Saturday, 30 June 2012

Why I'm grieving for a magazine

I heard some news yesterday that left me seriously upset – The Word Magazine is closing down.

This probably sounds a little pathetic to a lot people, but I'm feeling something like grief. I've read every issue of the magazine since I picked up a copy in 2004, had a subscription for the past four years, listened to all its podcasts for the past five, and logged into its website nearly every day. It's been part of my life and I'm going to miss it terribly.

It's been the regular filler for chunks of my time, anything between fifteen minutes and two hours, when I want to flop out with something that entertains yet stimulates me. The magazine focuses mainly on music but also covers movies, TV, books and often strays into technology and social issues. The podcasts have been lovely, light hearted chunks of conversation between the staff and various figures from music and the media. The weekly email has introduced me to lots of entertaining snippets from the internet, and the giveaway CD lots of great music that I wouldn't otherwise have heard.

On top of that the website has been something special. Its blog section has allowed the readers to take over, starting their own conversations – sometimes serious, sometimes flippant – that often draw hundreds of comments. It's pulled off the stroke that gets the best out of the internet, creating a community of people with similar interests who enjoy conversing with each other. For a middle aged bloke who doesn't do regular evenings in the pub in any more – and I'm sure it's the same for many of its male and female readers – it's given me the joy of jumping into fun conversations whenever I'm in the mood. And I have been to a couple of its readers' mingles, and found them to be lovely occasions.

No-one's sure how much of this may continue in another form, but the magazine has provided the focus and after one last issue it won't be with us any more, another victim of the business model for publishers has fallen apart. I've got every sympathy for the guys who set it up – Mark Ellen and David Hepworth – and all the people who work with them. They've done a great job and I hope they can earn a living doing something similar.

It's nothing like as bad as losing a person that you love, but I'm losing something that I've treasured over the past few years, and it's going to leave an ache that won't go away for a long time. That's why I don't think there's anything silly in saying that I'm beginning to grieve for a magazine.


  1. I find it stupefying to believe that with a circulation of 25,000, largely from a 35 to 55 demographic with lots of spending power, it still isn't a viable concern. The emulsification of our culture continues, the content ever thinner, ever more similar and ever less interesting. Market forces are beigeing us to death. I'm grieving too.

    1. A couple of thoughts on the business issues that come from being a long time journalist. Magazines have usually flourished/survived/died on their advertising revenue, which depends on the decisions of marketing managers, and they are increasingly reluctant to put money into advertising in print or online. It's arguable whether they are right or not and no-one knows what's going to work in the future, but it's killing off a lot of publications.
      Also, The Guardian had a stake in it, but has been losing massive amounts of money and closing down or selling off parts of its business like mad. I don't know for sure, but this could have had an influence on the decision to close The Word.

  2. Lovely post.
    I spent yesterday in a state of shock too... on the surface it's "only a magazine", but obviously it's much more than that. Still so sorry The Word's going.

  3. I'll repeat what I wrote on David Hepworth's blog this morning:

    Lots of people liked The Word because not only was the magazine a very good read, but it also helped to create and encourage a community of bloggers and listeners via The Word's podcast and blogs.

    The podcasts were particularly good and included nostalgic musings about music, people, changes in society, life and living. Guests popped in to chat and sometimes we got a bit of music too.

    The blog is one of the most civilised and interesting blogs around. Bloggers went further, breaking out of their online world to to arrange meetings (Mingles) to get to know each other. Drinks were bought, stories were told and friendships sprung forth. Staff from the magazine attended and joined in. You can't underestimate the genuine pleasure of meeting people who have interviewed some of the musical greats or hosted a programme like 'The Old Grey Whistle Test', but who also exchanged fascinating insights into the entertainment world. Bloggers supplied reviews of albums and gigs that sometimes appeared in the magazine. The Word also laid on a series of gigs for their readers.

    All this has served to personalise how people regard the magazine and those involved with it. It has created a deep loyalty within certain people because they now regard The Word as part of their lives - it has brought them new friends, it has entertained them, it has added pleasure to what started out as a subscription to a printed mag.

    It sounds as if more subscriptions were needed to make the mag a viable business enterprise. The blog featured people who lost their jobs, found new jobs, or were still looking. Clearly these straightened times have led to many cancelled subscriptions or less money to spend on entertainment. The Word business model seems not to have kept pace with the changing times, but the magazine did not lose its quality or its ability to fascinate, which makes its demise all the harder to take. It certainly worked for the punters, but not to the extent that they all subscribed.

    I was sitting reading The Word at home when my wife turned to me to tell me that it was closing. She was reading the BBC News on her iPad. It struck me that maybe the iPad will contribute to the demise of paper magazines and that we will only have electronic mags in future. I don't mind that, as long as they are in the same league as The Word.

    I am Baskerville Old Face and a Word subscriber. Drink will now be taken!