When old rock stars stop selling records they either go and live on
prairie farms or die of heroin overdoses. For rock music magazines in
times of slump, the choice is simple - redesign or close.
In the mid-1990s the country’s music magazines - whose fortunes track
those of the music industry pretty closely - were riding high with huge
sales on the back of the popularity of Britpop acts like Blur and
Now, post-Britpop, the rock music press is in something of a crisis.
Less music is being sold overall and more critically, there is no sign
of the next new wave of talent.
The last ABC figures (July - Dec 1999) saw sales plummet. The two IPC
weekly tabloids Melody Maker and NME were down to 32,115 and 76,079
respectively (NME falling more than 14,000 copies). While EMAP’s monthly
A4-sized grown-up music magazine Q saw a slight increase to 211,229, the
younger, more flippant Select was down more than 15,000 to 56,049.
All four titles have had to react to the downturn created by the end of
Britpop and the hiatus that has followed. Even the relatively buoyant Q
has had to resort to themed issues rather than featuring specific acts
on its cover. Most recently, this month has seen the relaunch of Select
with a new design and an older, classier readership with less of an
obsession with guitar music. Select, which only launched in 1990, is
perhaps the most vulnerable title in the market having been very
successful during Britpop but now really having to start again.
The NME has recently appointed its youngest-ever editor and adopted a
more catholic approach to the music scene. The recent obsession with
alternative guitar rock will go and the paper is also seeking to
re-establish the political credentials that generated the respect of
former generations of readers.
The most radical move has been Melody Maker’s. The 73-year-old magazine
is seriously threatened by the present downturn, with the format change
prior to Christmas looking like a last gasp. Despite the fact that for
the most part of its life, Melody Maker has been the magazine read by
practising musicians, the paper has been relaunched in an A4 format and
is targeting ’fans’ - young people characterised by an unbridled
enthusiasm for their favourite acts .
Those involved remain confident that new acts will come along to revive
interest in music magazines. Everything could change within a year
should a new sensation arrive, they say. The question is will the next
big thing get here soon enough?
NME - Ben Knowles
Frequency: Weekly, tabloid
’The loss of circulation that NME suffered recently reflects the
problems of the music industry overall. I feel quite optimistic now
though - there are a lot of genuinely exciting new UK bands around.
’The paper has been going for 48 years and it has only really been
exclusively about guitar music in the last few years. So if we can go
back to bringing people a fairly wide ranging music paper and cover the
best new music quicker than anyone else, then there is a market there.
We have recruited the comedian Mark Thomas as a writer and we also
featured Ken Livingstone recently. The paper has always been culturally
aware and that makes it unique.’
MELODY MAKER - Mark Sutherland
Frequency: Weekly, A4
’The paper changed format nine weeks before the end of the last research
period so the figure we got did not reflect that move. For the last nine
weeks we sold 38,000 and the sales have been growing since Christmas so
the new format is a significant success.
’We are seeing an influx of younger people reading the title. Our
readers are passionate about music which is why we are still also the
musicians’ music magazine.
’The scene is fairly static at the moment. The happening thing is the
rock bands and these are only on the live circuit, rather than in the
charts. It is not like the heady days of Britpop - you have to work much
Q - Andy Pemberton
Publisher: Emap Metro
Frequency: Monthly, tabloid
’Typically Q readers are late-20s male music lovers. But we do not
actually aim at them. We aim at the intelligent music lover who could be
’What is interesting about Q is that there were central tenets laid down
at the start of the magazine in 1986 that are so rock solid it is easy
to keep on track. It is a broad church, for people who also have other
things in their life besides music. It is also about whatever is
successful at the time so we can cover anything.
’We have been affected in some ways by the fact that there is little
around at the moment. We have done one themed issue and we are now doing
another about the top 100 British albums of all time.’
SELECT - Alexis Petridis
Publisher: Emap Metro
Frequency: Monthly, A4
’The thinking with our redesign is that we had ridden the Britpop thing
really well, but that is over now. There was a perception that it was a
student magazine so we have taken it up-market with the re-design. We
have paid more attention to the photographs and used more white space so
that it will look different to other music titles.
’We want pictures that make pop stars look like pop stars again. We have
changed our front section to make it more responsive and we are also
broadening the music we cover. It is about alternative music but that
does not have to mean alternative rock - it can be anything, although
guitar music will still be the meat of it.’