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Is the music press a thing of the past?

The sad demise of The Word magazine came as a surprise to many, but -crucially – not a shock. Formed nine years ago, the David Hepworth/Mark Ellen-led monthly had always tried to represent the best of old-school music journalism; in-depth profiles of established artists mixed with recommendations of new music they thought their audience might actually like, as opposed to music they felt they should. Independently run, the closure was endemic of a changing marketplace. While magazine closures are not new – Sounds and Select would be with us if they were – there will not be a rush to fill the gap on the shelves created by the decision.

Hepworth, a founding partner of Development Hell, which publishes the Word and dance music title Mixmag and also operates social media site dontstayin.com, said in the nine years since the Word had launched there had been “dramatic changes in the media and the music business”.

“These changes have made it more difficult for a small independent magazine to survive and provide its staff with a living,” he added. “This hasn’t been made any easier by the economic climate of the wider world.”

Simply put, the demand for paid-for content has been steadily dropping for years. Print may not be dead, but it certainly isn’t looking healthy. Sites like ours have not helped in that regard; there is a plethora of great content available online for free. the death of the concept of rockstar journalist – Nick Kent, Charles Shaar Murray, Andrew Collins – meant there was no unique hook for magazines to offer their readers.

The immediacy of the internet also took away the advantage that reviews had always offered. In the old days, a music journalist could have you salivating for a new release with some brilliantly crafted prose. If it was a respected writer, it was worth more to a certain type of teenager (guilty) than any advert. nowadays, you just pop online and hear it for yourself.

The NME will argue that it still has a market, and it does, but even its most ardent supporters can’t argue it has the influence it did even 10 years ago. The NME cannot start a movement or break a band any more. It reacts to its audience on a scale unparalelled in its near 60 year history.

So what does the future hold? More niche publishing, sub-genres of specialist writing. People will head to sites which represent the type of music they like. We’ll work in silos of country, dubstep, pop, grime and metal. This will, inevitably, mean there’s far less crossover and far less exposure to new areas of music. It’s sad, but that’s how it is. The genie can’t be put back in the bottle and a generation who’ve never really been invested in printed words will not mourn a magazine they never read. But for the once mighty British music press, it’s just another stark reminder of their lowly status and moribund future.

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