This is really sad. I just received word that No Depression magazine will cease to publish after its May-June issue.
No Depression started out as an "alternative country" publication back in the mid-90s, but evolved into a magazine that covers lots of great American music -- traditional country, rock, blues, soul, gospel -- even a couple of stabs at commerical country, which was unsurprisingly controversial among its readership.
Although I hadn't contributed anything to ND in the past few years, for a period of three or four years I had something in almost every issue. I've always been proud of my association with No Depression.
(The image on the left -- featuring Brian Henneman of the Bottle Rockets and Rhett Miller of the Old 97s -- is the cover of the May/June 1997 issue, the first one that carried my work -- a review of a Bill & Bonnie Hearne album.)
Here's the official press release:
No Depression, the bimonthly magazine covering a broad range of American roots music since 1995, will bring to an end its print publication with its 75th issue in May-June 2008.
Plans to expand the publication’s website (www.nodepression.net) with additional content will move forward, though it will in no way replace the print edition.
The magazine’s March-April issue, currently en route to subscribers and stores, includes the following note from publishers Grant Alden, Peter Blackstock and Kyla Fairchild as its Page 2 “Hello Stranger” column:
Barring the intercession of unknown angels, you hold in your hands the next-to-the-last edition of No Depression we will publish. It is difficult even to type those words, so please know that we have not come lightly to this decision.
In the thirteen years since we began plotting and publishing No Depression, we have taken pride not only in the quality of the work we were able to offer our readers, but in the way we insisted upon doing business. We have never inflated our numbers; we have always paid our bills (and, especially, our freelancers) on time. And we have always tried our best to tell the truth.
First things, then: If you have a subscription to ND, please know that we will do our very best to take care of you. We will be negotiating with a handful of magazines who may be interested in fulfulling your subscription. That is the best we can do under the circumstances.
Those circumstances are both complicated and painfully simple. The simple answer is that advertising revenue in this issue is 64% of what it was for our March- April issue just two years ago. We expect that number to continue to decline.
The longer answer involves not simply the well-documented and industrywide reduction in print advertising, but the precipitous fall of the music industry. As a niche publication, ND is well insulated from reductions in, say, GM’s print advertising budget; our size meant they weren’t going to buy space in our pages, regardless.
On the other hand, because we’re a niche title we are dependent upon advertisers who have a specific reason to reach our audience. That is: record labels. We, like many of our friends and competitors, are dependent upon advertising from the community we serve.
That community is, as they say, in transition. In this evolving downloadable world, what a record label is and does is all up to question. What is irrefutable is that their advertising budgets are drastically reduced, for reasons we well understand. It seems clear at this point that whatever businesses evolve to replace (or transform) record labels will have much less need to advertise in print.
The decline of brick and mortar music retail means we have fewer newsstands on which to sell our magazine, and small labels have fewer venues that might embrace and hand-sell their music. Ditto for independent bookstores. Paper manufacturers have consolidated and begun closing mills to cut production; we’ve been told to expect three price increases in 2008. Last year there was a shift in postal regulations, written by and for big publishers, which shifted costs down to smaller publishers whose economies of scale are unable to take advantage of advanced sorting techniques.
Then there’s the economy…
The cumulative toll of those forces makes it increasingly difficult for all small magazines to survive. Whatever the potentials of the web, it cannot be good for our democracy to see independent voices further marginalized. But that’s what’s happening. The big money on the web is being made, not surprisingly, primarily by big businesses.
ND has never been a big business. It was started with a $2,000 loan from Peter’s savings account (the only monetary investment ever provided, or sought by, the magazine). We have five more or less full-time employees, including we three who own the magazine. We have always worked from spare bedrooms and drawn what seemed modest salaries.
What makes this especially painful and particularly frustrating is that our readership has not significantly declined, our newsstand sell-through remains among the best in our portion of the industry, and our passion for and pleasure in the music has in no way diminished. We still have shelves full of first-rate music we’d love to tell you about.
And we have taken great pride in being one of the last bastions of the long-form article, despite the received wisdom throughout publishing that shorter is better. We were particularly gratified to be nominated for our third Utne award last year.
Our cards are now on the table.
Though we will do this at greater length next issue, we should like particularly to thank the advertisers who have stuck with us these many years; the writers, illustrators, and photographers who have worked for far less than they’re worth; and our readers: You.
Thank you all. It has been our great joy to serve you.
No Depression published its first issue in September 1995 (with Son Volt on the cover) and continued quarterly for its first year, switching to bimonthly in September 1996. ND received an Utne Magazine Award for Arts & Literature Coverage in 2001 and has been nominated for the award several times (including in 2007). The Chicago Tribune ranked No Depression #20 in its 2004 list of the nation’s Top 50 magazines of any kind.
Artists who have appeared on the cover of No Depression over the years include Johnny Cash (2002), Wilco (1996), Willie Nelson (2004), Ryan Adams’ seminal band Whiskeytown (1997), the Drive-By Truckers (2003), Ralph Stanley (1998), Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint (2006), Gillian Welch (2001), Lyle Lovett (2003), Porter Wagoner (2007), and Alejandro Escovedo (1998, as Artist of the Decade).