The Collapse of Urban Print Media (and Why its Happening)

About 7 months ago, I attended PSFK’s “Good Ideas Conference” here in NYC.

At this particular event, the panelists were discussing insights into what they felt were going to be the most relevant themes for the coming year in marketing, media, and creative culture. The one thing that stuck with me was the idea that, as a society, our perception of “now” has changed. The rapidity (and perhaps level of excess) to which communication and content are consumed and exchanged has thrown a monkey wrench in the machine that is traditional media.

One of the most visible manifestations of this phenomenon can be seen in the decline of “urban culture” print media.  Once considered a critical lifestyle reference for a consumer group that traditionally stands as the vanguard to pop culture, the urban monthly publication has become an endangered species.  Its decline is primarily due to the harsh reality that the urban consumer, like most modern consumers, engages with media differently than in the past.

The Rise of the Blogosphere and The Fall of Print

The rise of the blogosphere – specifically blogs that chronicle and/or aggregate urban lifestyle and culture – has led consumers to a place where silos usually don’t exist for its content, and maintaining a context/format plays second fiddle to the content’s existence. In his POV, “The Demise of Vibe Magazine and the Future of Criticism,” author Mark Anthony Neal sums it up nicely: “The Internet has been an important component in bringing so many more voices to light- voices that were largely ignored a generation ago- but the democratization of criticism has undermined the value of cultural and critical expertise.”

We’re living in what many are calling the “information economy,” where the value of content is diminished both by its ubiquity and omnipresence. Unfortunately for publishers, the law of supply and demand holds true even in the opinion space.

So how does an entity that lives off the inherent value of its content survive in a landscape where content is increasingly devalued?  How do you keep readers that thrive on volumes of content happy while simultaneously driving down costs?  Now that conversation has been taken away from its stewards (editors) and given to the people how do you curate it? Is there growth potential? These are all things that must be addressed to better assess the future of the urban media landscape.

An Insider’s Perspective on why Vibe Magazine Fell

On June 30, an announcement was made that VIBE Magazine and, widely regarded as mainstream culture’s lens of urban American lifestyle, were closing their doors immediately. While it’s no secret that several variables (decline of print media, the economy, etc.) contributed to the demise of its print existence, it’s difficult to understand why the web domain was also shut down, rather than taking over as the voice of the publication.  Given the proliferation of social media and the phenomenon of democratized content, such a move wouldn’t be seen as one of desperation but rather as a forward-thinking publisher embracing what appears to be the natural order of things.  There is some precedent here.  Honey, another publication that halted its print version, recently rose like the phoenix as

I recently picked the brain of Todd Thomas, a former Online Marketing Associate at (and one very savvy lifestyle expert) to help me figure this out and got his two cents on the landscape:

RC: Facing the onslaught and growing influence of the blogosphere, XXL Magazine and Complex Magazine quickly aligned themselves through content sharing and advertising partnerships with the more significant portals – why didn’t VIBE?

TT: As I recall VIBE, was the first of the bunch to really push social media hard. If there was an event, you bet someone was tweeting. The fans were a part of something. Most sites hook up a RSS feed to handle their tweets and their Facebook fanpages. Then they regurgitate the same info and stories online. It drives page views (somewhat) but the social media game VIBE had was on point. Social media was just a premature platform to utilize…but VIBE were pioneers at using social media to engage and interact. I think it was only a matter of time before it was leveraged to our advantage.

RC: The lifecycle of content has been drastically shortened by the hyper connectivity of content-seekers and creators. As a publication that was historically the thought-leader for urban culture and its most academic liaison to mainstream America, did the “fast-food” nature of content that now exists put VIBE in a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” position?”

TT: The best analogy I have is this: You had Rome, the Dark Ages followed, and then the Renaissance.  The days [of traditional media] when a particular group dictated what would be consumed are over, at least as we know it. Rome fell, but the legacy lives on and honors its structure. The blogosphere? It represents the Dark Ages of media and [I feel that] we’re going to being to come out of that. Although we’re not quite experiencing a Renaissance yet, we can confidently say that social media, interactive media, and aggregates of information exchange will be the tools that continue to shape media in the future.

RC: As an integral part of its former online marketing team, do you feel that has a future?

TT: VIBE is a historic brand, so yes, but, generally speaking, I don’t think we’ve seen the next generation of online magazines/news sites yet. I envision the blog [as curator] will lose cache and people will vie for credible, trained, qualified writers to assist in delivering information for public consumption. How it will look and feel, [that] I’m not too sure about. But what’s out now is not it. Advertisers will stray from the online “ad” unit and it’ll die out in this prehistoric wave of online advertising; media companies will go back to understanding an advertiser’s objective and contributing to their bottom lines. Combine all that with insights from SMO and we have a new way of looking at online media. It’s something our generation should be excited about because we’ll be the ones leading it.

Related: On 8/10/09, RapRadar, the quickly growing blog-format website, (owned and operated by former-XXL Editor-In-Chief Elliot Wilson)
7/28/2009, Spinning in the Grave: The Three Biggest Reasons Music Magazines are Dying.