Last week, Jeff Chang posted a roundtable discussion with
Alan Light, former Editor in Chief at Vibe and Raymond Roker,
Founder of Urb Magazine.
Read the entire post here. It is fascinating because in many ways
it is an organic conversation about journalism, capitalism, Vibe,
and venture capital.
5 paragraphs in, Jeff gets cooking when he writes,
But by April 2005, they folded. The magazine industry had shifted dramatically. The middle–as in all media and entertainment industries, hell, in American society–could not holdThe idea of the middle not holding, and for the magazine industry
as an analogy for American, and Global society, if you will, is
fascinating. Initially, last week, when I wrote about class, race
and teens online I was going to include a chart about class distinctions.
It became clear to me that there is no such thing as a middle class.
There are owners. There are workers. The material difference is
in salaries, and unions.
Which brings me back to magazines. Last March, I told S.bot
that Honey Magazine was relaunching as a social networking
website. (Background, I love magazines. My dad got me a Barbie
magazine subscription when I was 6. I also had a subscription to
Highlights and Weekly Reader.)
You see, S.bot is a start up genius. She does venture capital
marketing analysis and makes wireframes for billionaires,
so when she talks about businesses, marketing and money, I listen.
She pointed out to me that many magazines now have in house
marketing, record labels and publishing companies, and that the
magazines are just business cards for many companies.
We began to discuss, how Honey would have been different if they
started a marketing arm right after the launch.
We wondered how feasible this would have been given the way in
which whiteness, blackness and gender impacts the access to
capital in general and specifically in the NYC media and
Which brings me to Jeff Chang's comment about magazines and
marketing. Jeff writes,
Jeff Chang at 10:56am July 1Then Jeff adds,
Alan, is there any middle ground at all to be found? Is it possible
to concoct a web/print model that can diversify income beyond
ad/sponsor revenues? E.g. For what it’s worth, and forgetting
how I feel about it for a second, most of the mags I know in the
high10K/low100k circ realm have become quasi- or real marketing
This blew my brain back because, it became clear that "Hip Hop journalism"
Jeff Chang at 11:04am July 1
I guess I think of magazines like URB, The Fader, and Juxtapoz, and Swindle as businesses that are working. But again, there are a number of ancillary units working there aside from the content work. All of them have massive marketing arms. Juxtapoz is part of the Upper Playground clothing/street art business. Swindle is part of Shepard Fairey’s empire.
But yeah, media qua media? Not so much…
Alan Light at 11:07am July 1
if anyone sees this who works with any of those, please chime in. but my understanding is that the magazine parts of those companies do not make money – but rather are a good investment in terms of visibility. as a kind of calling card for the rest of the operation where the profits are. Raymond? Andy? You guys out there?
in many ways is now about consumption. That being said, if Hip Hop or
music journalism isn't about the journalism, and is a calling card
for a corporation, where is the journalism?
Remember The Source, the Mind Squad and The Source's
masthead? At one point, it stated,
We at The Source take very seriously the challenge being theClearly this was pre-Benzino and The Almighty RSO.
only independent voice for the rap industry...with respect to any
of our businesses relationships, we feel it is in our responsibility to
always strict police the integrity of our editorial content. On y in this
way can we continue to bring of the clear and unbiased coverage which
has won the respect of our readers.
In some ways, reading this roundtable, I felt like I was back in Mergers
in Acquisitions (M & A), because the conversation about magazines
turned into one about profits, venture capital, risk assessment,
parent companies and subsidiaries.
For example, Al Roker spoke on the fact that these businesses
that have both ad agencies and magazines may drop the
magazine completely. He writes,
After this comment, Jeff and Alan began having a conversation about
Raymond Leon Roker at 11:32am July 1
The ways us smaller print brands have a chance is to become boutique agencies. Filter, Cornerstone/Fader, BPM, et al, everybody is in the agency game. The magazines become the branded company pitch. A measure of credibility and clout.
But as print continues to melt away, in the eyes of clients and under the weight of constantly increasing production costs, some of these brands may drop their mags too.
The assumption is that magazine brands, if they walk away from print, can’t survive. That hasn’t been proven one way or another yet. But IMO, the only way they will is by becoming media marketing companies instead. Ones where content and marketing blur (hello ASME). But the standalone magazine model died years ago.
Vibes uniqueness, regarding readership. This, is where M & A comes in.
Vibe was unique because of its readership, however, I never thought
Jeff Chang at 11:46am July 1
And I note the irony of looking at VIbe as ‘ethnic media’ when the urban category was invented by Black marketers and other marketers of color to get beyond that box…
Alan Light at 11:51am July 1
First, publishing is a terrible place for VCs to be, the return is too slow and too gradual. And are there other examples of consolidation other than Vibe/Spin?
And FYI, I don’t know how these numbers developed over the years, but in the years I was at Vibe it was amazing how close a 50/50 split we had in black/white and in male/female readership. Which was a bit of a problem until sales team were able to convince people it was a strength.
Jeff Chang at 11:58am July 1
Re: that’s so telling on the ad tip. And so when Wicks Group bought Vibe the writing was on the wall?
Alan Light at 12:00pm July 1
who knows? i mean, i guess there was cause for concern if, as i said, no magazine companies wanted in. i can’t comment on the state of things as of time of sale, long after i was gone.
about the fact that advertisers may not know how to market to
such a diverse crowd. It speaks to our history as a segregated
society, and the history of segregated publications and advertising as well.
Andy Cohn, group publisher of the Fader Media Network, posted a comment
in the comments section that made me think about venture capitalist and
the lack of profitbilty in the magazine industry. He writes,
andy cohn says:Organic growth is the complete anthesis of Capitalism.
VC’s have no business (never have) getting involved in the media business. there is a long trail of INCREDIBLE media properties (or ones that had the potential for greatness) left in the dust by VC’s who thought they’d get some great rate of return on their investment. When i first started at Spin magazine in 1994, i remember reading that the average print magazine took up to 10 years to turn a profit. i’m by no means a financial wizard (just opposite in fact) BUT that would send some red flags to me if i was the one calling shots on who to invest with or not.
I think if we all really did the research, it’s NOT solely about the magazine or the content that drives it’s success, it’s about the OWNERSHIP structure, and willingness to cultivate and organically grow a property.
So, and i mean NO disrespect, because i have had the good fortune to meet Quincy, and admire and respect him tremendously, i find it perplexing that he can come out and bash the VC’s for ‘messing up’ VIBE when it was HE that sold it to them in the first place. if VIBE had been maintained by the great people that started it and came in along the way, and it remained with Quincy/Bob Miller etc, i have no doubt we would NOT be talking about it’s closure today.
FULL DISC: i have worked for Spin/Vibe, The Source and have been Group Publisher of The FADER Media network for the past 6 years.
Capitalism's central premise is accumulation, get money,
getting more, allways, regardless of the costs.
Even though I will be be a social science doctoral candidate in the fall,
the M & A hound in me loves analyzing why a merged business will
succeed or fail, A merger in many ways is a marriage of two businesses,
and it is often done for the purposes of saving money. We read in the
news that that Live Nation with Ticket Master. Jobs are slashed, buildings
are sold, stock goes up, shareholders are happy.
But, but, but, what is the impact of those actions for the long term?
Ask Umair, who wrote an interesting piece recently about the "bloodsucking
nature" of the music business in the case of Michael Jackson. He writes,
If the world's biggest pop star only made $12 million a year fromIt can be for a plethora of reasons. This conversation about VIBE is
his recordings, why would anyone make serious music? Where
did the rest of the money go? Why, straight into record labels'
pockets. Did they make better music with it? Nope — they made
Britney and Lady GaGa.
important because it reflects the magazine industry and also because
of my personal investment in Danyel Smith's career.
The end of Vibe was personal for me, not because of the magazine
per se, but because I have followed Danyel's career since the early nineties,
when she was in the the Bay writing about Hip Hop. While there are
five or six newspapers and alterantive weeklies in the Bay Area,
very few of them, then and now, feature writing by African American women.
So when she wrote about the Boom and the Bap in the SF Bay
Guardian, and the East Bay Express, I stayed looking for her byline.
When I ran into Danyel in NY, a few years ago she was kind and warm.
Furthermore, she encouraged me to write and blog, which was affirming.
Last December, i mentioned to her, that I was writing a series
of essay's on Hip Hop and feminism, and that I was shook. She asked
me why, and I responded that I was scared of failure and scared of success.
She encouraged me to press "send", always.
In some ways I am not thinking about Vibe per se, but the symbolism
of a Black woman, who came up the ranks as a writer, who
eventually ran magazine, and what it means to us, when that
magazine is no longer running.
It's like that feeling of seeing Michelle and Oprah on the cover
of O, when you know Oprah don't share the cover with nobody.
With that being said, who knows what the future holds?
If the magazines, as we know them fall away, and start over digital,
I smile at the idea of an Urban Vanity Fair. Given the fact that we
have a Black president, it would be kinda awesome to have some
in depth, urban (Black, White, Asian and Latino) political and music
coverage, organically grown.
More about VIBE
Belle in Brooklyn
Aliya S. King
More about Money, Art, Technology
Michael Jackson and the Zombie Media Economy
The Next 5000 Days of the Internet
The Future of Free
When Magazines Sell Access to Politicians, Lobbyist
The Washington Post