Few countries have a more robust culture of music journalism than England. “Music is such an inescapable part of the British cultural landscape,” journalist Pat Long writes in the book about the famous music weekly NME, “that it’s strange to think of a time when it wasn’t ghettoised in a weekly newspaper, when families didn’t spend their summer attending well-provisioned inter-generational rock festivals, when parents didn’t swap music with their teenage children.” Imagination is no longer necessary. British listeners have no concerts to attend. Advertisers have no events to sell. And with few stores open to sell physical issues of magazines, Covid-19 is threatening UK music publications, from Uncut to Metal Hammer, the way it has so many communities and business. For The Guardian, Laura Snapes writes about how British music publications are struggling during the pandemic, how they are working together, and what it might take to survive.
Music magazines have “been on the edge of sustainability” for a long time, says Douglas McCabe, of the media research group Enders Analysis. Print advertising has dwindled. There are plentiful free online publications. Key titles have closed: in 2018, NME axed its 66-year print incarnation (the brand survives online). Every year brings headlines about shrinking sales figures.
But many British music magazine editors and publishers say they were thriving in straitened times, at least before the pandemic. “The huge drop-off that most magazines experienced in the early 2010s has, relatively speaking, flattened out for many brands,” says the editor of Metal Hammer, Merlin Alderslade. “Most of our issues in 2019 were actually up year on year.”
Paul Geoghegan, the editor of global music magazine Songlines and managing director of Mark Allen Group music publications including Gramophone and Jazzwise, said the brand’s titles were sustainable before March. Stuart Williams, the publisher at Future Publishing – home to publications including Classic Rock and Metal Hammer – said its 13 music titles were profitable in April 2020, “when half the shops in the UK were closed and the population was barely allowed out.”