Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tomorrow's fish and chips paper

Blender was shuttered this week. The news wasn’t a huge surprise, given that Folio had reported in January that ad pages there were down 30.6 percent. Not a promising indicator, that. The issue currently on newsstands weighs in 72 pages, which is pretty close to a “mayday!” signal. So it was hardly surprising to hear that Blender’s new owners, Alpha Media Group, were pulling the plug.

What may come as a surprise to some is that Blender was a failure despite having a paid circulation of roughly 780,000. It wasn’t that the magazine couldn’t find readers; the problem was that it couldn’t find advertisers who wanted to reach those readers. One of the ironies of magazine publishing is that the larger your circulation, the more dependent you are on advertising, as printing and distribution costs become too high to be covered by the cover price. That’s why niche magazines with small circulation often survive while larger, mass-market titles fail.

I worked at Blender for about seven months, until I quit to move to Canada. I edited the reviews section, which was one of the magazine’s strongest features. Unlike most American pop magazines, which seem to treat the reviews section as an afterthought, Blender recognized reviews as a major selling point. Not everyone agreed with their approach, of course, and even writers who contributed to the section complained about the enforced brevity of the reviews (110 words while I was there, although they later ballooned up to 135). But there’s something about the discipline of short reviews that really focuses criticism, requiring the writer to make a point clearly and succinctly.

Thinking about the demise of Blender left me wondering just how many now-defunct publications I’ve written for over the years, so I decided to assemble a list. It’s roughly chronological and as complete as I could manage, although I’m sure I’m forgetting something:

New York Rocker
The Baltimore News-American
Standing Ovation
Guitar for the Practicing Musician
Guitar World Acoustic
Bass Guitar

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