Tuesday, February 19, 2008

No Depression; no more publication

American heart country magazine No Depression is ceasing its print edition after thirteen years, explaining the editor's decision in a letter to readers:

Dear Friends:

Barring the intercession of unknown angels, you hold in your hands the next-to-the-last edition of No Depression we will publish. It is difficult even to type those words, so please know that we have not come lightly to this decision.

In the thirteen years since we began plotting and publishing No Depression , we have taken pride not only in the quality of the work we were able to offer our readers, but in the way we insisted upon doing business. We have never inflated our numbers; we have always paid our bills (and, especially, our freelancers) on time. And we have always tried our best to tell the truth.

First things, then: If you have a subscription to ND, please know that we will do our very best to take care of you. We will be negotiating with a handful of magazines who may be interested in fulfilling your subscription. That is the best we can do under the circumstances.

Those circumstances are both complicated and painfully simple. The simple answer is that advertising revenue in this issue is 64% of what it was for our March- April issue just two years ago. We expect that number to continue to decline.

The longer answer involves not simply the well-documented and industrywide reduction in print advertising, but the precipitous fall of the music industry. As a niche publication, ND is well insulated from reductions in, say, GM's print advertising budget; our size meant they weren't going to buy space in our pages, regardless.

On the other hand, because we're a niche title we are dependent upon advertisers who have a specific reason to reach our audience. That is: record labels. We, like many of our friends and competitors, are dependent upon advertising from the community we serve.

That community is, as they say, in transition. In this evolving downloadable world, what a record label is and does is all up to question. What is irrefutable is that their advertising budgets are drastically reduced, for reasons we well understand. It seems clear at this point that whatever businesses evolve to replace (or transform) record labels will have much less need to advertise in print.

The decline of brick and mortar music retail means we have fewer newsstands on which to sell our magazine, and small labels have fewer venues that might embrace and hand-sell their music. Ditto for independent bookstores. Paper manufacturers have consolidated and begun closing mills to cut production; we've been told to expect three price increases in 2008. Last year there was a shift in postal regulations, written by and for big publishers, which shifted costs down to smaller publishers whose economies of scale are unable to take advantage of advanced sorting techniques.

Then there's the economy...

The cumulative toll of those forces makes it increasingly difficult for all small magazines to survive. Whatever the potentials of the web, it cannot be good for our democracy to see independent voices further marginalized. But that's what's happening. The big money on the web is being made, not surprisingly, primarily by big businesses.

ND has never been a big business. It was started with a $2,000 loan from Peter's savings account (the only monetary investment ever provided, or sought by, the magazine). We have five more or less full-time employees, including we three who own the magazine. We have always worked from spare bedrooms and drawn what seemed modest salaries.

What makes this especially painful and particularly frustrating is that our readership has not significantly declined, our newsstand sell-through remains among the best in our portion of the industry, and our passion for and pleasure in the music has in no way diminished. We still have shelves full of first-rate music we'd love to tell you about.

And we have taken great pride in being one of the last bastions of the long-form article, despite the received wisdom throughout publishing that shorter is better. We were particularly gratified to be nominated for our third Utne award last year.

Our cards are now on the table.

Though we will do this at greater length next issue, we should like particularly to thank the advertisers who have stuck with us these many years; the writers, illustrators, and photographers who have worked for far less than they're worth; and our readers: You.
Thank you all. It has been our great joy to serve you.

So, it's not the move of readers online which has killed the magazine so much as the advertisers finding their funds drying up and sales outlets disappearing. It's easy to forget that the music industry is an ecosystem like any other, and extinctions can speed other changes. Disheartening news.

1 comment:

ian said...

The simple answer is that advertising revenue in this issue is 64% of what it was for our March- April issue just two years ago. We expect that number to continue to decline.

I'd expect it to decline quite a bit if they don't do any more publishing.

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