I’ve been around this music “magazine” thing for a few years now. You can probably figure that out by the fact that i actually used the word “magazine.”
So, more than two decades ago I did a real old-school pre-Internet paper and ink magazine called Gig. In terms of types of content it was remarkably similar to what we do on the Live 2 Play Network.
It was an independent magazine, not owned by a larger publishing company. The people running it were all about the passion of doing something they believed in and not worried about stock prices or mergers and acquisitions or shareholder value. Again, remarkably similar to L2P.
GIG was popular in its time but, like so many other indies, just could not bring in enough revenue to make it go. It went under in 1990. I went to work first for the L.A. Times and then for an alternative newsweekly called the Pasadena Weekly.
A piece of publishing trivia most do not know (even a lot of people in the biz don’t get this). Subscribers are not–financially speaking–an asset. When it comes to the books, it is a liability just like the printer or the office supply store. In those cases, the mag has gotten goods and services and owes money in return but in the subscription case, the magazine has received money and owes issues of the mag in return. When a magazine goes out of business, the most common thing is for another publisher to pick up the unfilled portion of subscriptions. The subscriber gets a note in the mail that says the mag they have subscribed to is no longer being published and that the remainder of their subscription will be fulfilled with another title.
OK, the reason for all this boring inside stuff will become clear in a moment. When GIG went under, our outstanding subscriptions were fulfilled by what was at the time the biggest and most read music magazine in the world (outside of maybe Rolling Stone) called Musician.
So fast forward to the late ’90s. After trying to re-establish GIG as an online entity very early (too early) in the march from print to digital, the title was picked up by a large publishing company and we put out GIG v.2.0 from ’95 until 2002.
This time around, we were the stronger mag and Musician bit the dust in the late ’90s. Ironically, when they went under their unfulfilled subs were filled with, you guessed it, GIG. Talk about what goes around comes around.
All of this came to mind the other day because it has happened again, this time with L2P. And i did not even know about it.
I was in the middle of a FaceBook debate about music piracy and wanted to reference the classic piece that singer/songwriter Janis Ian wrote a number of years ago about online distribution. It is a great piece and the link takes you to it on her website. Worth reading. And when you put it into context as having been written before iTunes was even announced to the public, it is eerily prophetic.
Here is were the whole goes around thing comes back in.
Back before the L2P Network was born, we were just a magazine called Singer and Musician. And we struggled. The dominant title in our market was published out of Nashville and was called Performing Songwriter. After we had made the digital switch and became as much (or more) about L2PNet.com, the email newsletter, L2PBandSpace and our social networking, we sat waiting for our competition to do the same.
They never did. In fact, Performing Songwriter folded largely because the publisher could not–or was not willing to–move away from print as the dominant format. I have actually heard that the person who sold ads for that mag–very successfully–has even started a new print mag trying to fill the niche that Performing Songwriter once occupied. Sorry, but these days anyone who starts a new print-only publication is either really rich and just wants to make a point or they are certifiable. And this from a old newspaper/magazine/print guy.
So, how does all of this connect? I knew about and had read pieces of Janis Ian’s piece online but never knew where it actually came from. I was very surprised, no, actually I was shocked to see that it was originally written for Performing Songwriter in 2002.
It is ironic and, hopefully, educational.
Performing Songwriter had the clarity of vision to see the importance of the Janis Ian piece and publish it only to be unable to apply its lessons to their own business. Janis is still writing and performing and making a living. Performing Songwriter is defunct.
It is easy, at least it is easy for me, to spout my opinions on the direction of current technology and trends in information distribution to whoever will listen. It is not something I am shy about. But as I pontificate on digital distribution and the “cloud” and subscription music services vs “ownership”of music files on a hard disc or portable device am I looking at how these trends affect what I do? When I tell people that the Apple iPad and devices like it are the future of publishing a I taking my own advice or just talking to hear my own voice and show people how smart I am? Or how smart i THINK I am…
Singer and Musician was a small magazine with no big financial backers or tech gurus on board. But we saw the direction in which things were headed and made huge adjustments. The print mag serves to support the content online not vice-versa. A totally alien concept for publishers. We changed to the point that we needed to change the name of the print mag. Singer and Musician morphed into L2P Quarterly almost two years ago.
We are hardly on top of the world and still struggle like many content providers. But, we are still here and we’ve seen the carcasses of bigger and better funded publications piled up on the side of the road we are still moving on.
How about you? Are you looking at the world around you and constantly adjusting or are you still in the deadend mindset of “as soon as i get a record deal everything will be great.” I know a lot of musicians who make a good living and I know more than a few with record deals. Guess what? There is very little crossover between the two groups.
Janis had it right. The world has “moved
on” and if we don’t move with it, well, it will move without us. The mag that published her piece did not understand that.
The wheel turns and we all have to turn with it if we are going to survive in these “interesting times.” It is a lesson we all need to be reminded of from time to time.
Originally posted 2010-06-03 19:13:59.