasingly easier to sample online, which greatly reduced the need to read about releases before trying them out ourselves — which cut down on the amount of times we'd swing through a record shop. And back in those days, even if we left a record shop without buying an album or an import single, we rarely walked out of a store empty-handed: We'd almost always pick up a music magazine to help us prep for our next visit.
It also doesn't help matters much that today's crop of superstar musicians are so dreadfully boring. Back in the nineties, hilariously awesome feuds between bands like Oasis and Blur* kept us running to the local Tower Records on a weekly basis to pick up a copy of NME or Melody Maker, or to see if the new issue of Q or Select had come in, just so we could keep up with who had gotten the latest word in edgewise. Nowadays, of course, not only can you get that information on the Internet without having to shell out over $10 for an import magazine, but even if you wanted to, there aren't many musicians who are out stirring things up in the traditional rock-and-roll sense. After all, we like Kelly Clarkson's music just as much as the next bloke on the block, but we have little to no interest in reading about what she does when she's not onstage.
What about you, VultureWatchers? Have you cut down on your music-magazine consumption? Or are you just as infatuated with mags like Spin and Rolling Stone today as you've always been? You know where to leave your thoughts!
Spinning in the Grave [Slate]
*Or Kurt and Courtney. Or Tupac and Biggie. Or Black Francis and Kim Deal. Or Ian Brown and John Squire. We could go on and on.