Downloads change music's appeal

With the launch of Rip & Burn next month, and Q's recent redesign taking into account changing listening habits, the music mag market is responding to a surge in digital music's popularity, writes Richard Cann.

Music titles have long placed credibility at the top of their editorial agenda. But with the growing involvement in downloading by mainstream brands as diverse as supermarket giant Tesco and drinks firm Coca-Cola, which sponsors the official UK download chart that launched last week, journalists' phones are ringing to the call of a wider variety of PR consultants' calls.

Rip & Burn, from PRWeek publisher Haymarket Publishing, is to launch with a print run of more than 100,000 and will be the first music-based title to devote itself to the burgeoning scene.

Former editor of Stuff Tom Dunmore is to edit the title and former Mojo editor Mat Snow is the editor-in-chief. The former says that Rip & Burn will fall 'halfway between Stuff and Q'.

Fast-evolving landscape

Although it will ultimately be an entertainment title rather than a tech magazine, hardware and services reviews will be important for satisfying people's desire to learn about this fast-evolving landscape. There is an opportunity for brands and PROs to participate in the education process.

Rip & Burn will use snappy stories that offer the reader information rather than long-winded opinion. 'People in this culture expect instant gratification and to get straight to the heart of the matter. We'll give information to empower music fans,' says Dunmore.

For PR-led stories likely to secure a spot in the mag, music PROs are likely to be the most useful for Dunmore. But he says that because so many organisations are getting involved in music he is keen to hear what other PROs can offer his readers:'I want to move away from snobbery - it's part of that whole old-school rock journalist thing, and the cult of the celebrity journalist is over.'

Even a company such as AOL, which Dunmore describes as having a 'nanny heritage', is winning coverage in the music press because of its considerable investment in providing music fans with an exclusive and extensive online resource. 'If there's an interesting story I wouldn't discount anything just because it's not from the coolest brand out there,' he adds.

Q editor Paul Rees agrees, saying: 'There's so much going on and music is all around us - so whether it's Napster or Coca-Cola, if someone can help consumers navigate through this, then it's a good thing. It specifically has to be useful to our readers.'

A redesigned Q hit the shelves last month with more content on available technology and services for downloading music. It now features a hardware page edited by Simon Munk, and Rees welcomes story pitches from major brands that can offer his readers free downloading trials. 'There was a time when major labels were the enemy, but it all boils down to the strength of the music these days,' he says.

Jonathan Morrish, head of corporate PR at The Outside Organisation, which represents artists such as Paul McCartney and Beyonce, believes the presence of big brands in music media is appropriate and attainable. 'Back in the 70s, people were amazed when Jaguar started advertising in NME, but music is now so ubiquitous that it's natural for big brands to use it as a conduit to create sales,' says Morrish, who was formerly V-P of comms at Sony Music Entertainment.

He adds that the involvement of big brands is inevitable given the large share of music sales that supermarkets have seized in recent years. 'It will be difficult to predict which will be the main legal download sites in five years - there will be a shake-out,' he argues.

But not all titles are appropriate conduits for brands to raise their profiles. Mark Ellen, editor of Development Hell's magazine Word, says his is 'about our own personal lives and our own interests', limiting the opportunities for PROs to influence editorial.

Set up last year by David Hepworth, who launched Q, Mojo, Empire and Heat as Emap editorial director - Word includes a substantial MyPod section on digital downloads and technology.

Although Ellen believes consumers have much to learn about the downloading revolution, he says word of mouth and 'personal evangelism' have always been central to music culture, meaning PR-led branded promotional initiatives are of less interest to his team.

Nevertheless, music downloading has developed to the degree that music titles cannot ignore its influence and are now willing to turn to big brands to help them promote the revolution. Rees says: 'We are at exactly the same tipping point as we were with the arrival of CDs. This is not a bandwagon.'

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