In late 1979, a band called The Buggles released a track called Video killed the Radio Star. It was inspired and written as 20th Century inventions and technology were speed-changing the face of all media norms. It hasn’t stopped ever since. In fact, I would argue that the paradigm shift in media access, presentation and marketing has accelerated further. Reading this post is one example.
Whilst this famous-ish Buggles track has remained used in adverts etc and has been heard by several generations, the same isn’t true for some media. Take the magazine for example. If the Buggles were still together and re-writing that song, it might be entitled ‘Digital killed the Paper Magazine Star’, or something like that. Those fabulous small and dedicated magazine shops are disappearing as fast as record shops did, and these shops are the soul of the high street. They support the daily culture of the area. They sell other daily consumables that people want/need on the way to or from work. Even the big high street book and magazine shops have a much reduced selection of paper magazines. That’s because a lot of magazines have closed down. No readership. Advertising revenue has gone elsewhere. Internet clicks provide data, a paper magazine doesn’t.
Whilst record shops are starting to get some bench-strength back, albeit with a dedicated few, and most bands now release a ‘special edition vinyl’ version of their latest album or single, the magazine shop has still got a similar change curve to get through in the years to come. They’re only just at the start of the change as well. This is the downward trend change where things close, fall apart and die. It all sounds a bit depressing doesn’t it. However,😀………..
……..Switching to a positive view, there has been a powerful new magazine foundation created that falls into the title of ‘the Zine’. Whilst not a new concept, this smaller, maybe niche approach to interesting content has remained. Most of these zines where never in the big magazine shops anyway, and most were subscription, just as they are now. Just like putting a needle in the first groove on a vinyl record, opening up a zine with a coffee or beer or whatever, provides that great magazine experience that I’m sure everyone has enjoyed at some time in their lives.
Recent data shows that the one area that print publications seem to be thriving is where quirk, character and community are valued over immediacy, which is exactly what the Zine is about. Price isn’t the seriously competitive issue that might be imagined either. The USA saw 81 new magazine and zine launches in 2021, and the most expensive was $95!
Recent trends also show that people now get their daily news digitally rather than by printed newspaper, which were largely killed off by the pandemic as people didn’t go out to get their daily paper. Research shows that what readers really need now, is a break from screen time. Zines are generally less frequent in their editions, most being quarterly, and this drives the anticipation of the next edition coming out. The important thing is not just the size, format, use of eco-production materials, but content. The zine is not a catalogue to buy stuff from the advertisers. The zine is not a YouTube site showing how to fix stuff. The zine is not a paper Instagram thing. The zine is not a magazine as we used to know them. The zine is now something in between a book and a magazine in ‘feel’, and which provides something personal to the reader.
‘Feel’ is an important part of the magazine experience. A modern day zine sits on the shelf a bit like a book does. It feels more solid, and because the adverts are not linked to shopping that have current-at-the-time-prices everywhere, they become timeless in that it’s actually a pleasure to go back through old issues that are several years old. The balance is always between images and text. This puts a lot of pressure on content creation and editing. The reader obviously needs to be taken on a journey through the zine that allows either a cover-to-cover approach or a dip in and out approach.
Adverts in zines are as much culturally focused as that of experience and product focussed. This is an interesting point, because zines play an important part in creating and supporting the different cultures that they represent. I think the zine plays a much more important part in culture than Instagram and/or Facebook, because the zine is a zine. The reading and visual experience is much more personal and drives thought, ideas and reflection, which can be much more memorable. If a reader does want to further explore an advertisers products illustrated in a zine, it just requires pointing their phone to the QR code discretely shown on the page and the potential transactional purchase is separated from the zine experience. Clever huh?
All zines have to have that mandatory marketing merchandise to ensure that their readers proudly wear the brand. One of the first and mainstream zines that I remember and also could be found in the magazine shops on the high street and in the airports was TBM (Trail Bike & enduro magazine). It ran for 20 years, but sadly is no more today than a Facebook page. It was an off-road niche zine that was honest in its product tests as well as funny and entertaining. As in the Moto world, the mountain biking and road cycling worlds have a few zines, which appear to be enjoying success.
Back to the Moto zines, because there are some good niche segment examples that fuel the media need of those people already ‘in’, as well as also attracting the Moto-types that weren’t necessarily followers. There are three great examples here. Sideburn Magazine is devoted to flat track, which is very niche in the global scheme of things, but which has now influenced the big manufacturers to include flat track style bikes in their range. Sideburn is a great example of ‘the tail wagging the dog’. Another two great zines that follow a similar thread to each other within the custom Moto world, whilst having their own identity are; Dice Magazine and Greasy Kulture. If you’re into choppers, custom bikes, Harleys, Hot Rods, tattoos, Moto art and photography, you’ll already know about these two. Their content focus is always about the builder/rider/owner as well as the bike, as there is powerful dual interest here.
So, has ‘Digital killed the Paper Magazine Star’? Not all of them fortunately, and whilst I’m sure that running a zine isn’t easy, some of them appear to be winning the game, and co-incidentally, provide digital editions of the magazine to get over the global shipping cost thing as well. As a follow up to this post, there’ll be an ‘Interesting Interview’ with the Founder and Editor of Greasy Kulture, Guy Bolton. Greasy Kulture is an interesting one in relation to the title of this post, because this successful zine started life as a blog, so actually, ‘Digital realised the Paper Zine Star’. Long live the zine!
Here are the links to the zines that I subscribe to:
Greasy kulture https://greasykulture.com/
Misspent Summers https://misspentsummers.com/
All photos by the Author