Monday, July 06, 2009

The Future of {Urban} Magazine's: Thoughts on Jeff Chang's Vibe Roundtable


Last week, Jeff Chang posted a roundtable discussion with
Alan Light, former Editor in Chief at Vibe and Raymond Roker,
Founder of Urb Magazine.

Read the entire post here. It is fascinating because in many ways
it is an organic conversation about journalism, capitalism, Vibe,
and venture capital.

Blockquote 5 paragraphs in, Jeff gets cooking when he writes,

But by April 2005, they folded. The magazine industry had shifted dramatically. The middle–as in all media and entertainment industries, hell, in American society–could not hold
The idea of the middle not holding, and for the magazine industry
as an analogy for American, and Global society, if you will,
Initially, last week, when I wrote about class, race
and teens online
I was going to include a chart about class distinctions.
It became clear to me that there is no such thing as a middle class.
There are owners. There are workers.
The material difference is
in salaries, and unions.

That's it.

Which brings me back to magazines.
Last March, I told
that Honey Magazine was relaunching as a social networking
(Background, I love magazines. My dad got me a Barbie
magazine subscription when I was 6. I also had a subscription to
Highlights and Weekly Reader.

You see, is a start up genius. She does venture capital
marketing analysis and makes
wireframes for billionaires,
so when she talks
about businesses, marketing and money, I listen.

She pointed
out to me that many magazines now have in house
record labels and publishing companies, and that the
magazines are just business cards for many companies.

We began to discuss, how Honey would have been different
if they
started a marketing arm right after the launch.

We wondered
how feasible this would have been given the way in
whiteness, blackness and gender impacts the access to
capital in
general and specifically in the NYC media and
marketing landscape

Which brings me to Jeff Chang's comment about magazines
marketing. Jeff writes,
Jeff Chang at 10:56am July 1
Alan, is there any middle ground at all to be found? Is it possible
to concoct a web/print model that can diversify income beyond
ad/sponsor revenues? E.g. For what it’s worth, and forgetting
how I feel about it for a second, most of the mags I know in the
high10K/low100k circ realm have become quasi- or real marketing
Then Jeff adds,

Jeff Chang at 11:04am July 1
I guess I think of magazines like URB, The Fader, and Juxtapoz, and Swindle as businesses that are working. But again, there are a number of ancillary units working there aside from the content work. All of them have massive marketing arms. Juxtapoz is part of the Upper Playground clothing/street art business. Swindle is part of Shepard Fairey’s empire.

But yeah, media qua media? Not so much…

Alan Light at 11:07am July 1
if anyone sees this who works with any of those, please chime in. but my understanding is that the magazine parts of those companies do not make money – but rather are a good investment in terms of visibility. as a kind of calling card for the rest of the operation where the profits are. Raymond? Andy? You guys out there?

This blew my brain back because, it became clear that "Hip Hop journalism"
in many ways is now about consumption.
That being said, if Hip Hop or
music journalism isn't about the journalism, and is a
calling card
for a corporation, where is the journalism?

Remember The Source, the Mind Squad and The Source's
? At one point, it stated,
We at The Source take very seriously the challenge being the
only independent voice for the rap industry...with respect to any
of our businesses relationships, we feel it is in our responsibility to
always strict police the integrity of our editorial content. On y in this
way can we continue to bring of the clear and unbiased coverage which
has won the respect of our readers.
Clearly this was pre-Benzino and The Almighty RSO.

In some ways, reading this roundtable, I felt like I was back in Mergers
in Acquisitions (M & A),
because the conversation about magazines
turned into one about profits, venture capital, risk assessment,
parent companies and subsidiaries.

For example, Al Roker spoke on the fact that these businesses
that have both ad agencies and magazines may drop the
magazine completely. He writes,

Raymond Leon Roker at 11:32am July 1
The ways us smaller print brands have a chance is to become boutique agencies. Filter, Cornerstone/Fader, BPM, et al, everybody is in the agency game. The magazines become the branded company pitch. A measure of credibility and clout.

But as print continues to melt away, in the eyes of clients and under the weight of constantly increasing production costs, some of these brands may drop their mags too.

The assumption is that magazine brands, if they walk away from print, can’t survive. That hasn’t been proven one way or another yet. But IMO, the only way they will is by becoming media marketing companies instead. Ones where content and marketing blur (hello ASME). But the standalone magazine model died years ago.

After this comment, Jeff and Alan began having a conversation about
Vibes uniqueness, regarding readership. This, is where M & A comes in.

Jeff Chang at 11:46am July 1
And I note the irony of looking at VIbe as ‘ethnic media’ when the urban category was invented by Black marketers and other marketers of color to get beyond that box…

Alan Light at 11:51am July 1
First, publishing is a terrible place for VCs to be, the return is too slow and too gradual. And are there other examples of consolidation other than Vibe/Spin?

And FYI, I don’t know how these numbers developed over the years, but in the years I was at Vibe it was amazing how close a 50/50 split we had in black/white and in male/female readership. Which was a bit of a problem until sales team were able to convince people it was a strength.

Jeff Chang at 11:58am July 1
Re: that’s so telling on the ad tip. And so when Wicks Group bought Vibe the writing was on the wall?

Alan Light at 12:00pm July 1
who knows? i mean, i guess there was cause for concern if, as i said, no magazine companies wanted in. i can’t comment on the state of things as of time of sale, long after i was gone.

Vibe was unique because of its readership, however, I never thought
about the fact that advertisers may not know how
to market to
such a diverse crowd.
It speaks to our history as a segregated
society, and the history of segregated publications and advertising as well.

Andy Cohn, group publisher of the Fader Media Network, posted a comment
in the comments section that made me think about venture capitalist and
the lack of profitbilty in the magazine industry. He writes,
andy cohn says:

VC’s have no business (never have) getting involved in the media business. there is a long trail of INCREDIBLE media properties (or ones that had the potential for greatness) left in the dust by VC’s who thought they’d get some great rate of return on their investment. When i first started at Spin magazine in 1994, i remember reading that the average print magazine took up to 10 years to turn a profit. i’m by no means a financial wizard (just opposite in fact) BUT that would send some red flags to me if i was the one calling shots on who to invest with or not.

I think if we all really did the research, it’s NOT solely about the magazine or the content that drives it’s success, it’s about the OWNERSHIP structure, and willingness to cultivate and organically grow a property.

So, and i mean NO disrespect, because i have had the good fortune to meet Quincy, and admire and respect him tremendously, i find it perplexing that he can come out and bash the VC’s for ‘messing up’ VIBE when it was HE that sold it to them in the first place. if VIBE had been maintained by the great people that started it and came in along the way, and it remained with Quincy/Bob Miller etc, i have no doubt we would NOT be talking about it’s closure today.

FULL DISC: i have worked for Spin/Vibe, The Source and have been Group Publisher of The FADER Media network for the past 6 years.

Organic growth is the complete anthesis of Capitalism.

Capitalism's central premise is accumulation, get money,
getting more, allways, regardless of the costs.

Even though I will be be a social science doctoral candidate in the fall,
M & A hound in me loves analyzing why a merged business will
succeed or fail,
A merger in many ways is a marriage of two businesses,
and it is often done for the purposes of saving money. We read in the
news that that Live Nation with Ticket Master. Jobs are slashed, buildings
are sold, stock goes up, shareholders are happy.

But, but, but, what is the impact of those actions for the long term?

Ask Umair, who wrote an interesting piece recently about the "bloodsucking
nature" of the music business in the case of Michael Jackson. He writes,
If the world's biggest pop star only made $12 million a year from
his recordings, why would anyone make serious music? Where
did the rest of the money go? Why, straight into record labels'
pockets. Did they make better music with it? Nope — they made
Britney and Lady GaGa.
It can be for a plethora of reasons. This conversation about VIBE is
important because
it reflects the magazine industry and also because
of my personal
investment in Danyel Smith's career.

The end of Vibe was personal for me, not because of the magazine
per se, but because I have followed Danyel's career since the early nineties,
when she was in the the Bay writing about
Hip Hop. While there are
five or six newspapers and
alterantive weeklies in the Bay Area,
very few of them, then and now, feature writing
by African American women.

So when she wrote about the Boom and
the Bap in the SF Bay
Guardian, and the East Bay Express, I stayed looking for her byline.

When I ran into Danyel in NY, a few years ago she was kind and warm.

Furthermore, she encouraged me to write and blog, which was affirming.

Last December, i mentioned to her, that I was writing a series
of essay's on Hip Hop
and feminism, and that I was shook. She asked
me why, and I responded that I was scared of failure and scared of success.
She encouraged me to press "send", always.

In some ways I am not thinking about Vibe per se, but the symbolism
a Black woman, who came up the ranks as a writer, who
eventually ran magazine, and what it means to us, when
magazine is no longer running.

It's like that feeling of seeing Michelle and Oprah on the cover
of O, when you know Oprah don't share the cover with nobody.

With that being said, who knows what the future holds?

If the magazines, as we know them fall away, and start over digital,
I smile at the idea
of an Urban Vanity Fair. Given the fact that we
have a Black
president, it would be kinda awesome to have some
in depth, urban (Black, White, Asian and Latino) political and music
coverage, organically grown.

More about VIBE
Harry Allen
Belle in Brooklyn
Aliya S. King

More about Money, Art, Technology
Michael Jackson and the Zombie Media Economy
The Next 5000 Days of the Internet
The Future of Free

When Magazines Sell Access to Politicians, Lobbyist
The Atlantic
The Washington Post


toni said...

As an avid magazine reader, I've always known that part of their main purpose was to sell me something. That stays in the back of my mind as I read them. But it is still a little disconcerting to know that they could be "business cards" - but it totally makes sense.
It is a new day & making money off these things is damn near impossible. People who "shop" at my store will sit there for hours and read a stack of magazines w/o buying - sometimes rendering the mags unreadable and we have to send them back. Companies, publishers & retailers, are scrambling to stay afloat. I've noticed in the last couple of issues of Marie Claire that they are doing "advertorials" - fashion layouts that feature only one designer, but aren't billed that way (you have to read the small print to see that every piece is from Ralph Lauren)
Thanks for this post. In the end, though, after following her career, I just want Danyel Smith to be okay. said...

Hey there M.Dot!!!

How are things going at the blog?

I haven't been by here in a while!!

I am surprised you aren't writing about the Michael Jackson Memorial... I know you were in front of the t.v.!! *smirk*

I was too... but only because I was at the pedicurist and they had it on!! said...

Oh... I forgot to mention... where's your badge for the Black Weblog Awards???! You know I have to vote for one of your posts as Best Post of The Year!!

Model Minority said...

Hi there,

I am around, writing, reading, planning, thank you for asking.

Michaels death gas shown me things about Black people, that I don't think I was ready to see.

Thank you for your comment re the web blog awards.
I will see what I can do:)



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