A new weekly music magazine has hit the newsstands. Popworld Pulp, a spin-off of the long-running Channel 4 TV programme, launched today; it will be lucky to still be publishing at the end of the year.
Its weekly rivals, NME (73,008 sales per week) and Kerrang! (85,377 sales per week), have nothing to fear (apart from, in the former’s case, its own plummeting sales figures). In the latest ABCs from February, Kerrang! showed a 12.1% increase, proving once again that it always enjoys a sales spike during periods when the style of rock music it covers – currently, emo; most recently before that, nu-metal – experiences commercial success.
NME is suffering for far more reasons than because it’s lacking an indie figurehead like The Strokes or The White Stripes or Oasis. However, when rock fans want to read about rock, they turn to the specialists like Kerrang!, or Metal Hammer and Classic Rock, who both also recently experienced sales increases.
Popworld Pulp, despite its publishing claim that it’s offering “a broad range of music genre including R&B, rock and pop”, is aiming for the indie rock market. They believe they are “addressing a gap in the market as it is a younger audience than NME, but with a wider genre than rock magazine Kerrang!”
NME’s editorial policy is to write for and sell to 15-year-olds in the provinces; Popworld Pulp’s policy, they claim rather bizarrely, is to aim at 16-24 year-olds. The bigwigs involved in the launch of this magazine clearly haven’t been following trends in music magazine publishing over the past decade.
Popworld Pulp is associated with a mainstream pop show that despite having a cult following among older viewers is predominantly the fare of a young teen and pre-teen audience. They will not get the 16-24 year-olds; nor will they get NME’s 15-year-olds.
Popworld Pop will also not eat into the readerships of any of the rock magazines currently undergoing sales boosts. The reason rock magazines are doing well now is because they cater for a rock audience and a rock audience only. No rock fan will ever want to be associated with a kids’ pop show or buy a magazine that offers “a broad range of music genre including R&B, rock and pop.”
From an initial reading, Popworld Pulp is spiked heavily towards the indie/rock/guitar side of things. The writing reveals the plan is to target the very young – the cover story on the Klaxons tells us at one point that, “There's still enthusiasm, despite the general lack of glowsticks…It's nice to prove that it's possible to have excitement without them” (it is nice, isn’t it?) – and features on Fall Out Boy and Kings of Leon confirm their music stance.
We’ve been here before, of course, with ill-thought out "indie" magazines. In 1995, at the height of Britpop, Emap, realising that there were some picturesque kids playing guitars who kept their teeth nice and clean, relaunched an ailing rock title, Raw, as a Britpop read. This son-of-Select died fairly quickly.
Popworld Pulp’s plan to attract some of the 750,000 viewers of Popworld will only succeed on a very slight basis. Of the precious few of that number who are young enough not to already buy Kerrang! or NME, fewer still will be prepared to pay £1.50 a week for a magazine containing no insight, no depth and no attempt at anything other than lightweight entertainment journalism, and hardly anyone will be gullible enough to repeat the practice once they realize they can get much of the content from the internet.
The publisher, Brooklands, is a small outfit with a track record in producing spin-off magazines of Channel 4 programmes such as A Place In The Sun and Supernanny. It has no chance if it really thinks it’s pitching itself against the UK’s two dominant publishing houses, IPC (NME) and Emap (Kerrang!).
Sadly, there’s no need to get excited about the arrival of a new weekly music magazine. Things could be different, of course. When Mike Soutar joined IPC as group editorial director after editing Smash Hits, FHM and Maxim (US), he commented to an acquaintance that Melody Maker’s relaunch was a wasted opportunity. It should, he reckoned – and there is some wisdom in this – have been repositioned as the biggest fanzine in the country.
Writing about the small bands, the underground acts, the vibrant scene, filling a magazine with them, would have offered a startling – and inviting – counterpoint in 2000 to NME’s increasingly commercial tone. It would, also, have enabled the weekly press to re-establish itself with authority as a respected voice of underground music before the internet’s penetration became almost unassailable.
The successful launch in 2004 of two weekly men’s magazines – let’s face facts, most readers of the music press are male – showed that even with the internet’s reach, it is possible to sell its main commodity (naked women) in a weekly print format. If that can be done, then another of the web’s major commodities, music, can surely be formatted in a successful weekly magazine.
All music monthlies are suffering falling sales as its readership, once dependent on them for the free CDs that gave them a taste of new music without having to listen to the late-night radio of their youth, have learnt to navigate the web to find those new tasters for free. The prohibitive cover prices – artificially high due to “free” CDs, which are now worthless to many readers – is driving custom away.
Why, then, with the seemingly unstoppable launch of weekly magazines has neither of the two big publishing houses, IPC and Emap, reviewed its situation and changed tack from the tiresome overload of celebrity picture mags and launched a weekly music magazine?
There is a gap in the market here. Popworld Pulp certainly isn’t filling that gap. It’s far too flimsy, thin and inconsequential to come to anything other than a quick death. A weekly music magazine that runs on the pulse of the very excitement music itself provides, rather than adhering to the dry, rigid results of market research - now that would be a magazine worth reading.