I don't want to get too obsessively focussed on this topic, and I'm going to want to post some stuff about my stay here in Texas, but one thing that happened after SXSW had already started was that Harp magazine died. The poor bastards had already paid for a SXSW party, too, which must have been like going to your own wake.
I'll admit it: although I wrote for them a few years back, I never really got a handle on Harp, which seemed to me to be a No Depression wannabe without any of the latter magazine's intellectual firepower. The fact that they paid a whopping five cents a word might well have had something to do with that. As an Austin-based colleague commented to me the day the news got out "My first review, in 1973, I sold to Circus (long-gone mediocre rock mag of the '70s -- ed.) for $15. My last review for Harp I got $15 for. Only difference is what you can get for that fifteen bucks these days."
But over on the Crazed by the Music blog, Jason Gross of Perfect Sound Forever has posted the official statement about the magazine's shut-down (one which, to be honest, is at a slight variant from other stories I've heard from trusted sources), and the money paragraph is here:
"However, according to Glenn Sabin, Guthrie’s CEO, the publication struggled to become profitable. 'We purchased Harp in 2003, and it quickly became a first class product that was highly acclaimed for its often irreverent editorial approach and strong graphical package. Unfortunately, Harp’s critical acclaim never translated into sustaining commercial success. Harp’s lifecycle was ill timed with the precipitous decline of the music software industry, coupled with the consolidation of the consumer magazine newsstand business and rising paper and postage costs.'"
I'm having a little trouble with that last bit. Oh, the "music software business" means "records" or "CDs" or whatever, and the paper and postage complaint was also part of No Depression's problems. But what does this guy mean by "consolidation of the consumer magazine newsstand business?" I'm not disputing him; I'd really like to know what this phrase means. Not living in the U.S., yet attempting to write for its readers, I don't necessarily see the same things you do.
And a passing thought: if Harp had paid people a decent wage -- not a lot, but up to what other magazines paid -- might they not have attracted a larger readership for better writing and stood out from the crowd a bit more? Because I have to say, I stopped reading Harp long before they stopped sending it to me. It just wasn't very interesting. More interesting, perhaps, than Blender (also rumored to be in trouble) or Spin, but that's not saying much.
Anyway, one thing that came out of the various discussions and panels at SXSW was that there really isn't a consumer music magazine left, at least not one that pays. Maybe I really am better off writing this blog for free. That's a chilling thought...