It lasted 196 issues, 18 years, was close to folding on a number of occasions and has been holding on for dear life for a while now. But Real Groove, a publication that long time contributor Gary Steel calls "New Zealand's only serious music magazine", couldn't hold on any longer, so the October issue featuring Leonard Cohen on the cover will be the magazine's last in its current format. It's not all doom and gloom, however, because the best of Real Groove is set to move sideways into a pimped out version of its free weekly street press publication The Groove Guide.
In a way, it's back to the future: Real Groove started out as a free magazine for Real Groovy, but the magazine gradually expanded from its purely musical base into other pop cultural areas. In the past, it was intended to be a vehicle to sell physical music instore, but, for those who haven't been paying attention, the infrastructure around the music industry—and the content distribution model the magazine was based on—has been changed irrevocably by the internet.
When Tangible Media purchased the Groove titles after Real Groovy went into liquidation in 2008, the magazine couldn't continue to be propped up by the music store. It needed to stand alone as a viable commercial entity. They certainly gave it a good crack (over the last couple of years, it maintained its readership while its main competition Rip It Up lost between 30-40 percent, and current editor Sam Wicks, who has been in the job for under a year, was widely applauded for the direction he took the magazine). But in the end, like most modern music magazines, it struggled on the newsstands and also found it difficult to sell ads.
It's sad, but it's certainly not too surprising. The market simply couldn't sustain this many traditional music magazines and some believe it's debatable it can even support one. In addition to the Real Groove news, rumours abound that Pulp magazine is set to close soon, MTV recently decided to pull out of the New Zealand market and Back2Basics was forced to merge with Rip It Up a while back, so times are certainly pretty tough in the pop culture media scene at present.
But as former editor Duncan Greive points out in his appreciation/obituary/analysis of the magazine's closure, the latest issue of Remix magazine was 400 pages long, primarily because it is unashamedly commercial. Real Groove, however, had a reputation for exclusivity—some might even say a deep-seated musical snobbery—and while this undoubtedly formed part of the appeal to its niche of musical purists, it undoubtedly also played a part in its downfall (Gary Steel also chimed in on the demise of the magazine).
John Baker, who became publisher when Tangible Media took over, strongly believed there was still a big future for music publishing because people really care about music. It's a defining aspect of people's lives. But, given what had happened in the music industry, he knew the content delivery needed to have more immediacy. In plenty of sectors, the printed and paid-for magazine still works. But not in music. As such, he says there was always an opportunity to combine the two publications.
Vincent Heeringa took over as publisher of the Groove titles when HB Media came into the Tangible stable and he says the closure of Real Groove and the growth of The Groove Guide simply reflects the changing times.
"CD sales are in monthly decline, pirating and peer-to-peer swapping is rampant and instant downloads (free and paid) are fast becoming the reality for most young consumers. Meanwhile, the live market is growing. Turns out the real thing is becoming the valued part of the market."
In that context, he says a monthly paid-for magazine is too slow, too expensive and too far removed from the market. Now it's about instant gratification—in print, online and on mobile—and both advertisers and readers want to get closer to that moment of decision. In response to that, the Groove Guide will be larger in format and expanded editorially to cover all aspects of pop culture, from its heartland territory of gigs and live music, to recorded music, movies, DVDs, games, fashion and entertainment.
"We have an awesome distribution platform and a terrific business proposition. But we need to be located right where the decisions are made to help consumers navigate the myriad of choices like ‘where shall we go tonight?’, ‘what shall we listen to now?’, ‘what does that song sound like?’, ‘what’s the video?’ and so on. And the answer to that is a vibrant, free street press and an active user-generated website. All free to watch and read, within easy reach."
Heeringa points to the fact that there are three free weekly street mags in Sydney alone, all of which are stuffed full of ads and over 100 pages long, so putting resources into a title with more potential is a no-brainer.
It's human nature to zero in on the drama in these situations and while various commentators, contributors and readers have been, understandably, mourning the death of Real Groove, Baker uses a religious metaphor to sum up what he sees as an exciting situation. There's no escaping the fact that a much-loved print entity has ceased to exist, but he sees it as more of a crucifixion; a sacrifice. And, soon enough, he believes there will be a resurrection of The Groove Guide as it attempts to catch up with the times and provide content the way the readers want it.
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