Music Week Q&A with Tom Artrocker

Last week Tom Artrocker offered his opinion of the future of digital publishing to Music Week magazine. Published under Body Talk, here's what he had to say...

Filed in at 17.36pm on 13 December 12

Music Week Q&A with Tom ArtrockerTom 'Artrocker' Fawcett is editor in chief at independent music magazine Artrocker. Here he ponders the future for 'print' in the age of the tablet.

First up let me say this: we're in uncharted waters, so if some pilot climbs on board claiming to know the best way around the sand banks of doom the best thing you can do is pitch him overboard, he's a liar. Nobody knows how this will play out. That's NOBODY.

Least of all me. But we can get an idea if we look back at the whole iTunes business earlier this century. How did that play out? Did a large part of the record industry find itself reduced to rubble by new technology? It did. How did that happen? By clinging to outdated models, holding their collective noses and hoping for the best. The best turned out to be an almost complete annihilation of the distribution system that lay at the heart of their seemingly endless power. We journalists stood by and watched in amazement as a once massive industry picked its nose as Apple picked its pocket. Did we laugh? We did. Are we laughing now? We are not.

You see, it's now happening to us, so the smile has been relocated as the crazy Apple monster comes for our children. Just like the music business the major print distributors (there's actually only one in the UK) seem to have been caught trouser-less by technology we could all see coming. Rather than learn the lesson of iTunes they've allowed Apple to pop in and nick it from under their noses.

Again.

Crazy.

Of course there's Android, Apple don't have it all their way, but a magazine published on Android is, as of writing, short of the bells and whistles that make tablet publishing so exciting. Amazon and Google have ground to make up. Meanwhile Apple is raring away.

Right now a magazine on Android is basically a 'pinch and zoom' series of PDFs, a digitized version of the magazine. But Apple allows music and video to embedded in the
pages - you can read about a band while listening to them, watch their video or the video of the interview, all from your downloaded magazine. It's everything a music magazine editor ever wanted, it's alive in your hands and it glows at you. So it confuses me when I read about editors closing their magazine because, well, it just ain't print. No, it isn't, it's so much more.

This Christmas an estimated 100 trillion tablets (or thereabouts) will be bought as gifts.
The tablet will become commonplace. Will those consumers become the tablet magazine subscribers of the future? Who knows. But if you'r not in the race...(insert your own cliché here).

Of course, when music distribution went digital it meant that anybody could be a record company. Bang out some nonsense on GarageBand, open an iTunes account and hey presto, I'm a Proto-Universal. Without the production overheads required for physical product the risk factor was removed, so why not? Nothing to lose. What's next on the scale after a tsunami? Whatever, the result has been a super tidal wave of releases with little emphasis on quality control and the emergence of 'gap year rockers' who meet in a pub (or more usually University bar), release some tracks, play a few gigs and then disappear before the sun rises to work in daddy's law firm. They're a menace. This dilettante approach to music is the main reason we're all scratching our heads looking for the next generation of festival headliners, and why music journos like me get the sweats every time we glance at the latest endless list of new releases. Hopefully this won't happen with tablet magazines, and in all likelihood it won't. OK, you no longer have to find the print bill, but you do have to invest the best part of seven grand for a year's software license. And only one person can use it at a time. Tablet publishing is not a cheap alternative to print. It requires funding and a high level of new technology skills. So if you're going to go tablet you'd better be committed to it or your money will be wasted. That is a good thing. Too much of the digital world is here today - gone tomorrow. I'm opening a book and taking bets as to when Facebook joins MySpace in the Ocean View home for retired social networks - two years from now is presently leading the field at 2 / 1. And the next big question is: News websites, are they for the chop? My answer to that question is: Yes, why would we continue to lose money year after year? Websites that make money through direct sales make sense. A website that exists simply because, well, you have to be seen by 'the industry' to have a website is plain daft.

Tom Artrocker
Published in Music Week
7th December 2012

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