By Oliver Burton
Monday 20th July. 3 months after the music industry effectively came to a halt, Q Magazine announces that it will release its final issue in the coming weeks. The latest once-titan publication to be consumed by the internet age, the interior of the music industry will awake to an online circus of nostalgia-driven articles, ironically eulogising Q on the very medium that ensured its demise (think Scar speaking at Mufasa’s funeral). Though it’s tempting to feel stung by the loss of such a big player, the latest departure from newsagents and more recently WHSmiths, is perhaps not as tragic as you’d be led to believe.
The death of Q, which now follows NME and Melody Maker out the door, has been interpreted by many as the fall of the last standing pillar of the music press, bringing with it an end to the 100 year old marriage between music and words. However, I’ll now shelve the sentiment because I’m not even old enough to comprehend the pre-internet world, so I won’t even pretend that I’m dutifully sorrowful. Instead of mourning Q like we did Brit-pop, we should instead accept that since the earliest seeds of the internet were sown in the 90s, the physical music mag has been living with a death sentence. The desperately devised USP of possessing a magazine in physical form opposed to reading online is also nothing more than the Swanson of a flawed product. If the physical press is to live, it must not become susceptible to internet replication and in essence, become everything that the internet is not.
Ever since online content provided magazines with formidable competition, it’s no secret that the physical content has suffered in terms of assertion and vigour. Long gone is the forgotten early days of the radical underground press of the 1960s, whereby publications such as IT and OZ captured the imagination of a cliquey circulation by drawing attention far from the mainstream, or as you’d have it today…the internet. Barry Miles, one of the founding editors of IT, reminisces that : “focus was placed on the kinds of illicit subjects not highlighted in the mainstream media, IT covered the price of pot on the street of Stockholm”. With an online media so closely guarded by government and law, a physical-only zine culture could bask in the space impervious to the dislike and blocking capabilities of online users, whilst also targeting a more receptive audience with strategic dispensaries (e.g. venues, galleries, universities).
Resisting the establishment was a prominent ethos in the beginning of music magazine culture, but such as Sunny D and Irn-Bru, popularity brought with it saturation, as more and more people wanted to be pleased at the same time. However, unless you’re turning children yellow, mediation doesn’t have to be the fate of a popular product, as the story of the infamous 90s mag Raygun tells us. Although it was in publication slightly before the internet really began to claw at the music press, Raygun represented a style that ensured the most unsettling route to the zeitgeist. Provocative and at times insulting to the eye, Raygun found burgeoning success in departing from the mainstream, eventually featuring coveted figures throughout their issues, such as David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Damon Albarn. These stratospherically-famous stars knew they could be on the cover of any ordinary magazine if they wanted, and so endorsed themselves in Raygun because it provided a relief from the monotony and the predictability of the mainstream music press. “The writers and musicians would be holding their breath, waiting for the issue to come out, not knowing whether their words, interviews, or pictures would be upside-down or completely hanging off the page”. Unlike the early editions of the NME, Melody Maker and Q, Raygun isn’t just a nostalgically told vignette of what once was, but an example to be applied to what could now be.
Contrary to the consumer environment of the late 20th century, there is no longer a gap in the market to be filled with the physical music press, nor is the information they provide so sparsely obtainable. Music magazines need to respect what they’re up against, and use it to their advantage. The way with which magazines interact and communicate with their digital counterparts, or lack-thereof, will determine whether or not they succeed. Similar to the status quo of the post-war era, the internet represents a new systematic authority and a near-impervious enemy that can’t be conquered outright but slowly and meticulously suppressed. The death of Q is yet another step in the direction of understanding just how magazines can fight back.