Circulation figures for what remains of the music press are looking very grim indeed. Monthly magazine Q is down to 50,000 copies a month compared to its monthly figures of 200,000 in the Nineties, while Uncut and Mojo are in circulation freefall, too. However, it is the collapse of the iconic New Musical Express (NME) to around 20,000 copies a week that demonstrates the death of pop music in the UK.
NME has followed newspapers in producing a tablet version for the digital age, but shockingly this has only yielded 1,200 subscribers. True, NME‘s website does well enough as a source of pop news, but young people’s unwillingness to invest in magazines featuring music features and reviews (which are not initially on the website) indicates how pop music no longer inspires much devotion in young people today.
As with the decline of paid-for album sales, many will see the decline of the music press as a consequence of the digital age. Who wants to fork out cash for a music magazine, many will argue, when reviews, news and interviews are available for free? Indeed, the American online magazine Pitchfork has succeeded as the go-to place for hipsters, while one UK-based website, The Quietus, has provided a popular platform for thinkpieces on popular culture that the music weeklies once did so well. But neither of these really have the same impact as the UK press once did.
There is an argument that both Melody Maker and NME lost readers when they ditched the irreverent writing and long features in the late Nineties. Well, they certainly became less-readable publications. There was a patronising assumption that young people didn’t want cultural-studies essays or thinkpieces on politics, and so the Top 100 list-mania took their place. But poor editorial changes aren’t the full story. A revamped Select magazine in 2000, for instance, provided longer features and more probing journalism. But it soon went the same way as the Smash Hits-styled Melody Maker and folded in 2001.
Clearly, then, the music press has not been picking up younger generations of readers in the way it used to for quite some time. Instead, it is the music mags aimed at fortysomethings, such as Mojo and Uncut, that continue to sell relatively well compared to NME. That passion for both indulging a fondness for past greats and keeping up with new releases still appeals to those who lived through post-punk. Which raises the question: why doesn’t music grab pop’s traditional heartland, ambitious-minded youth, in the same way as before?