Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Word Magazine. Quite good. Not good enough.

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.


Burt Kocain said...

This tells us more about you and your, er, "issues", than it does about the magazine. Unfortunately.

Tom Morton said...

Does, it 'Burt'? I wonder what a tendency towards pseudonymous commentary says?

Anonymous said...

It's fair comment. I was a subscriber for a couple of years but in the end I became exasperated by its rather dilettantish approach as well as its habit of devoting pages and pages to whatever was the current month's hobby horse, not to mention a middle-aged pash on Lily Allen. It tended to feel as if it was written by enthusiasts rather than experts, which wasn't always a bad thing, of course, but it did mean that it rather lacked authority and occasionally the wires would show.

Having said all that, I'm genuinely sad to see it go. You always felt as though it had potential. There was a period when their covers were superb portraits of interviewees, in all their grizzled glory, which Uncut is currently aping, and looks better for it. Word, on the other hand dumped the superb portraits in favour of a cartoon of Bruce Springsteen and Lily Allen in a car. And it was like that – each new change seemed to be for the worse rather than the better.

Lee Rimmer said...

Not good enough for what? I read it every month and it was good enough for reading. It's a music magazine for under a fiver. What did you expect?

Lee Rimmer said...

Not good enough for what? I read it every month and it was good enough for reading. It's a music magazine for under a fiver. What did you expect?

Anonymous said...

I can't speak for pseudonymous commentators, but I'm an anonymous commentator (it's the internet - deal with it) and I think that the piece you've written here is cheap, mean spirited and unnecessary.

Especially the bit about the magazine being "edited, but not well enough". Why make it personal?

Keith Davidson said...

"school mag, written by and for its writers"?
given the range of writing (final issue featured interviews with robert smith, cilla black and had a story on book cover design) i found there was always something engaging - i know i'm not alone in that; the magazine did reach out to its readership - the readership was simply too niche (selective appeal)...
personally i liked the can-do ethos of fire escape snaps too but the pressures that prevented the editor hiring professional photogs for every snap was the same 'new era media landscape' pressure that helped kill the mag in the end
or in brief, i liked it, you didn't, fair enough - but some of your assertions are plain wrong

(and since you don't like Word-style online nicknames...)

Keith Davidson

shelagh cheeseman said...

Tom, go back to Q in yout Jeremy Clarkson Levis

Anonymous said...

The Word writers knew where to put a comma and how to use the word, 'Erratically.'
Mean-spirited stuff, Tom.I will neither read nor listen to you again.

Mike Mooney.

Anonymous said...

As you perfectly well know, Burt's pseudonym is the one he uses (soon to be 'used') on the Word blog, so cut the sarcastic remarks and answer the assertion with some evidence to the contrary.

I have some sympathy with a few of your criticisms, but I don't think you've encapsulated anything approaching an explanation of why you claim, with perfect hindsight, that you saw the closure coming.

If it were the case that you could see what was wrong in advance, I would have assumed that you'd have also been smart enough to have accrued your own "carefully invested cash gained from a lifetime of start-ups, sell-ons and general groovy entrepreneurship".
As it happens, you apparently haven't done so, as you're in here smirking about the failure of something that meant a lot to the meagre 22,000 people who liked the mag enough to part with cash each month. Ergo, the smarts aren't actually there. Which is why I'm afraid your analysis amounts to little more than wind.

Anonymously yours, Vulpes.

Kevin O'Donnell said...

Harsh, Tom, harsh. And more to the point, wrong; I simply don't recognise the magazine from your description.

Ironically, I liked The Word for pretty much the same reasons as I like your show - music and culture served up with enthusiasm and wit. Is your antipathy an example of Freud's "narcissism of small differences"?

Anonymous said...

Are you seriously trying to tell us that the mags you list that sell more are *better*???

What do you expect? For me, and amazingly 25,000 others (amazing that it wasn't more) it was head and shoulders above the pack.


Paine said...

If you hated it that much, why the hell did you buy it month after month.

I too simply don't recognise the mag you describe as The Word (forgive the hubris).

Paul Rose said...

Hi Tom,
Have to say I loved The Word. Always found interesting things to read in it. Some of your (rather harsh) criticisms may have the ring of truth about them, others are exactly the things I loved so much about it. It possibly suffered by being much more than a mere music magazine in terms of finding a wider readership and those of us who subscribed possibly cared so much as we were aware it was something of an underdog. Just because something isn't massively popular doesn't make it bad - I'm sure your own record collection will back this up. The Word wasn't always perfect but for me Uncut, Mojo and the like are so dull by comparison. I will miss it enormously.