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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Rock magazines sell the past because that's what people buy

Killing time at Stansted last night I wandered into WH Smith and looked at the music magazines, something I haven't done for a while. Johnny Marr was on the cover of Mojo. A 1969 image of Gram Parsons was on the cover of Uncut. Q was a composite cover featuring Robbie Williams, Noel Gallagher and others.

People ask why the cover stars of monthly music magazines are so often stars whose fame is rooted in an earlier age, as much as ten, twenty, thirty, even forty years before. Surely these titles should be celebrating newness?

It's not because the editors of these titles are in love with the past. It's because it works. It doesn't work perfectly but it works better than the alternative, an act who are either unrecognisable or have a polarising effect which will rebound at the expense of your circulation figures.

There was a time when the best thing you could put on the cover was the Hot New Thing. Nowadays it's possibly the worst thing you can do. Why should that be? Too many Sigue Sigue Sputniks and not enough Radioheads? Too many acts who were set to take the world by storm and then didn't? Novelty fatigue? A multitude of new ways of accessing information about the Hot New Thing? It's probably a combination of all these.

The fact that new acts are box office poison is particularly bad news for PRs. The thing they are paid to achieve will remove a few thousand pounds from the revenue line of the publication they must achieve it through.

I see that last week's cover of the NME featured Haim and Parma Violets. That's two new bands, albeit photographed in a sixties pose and a cover line referencing a fifty-year-old Who single. But that came after three consecutive covers which were essentially backward-looking.

With the new issue normal service has been resumed.