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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sayonara, Vibe Magazine

Posted By on Wed, Jul 1, 2009 at 6:58 AM

click to enlarge Vibe's First Cover - SHAWN MORTENSEN
  • Shawn Mortensen
  • Vibe's First Cover

Hang on to those back issues of Vibe, folks. As of today, they're officially collectors items. As reported by Daily Finance, the New York Times, and RapRadar, Vibe is ceasing publication effective June 30. According to a letter from Vibe CEO Steve Aaron, the magazine is shutting down because of the following factors: "the collapse of the capital markets" (translation: we're in debt big-time); "the print advertising collapse" (translation: fashion companies and car manufacturers don't have huge ad budgets anymore); and the "relentless economic situation" (translation: most folks these days would rather buy a $5 dollar footlong at Subway than a glossy mag with minimal nutritional value).

 That means no more Hamptons-meets-the-hood fashion shoots with sexy models wearing gear the average hip-hop head can't afford; no more proclamations of the Best Rapper Ever; and no more cover shots of Christina Milian naked. has this sad quote from former EIC Danyel Smith: ""We were assigning and editing a Michael Jackson tribute issue when we got the news." However, the move couldn't have been completely unexpected-- revenue had been flagging and circulation had dropped by about 200,000 since 2006, when Vibe was bought by AOL subsidiary Wicks Publishing..

Though Vibe had moved far from the edgy content it once boasted--remember the Tupac-in-a-strait-jacket cover?--it's loss will be felt. During the last presidential election, Vibe took a stand on hip-hop politics by putting Barack Obama on the cover, and occasionally, amidst the fluff, found time to present thoughtful articles. And though Vibe has had its share of controversial articles--many blamed them for fanning the East Coast/West Coast beef to sell more magazines in 1996-97--they definitely added a glamorous yet urban cachet to newsstands, which may not be replaced anytime soon.

I remember writing a feature on the hyphy movement for Vibe back in 2006, back when hyphy still was a movement. The photo shoot, taken at East Oakland's Youth UpRising, was a joyous occasion, with E-40, Mistah F.A.B., Turf Talk, and Droop-E mingling with YU's kids in the youth center's parking lot. It was certainly a moment of pride for the Bay's rap community, knowing that the elusive national recognition so long denied our scene was finally heading our way.

Asked for reaction to the news of Vibe's demise, rapper Lyrics Born had this to say: "Incredibly shocking, and sad. It was by far my favorite magazine, and historically significant as far as urban press is concerned. It was the only mainstream magazine that covered urban music and multi-cultural issues with any consistent credibility and journalistic integrity. Not only that, I just renewed my subscription! Another casualty of the Great Depression II. Save your money, people (of color), we must 'Press' on."

Webmaster/air personality Davey-D commented, "I am not surprised by this. The old model of doing business with the success of the record industry being the barometer has done Vibe in. What I mean by this [is], for years Vibe and so many other music magazines have been subsidized by the record industry. They have in fact become de facto mouth pieces that parrot anything the labels put forth. That's why all the rags seem to have the same cover stories. They are in synch with record label narratives.

"Now that labels are failing primarily because they no longer connect with their consumers in a meaningful way," Davey added, "magazine and other 'industry outlets have followed suit. While most people are bemoaning Vibe, lets not forget [industry insider publications like] Radio and Records and Industry Trade also closed [their] doors just one month ago -reason being the labels suck."

As Davey-D hints, the larger story is that music journalism as we know it may be on its deathbed. Vibe's demise comes directly on the heels of Blender biting the dust, Rolling Stone hightailing it out of town, and the Source still trying to regain credibility after bankruptcy.

So what else is there? Print media's music coverage, with only a few exceptions, is spotty, inconsistent, and often factually-erroneous or lacking cultural context. Plus, newspapers ain't doing so great these days either -- which leaves the blogosphere.

Blogging is quick, fast, and dirty, but it will never replace long-form articles which allow for careful, meticulous research. Ah, for the days of Lester Bangs, when one could write 5,000 words on doing speed and arguing with Lou Reed, and not hear complaints from the marketing department that such content was too "cerebral."
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Eric Arnold


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