TODAY’S NEWSPAPERS ARE TOMORROW’S RECYCLING, BUT YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE LIVES ON
A look at the decline in print publications and an interview with Robert Lewis of Music-Reviewer.com.
“The fact is, I don’t want this junk in my house. And that’s what today’s newspapers have become: Junk. Clutter. Who needs it?” says John Dvorak in his recent article Newspapers Baffled by Declines.
According to data collected by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, newspaper circulation is seeing it’s largest decline since the early nineties. The 2.1% drop in weekday editions and 3.1% drop in Sunday editions must come as no surprise, as the 1.9% circulation drop in 2005 foreshadowed what was to come. Some believe traditional print is less a victim and more a self-saboteur. John Dvorak of PC Magazine writes, “The newspapers themselves create the problem by not understanding what they’ve done to themselves.” He continues, “the saturation effect of advertising has made it intolerable—not the newspapers piling up, but being inundated by advertising within those papers and confronted with far too much shotgun advertising from all sources.” Dvorak admits the emergence of the web has had a significant impact, but he also paints the picture of a flawed system; the newspapers can’t survive without the advertising dollars but their lack of flexibility in targeting those ads leaves them vulnerable.
Electronic publications aren’t without their struggles, as I learned in a conversation with Robert Lewis. He took over Music-Reviewer in 2000 with the mission to provide much needed coverage for unsigned and under-promoted bands, with a balance between mainstream favorites and unknown gems. No matter how much of a trendy undercurrent blogging and Internet zines are becoming, their proliferation creates a much greater struggle for the same credibility as their established print counterparts. Lewis, who took over at a point went blogging and music-zines were a rare breed, explains the initial difficulties, “It was hard at the time to get our foot in the door at most publicity houses. Record labels and publicists hadn’t fully embraced the Internet yet, and they just didn’t know what to do with an e-zine… So even trying to gain their respect and trust through the ‘old fashioned’ means was a challenge and a half!” With great content comes readers, and in turn, credibility. By 2003, just before Robert stepped down and put the site on hiatus, Music-Reviewer averaged over 200,000 viewers a month. “Fast forward to November, 2006. I just couldn’t deny the call of the magazine any longer… now, just a few short months later we have nearly reached the levels of readership we had after seven years of publication the first time around.”
One of the major drawbacks of the option of taking the magazine to print is the sheer ecological irresponsibility of doing so, “While I am certainly not a tree-hugger…needless wasting of resources is just that, needless.” Shorter reviews and more lead-time are other elements that make print less viable these days, but the true power of a web-zine, which hasn’t even been fully realized by some online publishers, is the possibility of interactivity. Music-Reviewer recently positioned the site as an interactive music utopia, as he explains, “It’s almost like going from 2D to 3D movies. As a reader, you not only see what other people think about your favorite artists, you can get in there and get your hands dirty too.” He continues, “If you like a review you can throw an ‘attaboy’ at the writer. If you hate it or disagree, you can try your hand at reviewing yourself!” At the end of the day, it comes down to reach, and Lewis has fully rationalized the discrepancies between print and digital, “With the Internet, the world is my oyster. In print, I might someday aspire to be the music review king of Albany, NY. You connect the dots…”