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The wrinkly rocker of the British music press, Melody Maker, has finally been pensioned off, overtaken by its hip younger rival NME.
The Maker, as it is affectionately known, has been published weekly since 1926. But it was finally killed off by IPC, owners of both publications, blaming falling sales which made the music paper “unsustainable”.
News of the closure of the world’s oldest weekly pop magazine puts a question mark over the future of other music publications which have been experiencing declining sales.
Two weeks ago the monthly music magazine Select was forced to close because of falling readership and competition from the internet, in particular bands’ own websites. The 90s saw the demise of Sounds, reflecting an increasingly competitive market.
Critics said NME had always outperformed its rival and had learned better than Melody Maker from the underground press. It had picked up more quickly on both punk-as-politics and post-punk as post-modernism.
By contrast, Melody Maker looked turgid and limped along with 10 page articles on the band Yes, and with a design which reflected the then editor Ray Coleman’s belief that “it should look like the Daily Telegraph”. It earned the unenviable nickname Monotony Maker.
At its last audited circulation, Melody Maker was selling 32,500 copies, the lowest figure in its history, down 14.9% year on year. Few bands bothered advertising gigs because readership was so low.
The magazine also failed to get interviews with frontline pop groups as most preferred NME. There were few big name writers left either, most having been poached or defected to other publications.
In a last attempt to revive the flagging magazine’s fortunes, IPC changed Melody Maker’s format from broadsheet to magazine size in October last year. It hoped to attract younger readers in the 16 to 20 bracket rather than the 22-year-old age group. But this proved disastrous and reduced readership still further.
In an interview with NME’s music website, IPC’s managing director, Mike Soutar, said: “We are merging Melody Maker into the NME brand. The final issue of Melody Maker will be published at Christmas.
“We are ceasing the magazine’s publication because, unfortunately, market conditions made continued publishing impossible. The magazine was doing exactly what it should have been doing but the readers were just not there in sufficient numbers to keep it viable.” Mr Soutar said various options had been investigated, including changing the magazine to a monthly.
“But as Emap’s recent closure of Select magazine indicates, the monthly indie rock market is as tough as the weekly market.”
Last night, Radio One disc jockey Steve Lamacq said Melody Maker had always been perceived as the musicians’ paper. It was founded as a magazine for musicians, and most major bands and Britpop groups found fellow band members through ads in its classified section.
“That’s the one thing NME will look to retain, because Melody Maker has been an integral part of the music scene,” he said.
“Editorially, the magazine was really about jazz in the mid-70s and prog rock. It got into punk slightly quicker than the NME and evolved during the 80s into something that was more left of centre, indie and alternative rock. In the last 20 years, that sort of music has been in and out of fashion, but Melody Maker was always behind the NME in sales.
“For a while, Melody Maker was more well known in the States than NME but it never really capitalised on the times when it was doing well in this country. But it has been going down, in tandem with most other publications, for the past five or six years.”
He added: “The closure was a business decision. Melody Maker was just not selling enough copies to keep it going. If you go back 10 years, you would scour the Melody Maker for singles reviews and think ‘I’ll buy that because it sounds quite good’. But now if you go through the singles reviews in both NME and Melody Maker, you will have already heard two-thirds of those on the radio.
“Also, you can get gossip from the internet. Many bands have their own websites that give you far more information than the music press. Garbage, Ash and the Offspring all have regularly updated diaries of what they are doing, so you are getting that info straight from the horse’s mouth.”