May 21, 2018

From the Vaults: The Power of Print

 

    In December of 2016, I almost subscribed to Classic Rock Magazine.  I found myself buying a copy whenever they weren’t sold out at the bookstore, so it seemed the logical thing to do would be to save a few bucks and subscribe.  I cued up the TeamRock website and was met with an announcement that the company was under what sounded like some sort of receivership and searching for a new owner.  No action could be taken as the website was frozen on this page. The last thing they suggested was checking back ‘in the near future’. I was a bit puzzled and the frozen web page ended all thoughts of subscribing, so I resolved to check back in the near future.  Subscribing to a magazine that was shopping for a new owner didn’t seem to be a wise course of action anyway.

    Early in 2017, I able to purchase a couple of more issues, but it wasn’t until the March 2017 issue (#233) that the whole story was explained.  CRM editor Sian Llewellyn explained, as I had suspected, that shortly before Christmas of 2016, TeamRock had gone into ‘administration’. The people who publish Classic Rock Magazine, Prog and Metal Hammer magazines were facing a Christmas holiday without employment.  TeamRock had notified their employees that there would be no severance pay, no magazines, no websites, no radio . . . nothing.  None of that sounds very ‘Merry Christmas’ does it?

    So how is it that Issue #233 even went to print?  Perhaps we could call it another Christmas Miracle.  Llewellyn says, “What happened next was simply astonishing on every level – incredible, humbling, emotional, unbelievable and a whole load of other adjectives that I don’t have room to list here.”  Under the banner, “Classic Rock, Prog and Metal Hammer are dead.  Long live Classic Rock, Prog and Metal Hammer”, the death and resurrection of these three music publications was explained as follows (the timeline courtesy of CRM):

    Monday, December 19.  The forty-six staffers in London and another twenty-seven in Scotland are informed that TeamRock has gone under.  The publishers, designers, journalists and all of their support teams no longer had jobs, they would not be paid and they would not receive severance money.  Most retired to local pubs to ponder this bleak turn of events. Merry Christmas!

    Tuesday, December 20.  Singer Ben Ward (of the band Orange Goblin) and his partner Sandie heard the sad news and opened a JustGiving page explaining, “These are good, hard-working people, committed people who, through Metal Hammer, Prog Rock, and Classic Rock, TeamRock radio, and more, have supported the rock and heavy metal scene in this country for decades, and now we, the rock community need to pull together to help give something back.”  Over the next few weeks, 3,698 people responded to the site with comments and donations.

    Wednesday, December 21.  The administrators of the now defunct company re-employ a small number of staffers to get the next issue in print feeling that a new owner will want continuity in the publications if they are going to invest.  This explains how the next two issues came to be. The Kerrange! mag staff invites the former TeamRock staffers to their Christmas party.  

    Friday, December 23.  The band Queen re-Tweets news of TeamRock’s problems to their 1.1 million followers.  Rush joins in saying, “We are thinking of the very talented and passionate staff that lived to bring the music of so many artists to their fans.”  Ward’s JustGiving fund reaches ?66,000 and news about it reaches the pages of the London Evening Standard.

    Wednesday, December 28.  This was the last day for bids from anyone wishing to acquire the TeamRock holdings.  Everyone is told, “Don’t expect to hear news of any substance until the new year.”

    Wednesday, January 4.  Ex-employees are allowed back into their old offices to say their goodbyes and collect their remaining belongings.  It is described as a ‘wake/coffee morning’.

    Thursday, January 5.  Orange Goblin and Steak play a fundraising gig at London Camden’s Black Heart adding another ?2,692  to the JustGiving collection. Vendors and subscribers are bewildered as the ‘final’ issues of the three music mags hit the streets.

    Saturday, January 7.  Future plc (the group that originally sold the magazine titles to TeamRock in 2013 for more than ?10 million) steps forward to buy the titles back.  They release a statement saying, “We have started picking up the pieces and are hoping to get the show back on the road as soon as possible.” Former TeamRock staffers rub their eyes and pinch themselves to make sure they are not dreaming.

    Sunday, January 8.  The Guardian reports:  “Future Publishing buys the magazines, websites, and events including 30 year-old Metal Hammer for ?800,000.”  Having sold the lot for more than ?10 million four years earlier, it sounds like Future plc has found a present under their Chirstmas tree.  Christmas Miracle or good business or a little bit of both: the deal ends a hellish month for all the former TeamRock employees who had been dismissed less than a month earlier.

    Monday, January 9.  Quoting directly from CRM:  “Work commences on the new issues of Classic Rock, Metal Hammer and Prog . . . So, we’re back.  And at your service. And beyond grateful for everything the rock family have done for us over the past two months.  Thank you. For those who rock, and who have always rocked, we salute you!”

    The March 2017 magazine ran a full page ‘thank you’ naming Ben Ward, Sandie Soriano, Orange Goblin,Steak,  and all (albeit in very small print) of the thousands of people who responded to the JustGiving page posted by Ward and Soriano.  The JG page eventually totaled ?88,790 in just a month’s time. When asked why they got involved, Ward said, “The page was Sandie’s idea.  We honestly didn’t think many people would notice, so we just kept sharing it on Facebook, and within minutes, it was being shared by all our friends and contacts, too.  Word of it really did spread like wildfire.” When Queen and Rush weighed in, “That was just surreal. Being name-checked on the official Rush page was crazy. I got a lot of credit for what happened, but it was a group effort.”

    Why is this important?  In this day and age, traditional magazines are falling by the wayside as people increasingly rely on getting their entertainment news on some electronic platform.  To literally rise from the dead, these three publications have defied the odds with a lot of help from the very electronic medium that put them in peril in the first place.  I am not advocating any kind of retro-revolution in the print industry, but there are still many people out there who enjoy, if not prefer, gathering information from printed publications.  Imagine how you would feel if your favorite information source of any kind went dark with little or no warning. Imagine walking into your place of employment one day and being told, “Sorry, we are done.  Go home. Good luck.” For the folks at these three publications, this sad tale had a happy ending.

   

    The other twist here can be summed up in a couple of old adages:  “Don’t underestimate the power of a small group of determined people” and “You can’t make a difference if you don’t try.”  Okay, the second one isn’t so old – it is my take on the first one, but you get the picture. It is high time for me to subscribe to CRM because I am happy for them and glad they are still around (or so I wrote when I first outlined the concept of this article early in 2017)!      

    Procrastination being what it is, I kept picking up my monthly copy from Bookworld with great plans on getting a subscription to CRM.  Ironically, it was the closure of all the Bookworld outlets at the end of 2017 than kind of forced my hand and yes, I am still happy the magazine is still around, tempered by the sadness of watching yet another brick and mortar bookstore being shuttered.  On the positive side, Orange Goblin’s part in the story spurred me on to find out about a band (or should I say ‘yet another band’) that I never knew existed.

     It is nice to know that people are still willing to roll up their sleeves and make a difference instead of doing nothing.  We are going to need a lot of this kind of esprit de corps over the next few years. Let me add a couple of personal notes on the state of print media.  Before moving to Ontonagon in August of 1975, I began receiving my weekly copy of The Ontonagon Herald which greatly simplified my search for an apartment.  This means I have been a continuous subscriber for nearly 45 years.  When I find myself discussing local events, I am always amazed when people ask, “Where did you hear about that?” and when I tell them, The Herald, many will respond, “Oh, I don’t get that paper.”  

    People, people, people . . . the local newspaper is your first and most vital link to your community and by local paper standards, it is a good deal!  I also subscribe to the Ironwood Globe and The Milwaukee Journal even though both of them arrive a day or two, respectively, later than the news.  Why? Because I like to be informed about what is going on in the world as well as the local area.   (Writer’s note: Once upon a time we also subscribed to the Houghton Daily Mining Gazette but switched to the Ironwood paper when the Gazette began treating Ontonagon County news as an afterthought).

    “But what about Facebook or (insert the digital media platform of your choice)?”  Sorry, I do use email a lot but my personal preference is to use the time that it takes to cruise or post on Facebook (and if you deny that Facebook has the ability to suck a lot of your free time into the abyss, then you and I will not be in agreement here) to do something more useful . . . like read the local paper!  The CRM story gives me hope that good old fashioned print media won’t become a thing of the past.  Remember when they sang the sad song about the demise of vinyl records? Support your local papers before it is too late!

 

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