I used to subscribe to six magazines. As of today it's only five. The next issue of Word magazine will be its last. It was a magazine about popular culture that had the attractive feeling of being put together by people for the fun of it. So what went wrong?
1) I've worked on a dying magazine (New Society); if your advertising and your already small circulation are shrinking, then there's really nothing more to be said. But...
2) There was always a snag with the magazine. It was meant to be a magazine for a new group of people who liked quality music and quality film and TV and quality literature. But their heart was only ever really in the music. The books coverage reminded me of the little book section you'd find at the back of a Virgin megastore: mainly books about rock music, plus a Hunter S. Thompson, a Nick Hornby, Howard Marks's Mr Nice and Catch 22.
3) And although they carried music reviews, the music they really, hand-on-heart, cared about was post-Beatles rock up to mid-period REM and Radiohead. When they covered black music, or country and western, let alone jazz or classical, it was like they were doing their homework. As for new music, well, they listened to Lana Del Rey the way I listen to Lana Del Rey. It's nice enough, but it'll never matter to me the way the music I heard when I was fourteen mattered to me.
4) They were caught in a strange bind. They were a magazine for a small group, of slightly sad men like me, who want to talk mainly about the music they heard when they are teenagers or at university. And even for us, there's a limit to how often you can mention how amazingly young Paul McCartney was when Sgt Pepper came out (he was twenty-four; isn't that amazing?).
5) The horrible, terrifying problem for potential publishers of music magazines is this: how can you produce a profitable music magazine for young people who don't buy music magazines and refuse to pay for music?
But there's an optimistic side to this: who would have thought that in 2012, Borders would have disappeared but the Owl Bookshop, which I grew up with in Kentish Town, would still be there? Word magazine may have died, and the CD is following it but the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books are still thriving. I suspect that when man has disappeared from the planet and some new insect beings have evolved to take out place, they'll still be reading books. And complaining about the state of publishing.