Amid the wailing, gnashing of teeth and rending of chinos from Gap, I have to say that I'm not surprised by the demise of the magazine I will always call Word (changing to THE Word seemed a hubris too far, even for what was at times a preeningly self-delighted publication). I'll miss it, though. I bought it every month, often reluctantly. I hated its sixth-year-common room, cool-rich-fucker superiority, its adherence to a couple of truly terrible columnists, its amateur photography, and latterly its appalling cover art. But there were, albeit erratically, great reads in there, and though it was copy edited and laid out with the dodgy enthusiasm and inaccuracy of the hurried, harried and underfunded, the commissioning/listening to contributors' ideas was often excellent.
Mojo's all-consuming, all-annotating tedium and self-righteous 'authority'I found unbearable. Uncut - inheritor of prime 80s Melody Maker beermonsterism and speedfreak comedown post-modernism - was tiresome, like listening to ranting acquaintances in the pub recalling past glories. Yet both these magazines still find big readerships - Mojo around 87,000 a month, Uncut 62,000. Word was shifting a truly embarrassing 22,000 at last count, and it seems that Guardian Media and the other investors eventually saw that the plug would have to be pulled.
The employees of the magazine will find other work if they're smart and committed enough. It probably won't be 'full-time', pensionable employment, but then, who does have such luxury nowadays, in the temporary-contract media world? The Hepworth/Ellen editorial axis will doubtless do other things with their contacts, reputations and the security which comes from carefully invested cash gained from a lifetime of start-ups, sell-ons and general groovy entrepreneurship. The best Word freelance writers are already working for other magazines, notably the sleek, heavily-funded (Bauer Media, like Mojo) Q, now edited by a former Word worthy and completing its appropriation of Word style in the latest edition by adding a free cover CD to its editorial arsenal. They're sitting around the 75,000 circulation mark too.
Much has been made of the move to digital tablet-consumption of magazines, and how that affected Word. I don't think that was the issue. Everyone's tackling that and generally failing to make it deliver, and Word's cheap and cheerful put-a-pdf-online approach was, well, OK. The problem was they were dealing that hand to a tiny body of subscribers. And those who bought Word, that minuscule group, were generally buying one of the other rock menopause monthlies as well. I know I was. So why advertise?
Truth to tell, Word was that prefects' school mag, written by and for its writers. I'll miss Mark Ellen's personal, often lengthy replies to my critical emails. Rob Fitzpatrick's expansive enthusiasm. But I can find Rob elsewhere (in Q). I can read Hepworth's blog. The fact is that Word was a middle-aged fanzine masquerading as a glossy, taking on perfect-bound (dearie me, it always felt so flimsy...)heavyweights on the newstands, rejoicing in the superior likemindedness of its readers, failing to invest in the kind of expensive, big-time reportage that it needed to, taking too many shortcuts in production. Photographing famous authors 'on the fire escape with the in-house camera': that's local newspaper stuff.
It had a vibrant online forum, fulfilled all the current parameters for cutting edge publishing success, and failed. Because it was good, but not good enough. Funded, but not heavily enough. Edited, but not well enough. The cover CDs were never quite good enough. And in the end, once the big money moved in to replicate its strengths, it proved itself unnecessary.