I regularly start the morning here in the Philadelphia area with the Preston & Steve show on WMMR. Today they mentioned the fact that Rolling Stone magazine was resizing. Evidently single copies sales of the magazine have been declining as of late, and publisher Jann Wenner believes it is partly due to the magazine’s large format.
The jocks at Preston & Steve may know the real problem for the magazines decline. Preston Elliot mentioned that he let his subscription lapse because the magazine’s politics became “too intense,” specifically citing the mags anti-war cartoons. Casey, another member of the morning crew, noted that the magazine tended to give 5 stars to every Bob Dillon release and implied that the magazine was out of touch with contemporary music. He also wondered how much impact the Internet had on the magazine.
I stopped reading Rolling Stone years ago after Greider became repetitive and PJ O’Rourke started publishing elsewhere. The magazine never reflected my musical tastes which tended towards the underground-side of things. At the time the J Geils Band was gracing its cover I was listening to Bauhaus and Skinny Puppy – two bands that I doubt were ever mentioned in the pages of that magazine let alone profiled.
I’d love to see the magazine’s demographics since I’d bet the average age of Rolling Stone’s readership is deep in Geritol territory. Even when I was in the targeted demographic the magazine seemed to cater more to the ‘60s Generation than to my own, which may be why Spin magazine did so well (at least initially). More recently Maxim and similar magazines have done well with the young, covering lifestyle and music topics with edgy yet profitable aplomb. I notice that Maxim has twice the circulation as Rolling Stone does, and is thriving on – and off – the Internet.
However Preston Elliot’s comment about the politics of the magazine is dead on given its worship of Barack Obama, a point made all the more apparent in this photo of Wenner taken from the IHT story.
Jann Wenner Seeks Relevance
I’ve discussed Wenner’s efforts on Obama’s behalf here and even suggested the next cover in his Obamassiah series:
Perhaps I’ve gotten Wenner’s support of Obama wrong. Maybe he isn’t using his music magazine to push his personal political views; maybe Wenner is hoping that Obama supporters will see Rolling Stone as hip and relevant – just like the candidate himself.
The unfortunate truth is that nothing lasts forever. Rolling Stone’s best years ended in 1976 as its demographic shifted into building careers and families away from creating socialist utopias fueled by pot smoke and Hendrix. Changing its size and having Obama grace even more covers will not make the magazine any more relevant. Like the aging hippies who read it generations ago, it’s time has passed. Like Rolling Stone’s readers have, Wenner needs to move on.