February 18, 2015 Last Updated 4:38 pm

Category review: Music magazines under stress, can they adjust to the streaming era?

Latest circulation reports show many music magazines struggling to maintain their readership, while the Apple Newsstand Music category offers mostly replica edition apps

The music (and film) category of the Apple Newsstand is not among the more popular categories used for new digital editions, accounting for only around 2.3 percent of all apps. And unlike the Arts & Photography category, it is not a place one sees the most innovative new digital magazines.

I find this terribly odd. After all, both audio and video are a natural for digital magazines, right?

Well, there is the issue of copyright and the ability to freely embed files into digital magazines and newspapers. Maybe it is the fault of the record labels that we don’t see better digital editions. I once talked to the head of an independent record label about digital and came away completely discouraged – they realized that the digital stores were killing them, but the idea of creating new digital products, or using digital to promote their label and artists was a non-starter.

melodymaker-1969The fate of the music magazine is as much a concern for me as newspapers. I grew up with a household filled with both. My parents subscribed to both Detroit papers, while I made my way to Harmony House to see if the latest issue of Melody Maker had crossed the ocean and made it to the midwest. By the time I could read Chris Welsh talking about Genesis, or Steve Lake writing about Henry Cow, the issues were often two months old.

Harmony House is now out of business, as is Melody Maker – and therein lies the problem, business is bad for everyone in the music industry except those with the digital distribution channels. But it would be a shame if the music magazines went away, music discovery can be as hard as app discovery for many artists. But the print music magazines continue to struggle.

The latest ABCs in the UK show that New Musical Express (excuse me, its called NME now) reported its circulation as 18,184 – Wikipedia will tell you that NME once could say it sold more than 200,000 copies weekly, The Guardian says it was once 300,000. The classical music category is not doing better, with BBC Music down to 36,330, and Gramophone to 21,718.

At least they are still auditing their circulation. In the U.S. you won’t find many of the music magazines spending money on audits. Rolling Stone is a big exception, able to keep its rate base at 1.45 million over the past few years, actually up a bit from a decade ago. Rolling Stone first started reporting digital circulation with its June 2010 statement, showing 640 digital subscribers, 57 single issue buyers. Since then their digital circ has grown to 3.3 percent of overall circulation. Will this increase or decrease with the next publisher’s statement?

Apps in Movies & Music category:
One year ago: 289
Today: 346

Rolling Stone’s digital edition gets mixed reviews from readers, but for the same reason Hearst magazines get mixed reviews: they are charging print readers for accessing the digital editions. This makes print readers mad, but it forces them to choose between print and digital and usually leads to better digital numbers. Not only are they forced to subscribe to digital, but they may tend to stick – unlike some digital subscribers who get both and eventually turn off the auto renew on their digital subscriptions, especially if they chose the monthly option.

jazzmags-newAs I mentioned above, unlike the Photography category, the Music category has not seen many new, innovative digital magazines launched. The latest released include JAZZiT, the Italian jazz magazine, Jazz News from France. Most of the major music magazines are producing replica editions, though a few new independent magazines have been released into the category.

I’m still optimistic that we will see the category rebound, though whether legacy print titles can survive is an open question. Some, like DownBeat and JazzTimes, seem to still have their print pages filled with ads from the labels. But I see the print magazines so infrequently after my local Borders shutdown over two years ago. DownBeat first launched a replica edition through a company called Better Press, but that company is gone and the magazine now has an app through PixelMags, also a replica. Its rival, JazzTimes, dumped its old app and launched a new app in September that can be found under the developer account of the platform it is using, MAZ Digital.

Future plc, which owns its own digital publishing platform capable of native digital editions, nonetheless were producing replica editions for its music magazines. When TeamRock picked up the some of Future’s titles they launched new digital editions into the Apple Newsstand, transforming Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine and The Blues Magazine into very fine, native. digital editions.

  • Markus 3 years ago

    you once recommended the German magazine VAN, which is a brilliant and native magazine about classic music (but looked at from a very fresh perspective). You should keep this in your list of innovative digital music magazines.
    But: they will publsih their next issue in HTML5, leaving Apples newsstand.