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Why Music Magazines Are Dying

Written by Patrick Jarenwattananon by way of [NPR's A Blog Supreme]

Earlier this week, a Slate essay on why music print mags are inordinately struggling in this recession made the Internet rounds. Author Jonah Weiner identified three reasons: fewer superstars in general, less exclusive content in an online age, and the rise of online social media are making the magazines obsolete, in addition to questionable business practices within individual publications. Which puts the recent struggles of JazzTimes into some perspective. One could point out the odd editorial and business decisions being made in the jazz press (why, for instance does Downbeat have no useful Web presence?). But as aging jazz legends are replaced with sorta-stars, more jazz bloggers are born every day and the jazz community is migrating to less hegemonic, more flexible online discussions. Very slowly, it seems often, but you can sort of notice it happening if you pay close enough attention.

Here's what I don't quite get, though. I notice the Jazz Internet expanding, but very, very gradually. Any fan of pop music who knows how to use "The Google" can illegally download their favorite artists' album leaks easily. Or at very least, they can find tracks on The Hype Machine, or at a publication like Stereogum. For whatever reason -- I surmise lack of people interested in leaking stuff, really -- you still can't do that with many new jazz releases. And while some artists get it, with that whole "nowadays people are demanding free content before they purchase, and I'm not going to make any money off this CD anyway, so go ahead: preview my record online" thing, others don't even put up full tracks on their MySpace pages, if they even bother to have those. Meanwhile, many older artists have been burned so often by bootleggers -- when that was a serious problem to a jazz artist's revenue stream -- that they don't care to adapt to music in the age of Web 2.0. So because there are fewer free opinions floating around out there, that would theoretically make jazz mags more essential as gatekeepers, right?

Sort of. It seems to me that the very lack of "free" in jazz -- of anybody wanting to put music out there on the Web -- is hurting the audience. Given the choice between the constant on-demand stream of free music that is the modern pop music world, and having to pay to hear what your jazz nerd friend told you to check out, why would the average consumer pick the more expensive substitute? And that's the real problem with jazz magazines: the audience itself -- by which I mean the potential audience willing to pay for magazines -- is diminishing. The slow pace of the migration of jazz to the Internet is both helping and hurting JazzTimes. It's helping because it keeps magazines important as lifelines to the jazz community. It's hurting because that jazz community has shrunken, in no small part because young consumers now expect to be able to hear content they are to care about. The entire jazz business, including JazzTimes, would do well to understand this.

[Link to the complete post on A Blog Supreme]

[Link to the Slate essay mentioned in the text]