Write On?

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In a year when the magazine I review for hasn’t actually published a single issue, I appear to have written more words than ever before. The long form approach offered by an online-only existence has largely been a pleasure. Having the freedom to go up to a thousand words where necessary has provided a chance to enjoy writing once more, after finding the relentless constraint of 105 effective words per album increasingly tiring. I don’t do this as my ‘proper’ job and I’m sporadically paid for writing at the very best of times. Does this reflect the quality of what I have to offer? That’s hard to say, but I certainly don’t have the time to throw myself into it to test the theory. I’ve been lucky to do this alongside my ‘real world’ existence for twelve years now but the thought of continuing to be a free(and I do mean free)lancer is one that prompts mixed feelings.

If 2015 has taught us anything, it’s that conventional journalism is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Lucking into paid work at The Word thanks to a plucky email and an attached selection of my writing wouldn’t happen now, and not simply because that publication no longer exists. The desecration of the NME highlights the problem with the old model. I’ve been thinning down print subscriptions this year out of weary disillusionment, despite the guilty sensations that accompany such actions. Q remains a favourite, but it’s now essentially Mojo for the Britpop generation, while Mojo often feels like it’s going round in circles. Thankfully, both still feature favourite writers of mine doing great things. However, Rod Stewart marked the end of the line with Uncut after many years and the NME subscription went within minutes of me picking up the first issue of the new format. The narrowing market means that those publications which still exist are crammed full of the talent that used to be spread a little wider. On the one hand this is a delight for the reader, but the gaps for writers grow ever smaller.

There are plenty of opportunities online, but whether they have long term prospects and even the faintest hint of professional security to them is a question I can’t answer. I adore writing and the power of the well chosen word but it’s a terrifying time to contemplate its role in our future. The other day, Jon Ronson tweeted a link to a wonderful piece he had written for GQ and within minutes somebody had replied with a frustrated screenshot and a request for another link because the page wouldn’t work with his adblocker. Ronson politely pointed out that he was, understandably, on the magazine’s side with this one. The level of entitlement that the Internet has fostered in us all is quite staggering and its consequences will not be fully clear for some time yet. However, if all the advertising that funds the website gets blocked and barely anyone buys the print edition, how is writing ever going to get funded? Sites like Drowned In Sound already have to ask for donations from their readers to stay afloat while other online publishers talk similarly of barely keeping their heads above water. Like them, I largely do this for the love of it, but I have nowhere near the levels of courage some of those online editors possess.

Print publishing seems determined to pursue narrower and narrower focuses out of fear, despite this palpably not working and sales continuing to slide. Consider how often Noel Gallagher, the Manics and, well, any white, male musician appeared on the cover of the NME in its final year or so and you’ll see the problem. Despite now being a grotesque insult to a great institution, it wasn’t until the music weekly lost its heart that Taylor Swift made it to the cover. Now, Chris Moyles and cocking Bojack Horseman may have also had the privilege in close proximity, but the thought remains – why wasn’t she on there while people could still pay for it? When you’re selling fewer than 15,000 copies a week, isn’t it worth a try? Despite often excellent content inside, those late period covers cried of desperation and a desire not to lose the stereotypical loyal reader. Whether there really was anyone that obsessed with Noel still buying the NME in 2015 seems unlikely, but it highlighted how the management teams in charge just want to keep those who are still, blindly, persevering, rather than trying to convince some of those who’ve left or never even tried the product to pick up a copy.

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All of which brings me, stumbling, back round to my initial point. I’ve quite enjoyed a year of relatively unconstrained writing, with more say in my subject matter and more space in which to say it. It’s essentially what I’d probably do here, but over there. At the risk of marking myself out as some sort of publishing Jonah, I suppose I should learn from the fact that the two monthlies for whom the vast majority of my work has been done both tried less obvious cover artists and bolder designs. It’s been some time since you’ve been able to pick up a new copy of either of them, so maybe Noel, The Beatles and endless bloody lists are the key, for now at least.

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And on the subject of lists, I’ve gently reactivated the blog in anticipation of the usual end of year countdown. Despite almost nothing else throughout the other eleven months, plenty of you pop by during December for some verbose enthusing and it’s something of a tradition now. As always, feel free to ensure I don’t miss anything wonderful by leaving a comment or even foisting a link upon me via Twitter before the whole shebang begins. The 2015 list will commence at the very tail end of November in a gently tweaked format. It would be lovely to have you along for the ride.

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