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The sale of Music Week

Tuesday June 28, 2011

Mirror, Mirror on the wall…

So it's 2001, CD sales are at their peak, the internet's certainly out there, but broadband's not even on the agenda for most people. Exclusive content commands a premium price. And because Twitter and Facebook and MP3 blogs haven't been invented yet, it's possible to be a business magazine publisher and a "gatekeeper" to content about the music industry.

That was the Music Week I left 10 years ago.

So I took a particular interest in the news yesterday, that the UK music industry's trade paper has been sold to independent publisher Intent Media, familiar to many ERA members through its ownership of games industry trade paper MCV.

As is the nature of things, 10 years ago we never realised quite how good things really were. But the numbers tell their own story.

It's less than five years since the magazine's owner reputedly turned down an offer of £10m for Music Week alone. Now the magazine has gone to a new owner with three other titles and their spin-offs for less than a quarter of that, just £2.4m.

The declared turnover of the four titles sold yesterday is £5.4m. Ten years ago, the turnover of the Music Week Group alone - then comprising Music Week and the now-defunct MBI, fono - was £6.5m.

Subscriber numbers to Music Week are now barely a third of what they were at the magazine's height.

Which all means that over the past decade, Music Week's decline has not just mirrored that of the music business, it has exceeded it.


Many will simply shrug their shoulders at these developments. It's inevitable isn't it?

Everyone knows the music business has shrunk.  Many businesses have done far worse. Think of Musiczone, Woolworths, Zavvi and the hundreds of independent stores which have closed for good.

Even those print publications not exposed to a declining market like music are shrinking in on themselves. On the same day the Music Weeksale was announced business publisher Centaur said it was closing the print editions of its business magazines New Media Age and Design Week. Only last week The Guardian announced it will be transitioning to a digital-first product.

In magazine and newspaper publishing, just as in music, digital continues to drive out physical. The culture of free has slashed the price content can command. And because creating, shipping and selling physical product is inherently more expensive, it is bound to suffer. 

Much is gained in the transition to digital - immediacy (the idea of sending print magazines via post these days just seems quaint), convenience, targeted content.

But just as with music itself, we should not pretend that the erosion of the physical product does not also come with disadvantages, and those disadvantages are more subtle than you'd think.

In the case of a trade paper, its most important function may be actually independent of the content, the news and data it contains.

It is to hold up a mirror to the industry it represents. It's a magnifying mirror which makes that business look bigger. Take it away and the business is diminished.

It's directly comparable to music itself retaining a store presence on the High Street. Take it away and music is diminished. The very existence of a thriving physical business is a tangible sign of status and vitality.

Lose that function and something is lost.

That's why we should wish the Music Week team and their new owners all the very best. In a very real sense we need them and the mirror they put up to our business.

Because if you have no mirror, how do you know what you really look like?


Posted at 15:40
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